Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Rethinking normal 11: looking ahead and at currently emerging change 4

Posted in business and convergent technologies, reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on October 24, 2013

This is my eleventh installment to a series on change, and more specifically about our understanding of what is normal, and how normal and assumable change (see Reexamining the Fundamentals, Section III for other postings to this series.)

I have been writing over the course of the past three installments to this in particular, about the current, historically unprecedented pace at which our sense of normal has been changing and how this to at least a significant degree stems from our ongoing flood of technological change and progress. I have been more specifically been focusing in those installments on our emerging technology-based capabilities for real-time and ubiquitously connecting online and communicating, and from increasingly anywhere to anywhere and from progressively closer to “from anyone to anyone” too. In that regard I have been writing about the soon to emerge impact of devices such as Google Glass, as a readily mainstreamed implementation of wearable computers and communicators. And I repeat here a point that I have noted several times in this series, and with a detailed discussion in Part 9:

• As much of an advance Google Glass is, it is still just an early-stage and even embryonic precursor to what is soon to come, and undoubtedly both from Google and from its device making corporate competitors and from commercial and crowdsourced software providers too.

But I step back from the lines of discussion that I have been developing in this series up to now, to at least begin entertaining discussion of a more fundamental set of issues. And as foundation for that, I begin with some specifics.

• When someone wears eyeglasses, they generally think of them as being fundamentally separate from and independent from their self per se and being part of their own body. When that same person has cataract surgery and has equally artificial corrective lenses implanted into their eyes they generally see them as part of who they are and consider them as if part of their own self and their own body.
• Similar essentially automatically assumed distinctions arise where for example an implanted artificial knee and an external knee brace are considered.
• Eye glasses or if you will removable contact lenses, and implanted lenses all correct visual acuity problems and often the precise same ones in bringing viewed images into sharper, less distorted focus. Implanted knee joint replacements and external knee braces both serve improve range of motion and mobility, and often to similar degrees where an external brace is still effective. But in one case, these devices are readily and essentially automatically considered outside of ourselves and not part of our bodies or who we are. In the other case they are at least unconsciously and automatically taken into account as if parts of us and of who we are – and even when we find ourselves consciously thinking of them.

A simply line of distinction between what we do and do not come to see as parts of ourselves, when we consider them at all, and what we persist as seeing as separate from ourselves and who we are is the obvious point that the examples I cited above as being “of us” are all devices that are placed inside of us. But when an implanted device fails and we need, for example an artificial knee or hip replaced, then we do see it as being quite apart from and separate from us and even while it is still inside us and functionally connected in. So I would take a very different approach and argue the point that transparency of use is a truer measure of what we do come to treat and see as if simply a part of who we are. And in this case, being on the outside would not necessarily make a device seem all that foreign to us or distinct from being part of us, as long as we can use it without its becoming intrusive or even particularly visible to us when in use.

And this brings me back to Google Glass, which in its current embryonic incarnation is designed to remain outside of our sense of who we are for its functionality restrictions, but that with time many will simply come to use as if a part of themselves. And next generation and next after that iterations and advancements from this starting point that are progressively more and more user friendly and progressively more transparent to their users will progressively become more and more a part of who those users are. I wrote in Part 10 of how these devices and their descendants will blur the line between our more conventional sense of reality and what we now see as virtual reality where more and more of us will routinely experience reality in a rich context of virtual reality overlays. When we do that, it is certain that we will also see the all but invisibly transparent-to-use tools that we do this with, as part of who we are because they will be functionally invisible to us as tools per se when so used and they will be essential to our perceiving what we see as a fuller, truer, information-rich reality awareness.

• And I am writing about a very new level and type of change as to what normal means and can mean.
• We think of ourselves and even fundamentally define ourselves as a tool making and using species, and while our scientific name as a species is Homo sapiens (wise man), we often think of ourselves more in terms of Homo faber (man the fabricator or creator, and the tool maker and user.)
• Collectively and certainly historically we would be justified in seeing ourselves as a longstanding, ongoing succession of perceived and shared normals, with them all shaped by our tools and devices and certainly as we taken them for granted. The shift that I write of here simply takes that progression a next step forward.

As a final thought here, I find myself confronting a word with origins in the 1960’s: cyborg which was coined from the phrase “cybernetic organism”. Will users of these progressively more powerful yet less intrusive networked computer and communications devices simply see them as parts of themselves, or even more to the point take them for granted and not see or think about them at all unless they are explicitly brought to their attention? Will those who do not use these devices and who are on the outside of their user’s sense of normal consider these users to be at least partly artificial and perhaps less than fully human according to their sense and understanding of normal? I also find myself thinking of a more menacing alien life form from the still developing Star Trek saga: the Borg. I find it both interesting and telling that at a point in time when artificial implants that would be added to and into a human body are all primarily beneficial and even lifesaving, with artificial heart valves, ocular lenses, insulin pumps and more the Borgs are presented as being fundamentally flawed and fundamentally threatening. Will the advent of a population of people who basically live partly in cyberspace through these devices be seen as boon or threat, and will they be met with pushback of the type that I have already written of in the context of other competing views of normal? (See Part 4: when my normal is different than yours, and yours than mine 1 and its continuation in Part 5 and Part 6.)

I am going to return in my next series installment to a point that I began discussing in Part 10 where I wrote of how we see our understanding of normal as a comprehensive, seamless whole. I have been focusing on a small facet of what I see as a new emerging normal over the course of the last few series installments. My goal for my next installment is to widen that out and consider at least a vision of how a more comprehensive new normal might take shape and as a more complete whole. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Reexamining the Fundamentals. I am also including this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and also see my first Ubiquitous Computing and Communications directory page.


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