Reality buttons

I am creating some demos in virtual reality in a Web browser for a research project we are doing at our lab at NYU. Since I’m switching back and forth between different demos, I added some buttons to the browser page.

Before entering VR, you can click on a button to select which demos you want to turn on. This lets me, for example, share the demo with co-workers and just tell them “click on this button to see demo X”.

It occurs to me that this is relevant for the near future, when at some point we will all be able to wear those mixed reality glasses. When that happens, the physical reality around us will be able to support sharing all sorts of fantastical experiences that we can now only share within VR.

But if all those fantastical things were running at the same time it would be overwhelming. So maybe we will start to add buttons to our future reality.

When you click on a reality button, it will turn on or off a particular feature of shared reality for you and your friends. You will click on different buttons depending on what you are doing together — working, shopping, dining, or just hanging out.

After a while, we will most likely no longer even think of this as clicking on reality buttons. We will just call it reality.

Democracy in action

It’s fascinating to see that the inauguration and the impeachment trial are pretty much simultaneous events. This is democracy in action!

Although it is maddening that so many people in the U.S. had to die unnecessarily of COVID-19 before we could get a Federal administration that demonstrates simple competency. So many months and lives wasted.

I feel hopeful about the promise of the future, and infinitely sad about the tragedy of the recent past.

Day without a phone

Last night I put my phone away, and have not visited it since. It’s very unusual for me to spend an entire day without once looking at my phone.

I may have missed some calls, but since it’s a Sunday, it’s probably ok. To be away from the phone felt oddly wonderful.

I realized today just how often I generally check my phone on the average day. I get the feeling that I look at it quite often.

Right now I feel wonderful, and I’m not the least bit curious about what I may have missed,and I consider the experiment to have been a smashing success. I might just do this every Sunday.

The company of strangers

I don’t think we really thought, before this pandemic hit, about the pleasures of gathering in person. We just took it for granted that we could go to a bar, or a restaurant, or a museum, or a ball game, or a park, or the circus, or a concert, or the beach.

There would be lots of people there. We wouldn’t know any of them, and they wouldn’t know us. We don’t care about them, but we are glad that they are there. And they don’t care about us either, but they are glad that we are there.

But it wouldn’t matter. The feeling of being surrounded by lots of our fellow humans is its own unique kind of pleasure, unlike any other.

When this pandemic ends, as it inevitably will, we will once again be able to feel that pleasure. But this time, we will not take it for granted. We will drink in the pleasure of the company of strangers, those people who don’t care about us, but who are glad that we are there.

And it will be glorious.

Text in the air

Sometime in the next few years we will get the augmented reality glasses that we really want. I’m not talking about earlier experiments like Google Glass, but something more like A.R. on your phone, placing virtual objects directly into the 3D world around you, as though they are part of reality.

When this happens, visual text will start to show up in face to face conversations. I am curious to know what sorts of text everyone will end up using.

This is not a technical question, but more of a psychological and sociological one. What sorts of text floating in the air will end up supporting and enhancing face to face conversation, rather than just being annoying or distracting.

In one extreme we may end up with emojis. In between is something like short Instant Messages or even single words and phrases. At the other extreme, we will read entire documents together, perhaps jumping from one doc to another via hyperlinks as our discussion progresses. Or we might end up using a mix of all of these things, depending on context.

Whatever it is, it will all seem perfectly normal to kids who will grow up with it. Hopefully that “normal” won’t include ads everywhere.

Birthdays and the nature of historical time

A few days ago I talked about reading through notable birthdays on Wikipedia. Since then I’ve been thinking about it a bit more.

The collective editorial voice of Wikipedia is continually making a choice about whose birthday gets mentioned. On any given date of birth, only a few people are considered notable enough for inclusion.

This is not surprising. If the list were allowed to grow unchecked, it would be essentially useless.

When you look at the resulting list, an interesting yet unsurprising pattern emerges: The older you are, the more important you need to be to make the list.

Go back a few centuries, and the bar becomes very high. Leonardo Da Vinci (April 15) and Johann Sebastian Bach (March 21) make the list, but many august and famous personages from their time do not.

But the recent list is far more inclusive. Essentially, the later you were born, the less important you need to be to make the cut.

I wonder whether this is something that goes beyond mere issues of cultural bias. It might have something to do with our fundamentally logarithmic way of perceiving things, just as our perception of intervals of musical pitch is on a logarithmic scale, not a linear scale.

We believe that we think of time linearly, but when it comes right down to it, our experience of history is not based on equal intervals of time, but rather on equal ratios of time. Our collective consciousness creates intervals of perception that grow progressively larger as we peer further into the past.

Zoom breaks

I think there should be a rule on Zoom that all 30 minute meetings should actually be 25 minutes, with a 5 minute “rest” period between one meeting and the next. Similarly, all hour long meetings should actually be 50 minutes.

There should be a software feature that enforces this. Maybe it can be a setting that is turned on by default.

The way things work right now, it seems that we are expected to jump from one meeting to the next — to the next, to the next — without any expectation of a break in between. I don’t think that is good for either the mind or the body.

Eventually, in the far future, I am waiting for the technology to advance to the point where during those five minute breaks, Zoom will serve us all fine chocolates and hot cocoa. Now that would really be human-centered technology!

Starting with birthdays

Today, as is my habit, I went to the Wikipedia and looked up what notable people were born on this day of the year. I have an informal contest going with myself to see how many of the names I recognize.

Most of the names are new to me, but every once in a while something catches my eye, and I end up looking up somebody who has led a fascinating life. Since this is the Wikipedia, starting with birthdays generally leads me to eventually read about some fascinating topic or other. Before you know it, an hour has gone by.

I wonder how many other people regularly go through the Wikipedia birthdays. I am pretty sure that I am far from the only one.