A hundred years ago, if two people were in the same room they would be … in the same room. That seems straightforward.
Fast-forward to 2013. Now if you put two people in the same room, at least one of them will be texting someone who is not in the room. The mind of the person doing the texting will be, for all practical purposes, somewhere else. That person has smeared space. His mind and body are in two completely different places.
I wonder about the implications of this spatial smearing. I think it will make our brains evolve differently. A caveman’s brain only had to keep track of his actual physical location and perhaps the watering hole. Modern humans keep in their minds a virtual map of the world that includes all the places they have travelled, the location of their friends, and all the places they might later go. We also browse the Internet and take our minds all over the world in the form of news. Presumably this has an impact on our brain development. The part of human brains that controls spatial stuff will become the size of a pumpkin.
In 2013 most adults consider it rude when someone whips out a phone and starts texting at the dinner table, or interrupts a conversation to handle an incoming text message. But the standards of etiquette are rapidly evolving. If you put four teens at a dinner table, all four will be texting and none of them will think it rude. I doubt they will drop the habit as adults.
I’ve been thinking about this topic because I get a strange feeling when someone starts texting in my presence. I feel as if that person is no longer in the room. And this raises an interesting question of etiquette on my part: Can I treat a person who is texting in my presence the same as someone who is not in the room? For example, can I leave the room without a goodbye or an explanation? Can I make a phone call that will last half an hour, thus making the texting person wait when he is done texting?
Can I text someone who is standing right in front of me and texting someone else? It seems the best way to get from wherever I am to wherever the other person’s brain went. That’s a serious question, by the way, because I generally want to communicate with the people who are in the room with me. When the phone gets top priority for communication, sometimes texting the person standing right in front of you is the only way. (And yes, I’ve done this.)
I also wonder if it is polite to interrupt someone who is sending a text. Do I get a higher priority simply by being in the same room? Or must I wait in silence and stare at the wall until the other is done texting?
Google Glasses will take this spatial smearing to a new level. At least with smartphones you can tell when someone’s mind is elsewhere. But how happy will you be when you are having a conversation in person and your friend keeps glancing up to watch his little projection screen inside his glasses? I think Google Glasses might be the last straw for in-person communication. My plan when Google Glasses replace smartphones is to just say fuck it and never again attempt to make conversation in person. It will be too frustrating.
I’m not suggesting life in the future will be worse. I generally welcome new technology. And communicating with several people at once without the limits of space or time is awesome. But I think in-person communication will come to be seen as annoying and inefficient. I will go so far as to predict that in-person communication will someday be seen as a rude interruption to whatever is happening inside your Google Glasses.
That’s a serious prediction.