Previously, I mentioned the relatively traditional view of the nation-state offered by Google’s Eric Schmidt and former State Department official Jared Cohen in their book, “The New Digital Age: Transforming Nations, Businesses, and Our Lives”.
That conservative view extended to the Internet as a whole. The authors concluded the book with the statement that the physical world and the virtual or digital (Internet) world will remain mostly separate even in the future.
Is that so?
In addition to new blended urban spaces and augmented reality that I’ve written about before, there are examples of a blending of physical and digital in many areas, including retail business, education, health care and employment.
Among many such articles about this blending, for instance, is this one titled “The Future of Retail: Blending the In-Store and Online Experience”. Another article from earlier this year describes the blended work environment, “The Physical-Digital Convergence: The Connected Employee”.
This phenomenon has caught the attention of the general media. The Deseret News in Utah, had a story titled, “Blurred lines: How people’s lives have become an online and offline experience”, starting out with the case of an author living almost all the time in both worlds.
Google Glass, all kinds of new health-oriented devices (Apple Watch being just the latest) along with tech-embedded items of clothing is part of the public’s interest in wearable technology. In a blog on the website of Forrester, the tech consulting company, Anjali Lai wrote how “US Consumers Embrace Convergence Of The Physical And Digital”. Lai cited Forrester research on the increasing percentage of Americans wanting wearable tech.
Some research has even shown how the behavior of people in the purely physical world is impacted by what they learn and do in the virtual world. See, for example, Jennifer Lee’s review of studies in “The Many Ways Virtual Communities Impact Our World Offline”. Among other impacts, but one with especially broad implications, she reports on a study that:
“positive behavior can be reinforced in the physical world if the participant could visualize and experience a particular scenario in the virtual world [through an avatar].”
Even without avatars, this idea is reinforced by an academic experiment described in the ACM article, Blending digital and physical spaces for ubiquitous community participation, showed that:
“Blurring the notional boundary between the digital and the physical in social activity spaces helps blend – and motivate – online and face-to-face community participation.”
In an admonition to corporate executives (like Google’s Schmidt?) to understand what’s going on, Lai, the author of the Forrester blog mentioned above, quoted a colleague on the same subject:
“Convergence of the physical and digital world is eroding the boundaries that are the basis for many operating assumptions; firms today are ill-prepared to handle the resulting chaos [ … ] we are seeing a convergence of digital and physical identities — people are not differentiating who they are online and in person.”
Lai also used the environmental word ecotone, which is the “zone where two habitats merge”, noting:
“We are living in an ecotone where physical meets digital, where the edge of our offline experience converges with our online one.”
And also that:
“people are deeply attracted to these areas of convergence and interaction because the edge is where the action is … the edges we create in our society generate energy and are the places we push things to for the best results”
Are these worlds separate and the gap between them to be forever large? It would seem not.
Indeed, it’s best to think about this in an almost opposite way. As the founder and former director of MIT’s Media Lab, Nicolas Negroponte, is quoted in “The Wisdom Of Nicolas Negroponte: Digital Convergence – You Don’t Know The First Thing”:
“Like air and drinking water, being digital [and blurring the boundaries between our digital and physical world] will be noticed only by its absence not its presence”
© 2014 Norman Jacknis