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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

These kids today

I honestly don’t feel any older.

Sure, in my mid-40s I’ve got aches and pains in my body that weren’t there when I was 20. But mentally, I don’t feel any different than I did when I was in my 20s. I’d like to think I’m not a stick-in-the mud. That I’m always open to new and different ways of thinking. That I’m always chasing the next cool bit of technology, learning something new about the universe, discovering some perspective I’ve never had before.

This makes the realization that I’m perilously close to turning 50 years old (relax, it won’t happen until that far-off year of 2020) mind boggling. How can it be? I don’t feel old. I’m not yelling at kids to get off my lawn, am I?

Still, the older you get, the more you realize why older people have a reputation for rejecting new things. It’s so easy to get comfortable. If your brain was wired a half-century ago, it can be very hard to adapt to ways of working or living that were introduced even five or ten years ago. And at a certain point, I’m sure, most people decide that they are who they are and there’s no point in changing that just to embrace something new.

This may seem weird, but I often find it a useful exercise consider just what sort of thing would utterly repel me. What would turn me into a grumpy old man demanding that whippersnappers vacate the front yard? What technology would cross a line I didn’t know existed, a place I’d be unwilling to go?

I keep coming back to interfaces. It’s hard for me to imagine that big screens (like the 27-inch iMac in front of me right now and the flat screen TV in my living room) are going to be replaced by augmented or virtual reality glasses. I can’t imagine wearing a headset in order to watch a movie or write an article, but wouldn’t it be better if you could take your workspace with you anywhere you went? Wouldn’t it be better if offices weren’t designed around the placement of big computer screens and living rooms weren’t designed around television sets?

Yeah, there are issues. Does family movie night become an evening where everyone agrees to share the same virtual screen in their AR glasses? It could work—but it seems wrong to me. Maybe that’s a meaningful repulsion.

Direct brain interface stuff also bothers me. The idea of creating tech that interfaces not just to our external inputs—our senses—but right into our brains itself is a natural one. It offers the greatest potential to merge humanity and technology into a more advanced sort of being. Imagine having unlimited perfect memory, a brain-speed connection to the Internet, control over remote devices and appendages with just a thought.

It may well be the future, but it grosses me out all the same. Drilling into your head and applying electrodes? Or worse, allowing nanobots to colonize your brain cells and make additional connections? I enjoyed Ramez Naam’s novel on the subject, Nexus, an awful lot—but I don’t think I’d want to take Nexus and worry about hackers breaking into my mind.

Typing on a virtual keyboard is another one for me. I’m actually pretty adept at typing on glass—I can manage 96 words per minute on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro—but I hate hate hate it for longform writing. Give me physical keys any day. Give me big, clicky mechanical keys and I’ll be in heaven. But it’s hard for me not to look at software keyboards and accept that, with some haptics blended in, having a completely configurable input space for typing, cursor movement, and other information is a whole lot more sensible than a set of pushbuttons with letters and symbols written on them.

What I’m saying is, sometimes in envisioning the parts of the future that we most expect to dislike, we can open the door on what the future might actually be like. It’s an interesting exercise, at the very least. Where do you draw the line? Compose a brainmail on your virtual keyboard and send it to my virtual-reality headset. I won’t be listening.

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