A new technology maven predicts that robotics, nanomolecular devices, and virtual reality will transform the larger society into a utopia of boundless creativity, information, and play.
Beginning with a lengthy meditation on Furbies (the stuffed-animal craze of 1998), Pesce (Interactive Media Program/Univ. of Southern California) foresees electronic “virtual friends” so interactive that they will teach their owners “virtues like loyalty, sensitivity and trust.” Modules that teach users the rudiments of robotics design “will help children learn about the complex systems that make up real life.” Nanotechnology, or extreme miniaturization, will revolutionize medicine through minuscule devices for diagnosing and repairing damaged cells. The infinite possibilities offered by virtual reality will stretch the millennial child’s imagination, and “anything known to anyone anywhere . . . [will] become indistinguishable from what she knows for herself,” through the World Wide Web. While the author’s enthusiasm for computer toys is infectious, he offers almost no factual evidence to back up his hypothetical visions and never mentions the economic factors shaping new technologies. A child will not learn empathy from toys whose demands, unlike those of siblings or pets, can be silenced with the flick of a switch. The predictions for information technology seem equally naïve. “As long as I have a computer and a phone jack, I can be nearly as well equipped as someone in the Library of Congress,” Pesce gushes. “And it will only get better.” In fact, only a tiny percentage of library holdings are being put online, and this will only get better if there is massive investment in education and scholarship; moreover, millennial students will still need to identify, read, and evaluate information sources—whether those sources sit on library shelves or appear on screens. Nor does Pesce discuss populations whose lack of access to new technologies makes them increasingly vulnerable to exploitation by the connected minority.
Appealing but not convincing.