The post-biological evolution of appearance

As we start to develop the ability, due to advancing technology, to support a virtualized embodied presence for all citizens, and as that embodied presence becomes divorced from the dictates of physical reality, will the notion of appearance itself change?

To provide historical context, we rarely see the naked bodies of friends and colleagues. So the idea of covering our bodies with a sort of virtual camouflage — otherwise known as fashion — is well entrenched in human society.

But once future wearables allow us to free ourselves from literal appearance entirely, just how far will our chosen appearance deviate from our natural appearance? Will our virtual eyes become larger, because people find that attractive? Will our virtual bodies shrink relative to our virtual heads, because people find bodies less interesting than faces?

There is a biological appearance norm that evolution has taken us to, and all of us more or less hover around that norm. Yet there may be a different appearance norm that our brains are drawn to.

Perhaps, once we have been freed from the constraints of biologically determined physical appearance, we will collectively drift toward that other norm. If so, the drift will quite likely be so gradual that we won’t see it happening. Everyone will simply continue to appear normal.

After all, nobody considers it at all weird that everyone they know wears clothing, even though there is nothing natural about clothing. Furthermore, if somebody were to show up at your favorite restaurant stark naked (in other words, if that person were to revert to their truly natural self), you would no doubt be horrified, and the police would inevitably arrive to cart that person away.

One Response to “The post-biological evolution of appearance”

  1. Adrian says:

    This seems to presume that people will be able to choose how others see them. What if, instead, people were able to choose how they see others?

    As an analogy, a messaging app I used to use allowed you to override the names and avatars shown on messages from others. For example, when my mom sent me a message, I would see it as from “Mom” (with a family photo I selected) rather than by the name on her contact card (with a professional portrait). I also chose to see many other family members and close friends by nicknames that applied only in small circles. I never understood why the social networks instigated the Real Name Wars. It was definitely a downgrade.

    If I can walk around town as though it were in perpetual sunrise, then why shouldn’t I be able to decide how the folks I interact with appear to me?

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