In the words of Bill Gates "The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow”. Statistics certainly confirm this in the year the number of Internet users hit over 4 billion, the number of social media users over 3 billion and the number of mobile phone users exceeded a whopping 5 billion. Now over half the world’s population is online.
In the month when a London hospital is preparing to launch the first ever NHS-funded internet addiction centre for young people and adults, it feels ripe to reflect on the ever evolving role technology has in our lives and comment on our temptation to view our futures as a kind of dystopian vortex where the digital revolution has spiraled out of control.
According to one Facebook executive, millennials look at their phones on average more than 150 times day. This has been calculated to mean that by the time today’s young are 80 they will have spent 21 years of their lives on their phones (BBC Radio 4: ‘Parenting in the Smartphone Age’, Bringing up Britain, Series 11), a startling statistic indeed. Are they missing out or are we missing out by not joining in?
We are also witnessing an exciting increase in debates and discussions in the media and the arts concerning the role of technology in our futures. And this is a theme that has been taken up by some of the more culturally switched on 2018 Summer Festivals providing an opportunity for iphone junkies to look up from their screens and reflect.
The theme for the Boomtown Festival 2018 chapter, for example, taking place in the second week of August, is ‘The Machine Cannot be Stopped’ where “people are being divided and conquered by the invasive hyper connected charm of new technology, distracting them with an endless barrage of manufactured dreams.”
But does it have to be the technology that is letting us down?
At the recent Latitude Festival 2018 I was invited by Head of the Arts at Festival Republic, Tania Harrison, to conceive and art direct an installation in the Faraway Forest exploring the theme of Tomorrow’s World.
“Our world is in a state of change: we might be heading towards a new era; the unknown, autocratic rule, The Republic of Gilead, the age of A.I., the nuclear war, ice winters and blazing summers, virtual futures; or perhaps the disenfranchised and silenced voices will rise up, and humanity and technology will marry and triumph?” (Tania Harrison/Arts Council)
I was really inspired by this refreshingly positive approach to exploring our futures. So, in my installation Virtual Realitree the truncated hulk of a lopped and branchless tree, which spoke eloquently of environmental degradation, became a hub for a reticulated web of geometric strings, presenting a hexagonal composition of complex relationships and interdependent lines strengthened in multiples to an infinite network representing the bonds of human connections. I explore sacred geometry and divine proportions, languages and symbols linking representations of the past with mass communication in the future.
Virtual Realitree for Latitude Festival 2018
The trunk is also wrapped and bound with spirals of ultra violet string. This creates the illusion of a 3D digital wireframe, which in computer graphics is a skeletal representation of a real-world object, before the textures and colours are added. In my installation, the virtual world has stepped into our real one; a comment on the increasingly blurred boundaries between the digital and the physical.
This got me thinking about our broader human aspirations, hopes and our dreams – our expectations that technology can improve our lives. Tech connects, coordinates, processes and categorises at scale. But what are the social challenges and how can experiential and immersive technologies offer profound opportunities for positive social and cultural change?
Investment in technology-driven human experiences creates complexity and risk, offering the opportunity to please the customer but potentially imperilling customer relationships if the promise falls short. So don’t let it. Be strategic and keep a close eye on the facts that inform your business strategies. Collaborate with wider circles of highly skilled and inspiring professionals. Strive for the development and creation of technologies that work for the greater good.
These connections and collaborations can enhance value for consumers of culture as much as for customers of brands. There are great opportunities offered by the rise of immersive technologies to help us understand and experience the real world from a ‘remote’ position of our various technologies. I was much inspired, for example, on a recent visit to the demo room at INITION, a technology innovation agency based in Shoreditch that provides a glimpse into the future of emerging interactive technologies exploring the potential of virtual reality amongst other exciting tech.
Digital transformation is about people, process and technology. I believe that uniting communities of human ideas can inspire and create positive change. With all our scientific achievements, I choose to celebrate the possibilities garnered by a more switched on connected global community and at least the desire for a vision of a utopian tomorrow.
Now look up from your screen and reflect...
All photos by Imogen Hammond.