"What are words for?
When no one listens,
there's no use talking at all."
-- Missing Persons

Plug in, Click on, and Chill Out
by Stacey Kathleen Wenkel

There are so many new and improved gadgets coming out these days: bigger, better, faster computers that also play movies and the latest music video; television DVD, stereo entertainment enter home theaters; a combination electric toothbrush, ear-cleaner, and waterproof clock that can cut through tomatoes and tin cans with the same amount of effort. Well, maybe not that last combo. The point is, there is so much out there that's getting better, so many things that are getting bigger (or in the case of some computer technology, smaller). What was top-of-the-line last week isn't big enough anymore. What was new and hot yesterday, isn't fast enough today, and it will look like a toaster oven compared to the power of what comes out tomorrow. It's hard to say what might be next, what might be bigger, better, faster, or cooler as far as technology is concerned when we look into the future (if we can't determine fashion, why would determining technology be any easier).

My dream for the hip new thing, for the bigger, better, faster gadget is the human/machine interfaces that form a basis for most cyberpunk novels and role playing campaigns. I'm sure we've quite a way to go between now and then, but I'd love to see it happening. I'd love to see the ultimate combination of fashion and technology.

Pretty soon typing isn't going to be good enough for most people. Even now, there are machines that work on voice patterns. Eventually that'll take too much effort as well. Some day, we're going to want to do nothing more than plug that serial cable (though I can't imagine them calling them serial cables at that point, that just wouldn't be cool) into that socket at the base of our skulls.

If you look at the way the internet has progressed over the past ten years, you'll notice a trend. Text used to be the medium of choice. A 300-baud modem was as good as it got. And the worldwide web? Not even close to what it is today. We're talking 'gopher' level technology (I can see the head scratching and confused looks now). But today, if you don't have a graphical browser of some sort, you're missing out on all of the 'cool stuff' that's on the web. Heck, even now there are a number of sites that you can't load if your browser doesn't support Java or dynamic HTML.

Naturally progressing, we don't just want pictures on the web now, we want animated graphics, we want audio and video streaming. And if we keep going toward that extreme, we'll not be content with that, either. Smells, tastes, touches. That's what we'll want next. They'll all be real, or as real as they can be once we can plug that cable in, once we have that computer-to-brain link, once we cut out the middle man that is Real Life.

The funny thing is, I abhor a lot of the graphical user interfaces that so many people cling to these days. I hate the fact that there are people who look at you blankly when you say UNIX. In that way, I'm a net elitist and giving people an even easier way to get onto the 'net--an even easier way to interact with the other people out there, to MAKE MONEY FAST--daunts me, scares me, and makes the elitist in me twitch. But I still want to see it. I want to see and touch and taste and smell and _feel_ what's happening online. After reading Melissa Scott's _Trouble and Her Friends_ and Gibson's _Neuromancer_, _Count Zero_, _Mona Lisa Overdrive_, and _Idoru_, I'm not content to see the 'net--or the way humans and machines interact with each other, separate from each other--remain the way it is now. For a week after I read _Trouble_, I angsted over how unfair it was that I couldn't pick an icon and zip through the 'net like I was walking around downtown. I know I'm not the only one.

I'm sure there would be resistance at first to these new human/machine interactions. Incorporating machinery into the human body for fun (and profit) might be a little too extreme for some. But like body piercing, tattoos and a number of other weird fashion trends, it would eventually catch on. There'd be the deck-heads; the folks who only have an implant that lets them access the internet "live". And up from them would be the ones who are like Molly in Gibson's _Neuromancer_ and his short story "Johnny Neumonic". We'd have mirror shades that did more than hide our eyes from the sun, we'd gleefully modify our bodies, taking in mechanical and computerized parts until we couldn't tell where we stopped and the machine started.

But that's what I'd really like to see. I'd like to see nano technology come into being. I'd like to see people plugged into their computers, experiencing the internet with all five senses. I'd like to see freaks with lasers for eyes and biomechanically enhanced senses and reflexes going at each other in some sort of arena i event that's a throwback to those that took place in the Roman Coliseum.

I can't imagine any of it happening soon, but I'd like to be around to see it. I may be too old and set in my ways by then to take advantage of it, but I'd love to see what kind of effect that technology would have on people. And until then, I guess, I'll have to be content to bang away on the keyboard of my laptop and read about it.

(Originally published in Jackhammer.)


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