Skype: not quite gods, but a lot like angels


I want two (more) things from my technology:

1) Full access to everything everyone knows.

2) Better access to everyone I know.

1) Full access to everything everyone knows.

Google already gives me a pretty good facsimile of this first condition. A few well chosen key words and it’s all there (somewhere…sorting that’s another problem). Eventually, when we have everything on line and Google is more and more tunable as a search engine, we will have access to everything.

But the next step here is wireless connection to the internet and voice control. So that I can perform a Google search anywhere by voice. To be still more demanding, I want the result to play on the surface of my choice. I point a little camera at a wall or a desk top to see the search results. Or my glasses supply the screen.

Now the technology has simulated what I like to think of as the “Victor Li experience.” Victor is a Burmese Canadian I met at Cambridge who can recall virtually everything he has ever read. That’s what I want from my technology. The simulation of perfect recall. But forget Victor Lee. Now we are a little like a God. We can summon all knowledge, anywhere, by voice. Well, perhaps not like a God, but certainly like an angel.

The Renaissance distinction said God was knowledge while angels had knowledge without the need of mediating senses. Humans of course can only know effortfully. This is what the tech. does for us. It moves us up a notch in the great chain of being. And this is why the William Gibson, Bruce (merely) Sterling notion of “jacking in” is mistaken. The technology is about disintermediation, not reintermediation. Ubiquity means the technology comes to us and gets steadily better at doing so…so we don’t have to jack in!

2) Better access to everyone I know.

When I was in Korea earlier this year, I saw kids using 3G technology to build and maintain social networks much larger and more interactive than was possible for their parent’s generation. They were using web-enabled cell phone cameras to take and send pictures to everyone in their net as a way of “pinging the hive.” Now, they were communicating smaller bits of information more often to more people. They had found a way of maintaining a larger social network with roughly the same investment of time required by the old fashioned face to face networks. Phone to phone networks cost the same as face to face networks, but they are larger and the connections are strangely more intimate and less mediated by social convention. One Korea teen sees what is happening to another Korean teen more directly.

The new P2P telephone technology called Skype gives us a glimpse of this. Pam and I used it all weekend. I was using a headset and my PC in Montreal. She was using the microphone and speakers built into her Ibook in Connecticut. Voice quality was very, very good. I got to be the voice issuing from her laptop. This meant that Molly, the kitten, could listen and, once or twice, pipe up.

Skype is weird. You are “just speaking.” And your voice is emerging somewhere else, gratis the elaborate voice box provided by the PC, ISP and P2P telephony from Skype. And you have very ready access to everyone on your list. And this is weird too. I had no idea how much I resented hunting and pecking the tiny buttons on my cell phone. Skype is all point and click. It’s a pretty glorious way of disintermediating the technology, so that less and less stands between us and the task, and more and more people are readily accessible to us when we do so.

Not quite Gods. But a lot like angels.

4 thoughts on “Skype: not quite gods, but a lot like angels

  1. Randy Simmons

    I am interested in your take on Neal Stephenson’s essay “In the Beginning was the Command Line.” He seems to worry far more than you do about hiding the interface. Or at least he claims there are implications for “knowledge.”

  2. Grant

    Randy, that’s a great point, once the technology feels like an enablement of my abilities (including my ego and my vanity) I will cease to scrutinize it. Indeed, I will do anything, pay anything, ensure anything to sustain my connection to it. We will get to be gods but, worse case, cease to be citizens. Thanks, Grant

  3. Brock

    The difference between you and Victor Li is merely a difference in the concentration of a few molecules in the brain. He has more CREB than you, which stimulates long-term memory formation. Scientists have already used genetic engineering to create “Victor Li” fruit flies and mice. There are drugs in the pipeline right now which in clinical testing have turned elderly humans with mild memory problems into neo-Rain Man.

    Be patient. It will come.

  4. Grant

    Brock, That’s a relief. I would worry about forgetfulness more but of course I tend to forget how often I’ve forgotten, as it were. I am prepared to submit to genetic engineering and offer myself up for clinical trials. I need more CREB. Thanks, Grant

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