TECH & SCI­ENCE

Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - FRONT PAGE - with CHRIS

SCREENS are so 2017.

Okay, you got me - hell will freeze over be­fore I get bored of look­ing at my PC screen, or my tv screen, or my phone screen, or my ereader screen, or my tablet screen, or go­ing to the cin­ema to look at a gi­ant screen...I may have a prob­lem.

Since the ad­vent of the first home tele­vi­sions, peo­ple have been ob­sessed with star­ing at these large, shiny rec­tan­gles of end­less en­ter­tain­ment, so much so that in 2016, a sur­vey con­ducted by the or­gan­i­sa­tion ‘R U OK?’ found that Aus­tralians spent eight times as many hours per week star­ing at screens than they did with their loved ones.

That’s a sober­ing statis­tic, if ever there was one.

This year, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion listed gam­ing ad­dic­tion (and by ex­ten­sion the screen star­ing as­so­ci­ated with it) as a di­ag­nos­able men­tal dis­or­der.

With so much time ded­i­cated to lock­ing our eyes onto screens, it’s small won­der that, even though tech­nol­ogy has dras­ti­cally broad­ened our com­mu­ni­ties, en­com­pass­ing the en­tire globe in many in­stances, peo­ple are be­com­ing more so­cially iso­lated in their im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings.

Af­ter all, if it’s easy to catch up with a friend who lives three hours away from you via Face­book or some other form of so­cial net­work, the in­cen­tive to go and visit them in the flesh can lessen sig­nif­i­cantly.

Ad­di­tion­ally, with ready ac­cess to on­line com­mu­ni­ties of peo­ple who hold nearly iden­ti­cal be­liefs and val­ues as you do - or who share the same in­ter­ests - the im­pe­tus to go out and meet peo­ple in your town with whom you might only slightly kick it off with - if you’re lucky - dies off pretty rapidly.

Say what you will about the ‘Ja­panese RPG Furry Cos­play Fa­nat­ics’ sub­red­dit, but you know ex­actly what type of peo­ple are go­ing to be post­ing on there.

You couldn’t say the same of the crowd in the lo­cal night spot on any given evening.

It’s much eas­ier and more con­ve­nient to sit at home star­ing at your com­puter screen and chat to your on­line pals.

It may sim­ply be a mat­ter of per­spec­tive, but if the trend of screen-time over real-time con­tin­ues and in­ten­si­fies, I think it paints a very bleak fu­ture.

If in­vo­ca­tions of Godwin’s law are any in­di­ca­tion, we’re al­ready see­ing a marked in­crease in pretty se­vere trib­al­ism, as more and more peo­ple are quick to slap any­one who slightly dis­agrees with them on a po­lit­i­cal mat­ter with the la­bel of fas­cist or a Nazi.

On­line bul­ly­ing, too, is a scourge of the mod­ern era, and the in­stances of this seem to get worse with ev­ery sorry news head­line.

As a species, this form of on­line screen-com­mu­ni­ca­tion is very new to us, and per­haps, with time, we will ma­ture into it, and un­der­stand it bet­ter.

Or per­haps the an­swer will be to do away with screens all to­gether, and em­brace what might be the next stage in a tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ment - screen­less de­vices. As the big tech com­pa­nies look at new ways to in­no­vate, we’re see­ing the rise of de­vices that, al­though they af­ford us on­line con­nec­tiv­ity and meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, they do so sans a screen.

With the im­ple­men­ta­tion of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence’s such as Ama­zon’s Alexa and Google’s As­sis­tant, con­sumers are able to let their de­vices do the on­line search­ing for them via voice com­mands, al­low­ing them to stay in the real world, rather than be glued to a screen.

On top of this, we’re see­ing more wear­able de­vices that also al­low us to con­nect to the in­ter­net in a far less ob­tru­sive man­ner.

And while aug­mented re­al­ity is largely rel­e­gated to gim­mickry in its present form and ap­pli­ca­tion, there seems to be plenty of room to ex­pand the tech­nol­ogy in such ways that al­low us to main­tain our fo­cus on our im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings yet ac­com­plish on­line tasks.

And per­haps last but not least, the idea of an im­plant that sends in­for­ma­tion straight to your brain has been around for a while, but ma­jor uni­ver­si­ties are con­tin­u­ally re­port­ing progress with brain im­plants used in lab rats and hu­mans, while com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions for non­in­va­sive cou­pling with hu­man brain sig­nals are also emerg­ing.

Ja­panese com­pany, Ne­comimi, has even de­vel­oped cat ears that can be worn on the hu­man head and ma­nip­u­lated us­ing only the hu­man mind.

This may sound ba­nal, but the un­der­ly­ing tech­nol­ogy be­hind this kind of mind con­trol could have huge im­pli­ca­tions for de­vel­op­ing screen­less tech­nolo­gies.

◆ WEAR­ABLES: Could wear­able tech­nolo­gies be­come a good com­pro­mise be­tween grant­ing us on­line ac­cess while re­duc­ing our re­liance on screen-star­ing ac­tiv­i­ties?

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