The Second Self

In addition to the physical entity that can shake your hand and talk to you face-to-face, I also have a “second self” — the one that you’re interacting with right now. (Although I have to admit that perhaps interact isn’t the right word, since I may or may not even know you’ve read this.)

This “second self” concept is explored in an interesting piece at TED by Amber Case, which you can watch below.

Online connectivity obviously has a huge impact on our culture. When I was in high school, I remember being annoyed at having to memorize the periodic table, historical dates, or anything really. Why should I have to memorize this, I wondered, if I can just look it up on the Internet when I need it?

Now that smartphones have become so prevalent, we’re seeing an even greater emergence of that. Not just public information — e.g., the periodic table — but also personal information. Somewhere on my computer is a list of all the things I hated about my past apartment, so that when I’m looking for a new place in a year or so, I won’t repeat those mistakes.

So, in a sense, I have my very own external hard drive, just like my computer does. I don’t need to remember all these things right now, so I’ll just put the notes to myself on my computer or my smartphone (Evernote, anyone?). When I need them, they’re waiting to be accessed by the CPU — my brain.

In many video games, you have a kind of backpack to store massive quantities of items, sometimes even items it would be physically impossible for your video-game self to carry, like a horse. In some science fiction and fantasy stories, characters have this same ability, accompanied by some power to access them somehow or to conjure them into existence.

I used to think that concept was pretty far-fetched. But as Amber Case points out, we’re now carrying so many pounds of books and magazines and pages upon pages of information in our smartphones, that we would never be able to physically carry it all at once. And soon enough we may be able to replicate our own robots. Why package and ship rovers to a planet’s surface when you can send a 3D printer and the materials to make the robots once there?

The Second Self of the Future

So where is all of this second self / mental-extension technology leading us? Certainly there’s less of a need for us to be physically present. Parents even discipline their children from a distance now. Telecommuting is becoming more prevalent. What happens once something like virtual reality exists? My guess is that commuting will mostly become a thing of the past. We’ll have massively multiworker online (MMO) job functions, with all meetings taking place in the virtual space.

The need to be physically present may slim to such a degree that our houses become more extravagant, as they will literally be the only place we’ll be for the large majority of our lives. Or if virtual reality takes over enough, we may not need much of a place to live at all, since all of our time will be spent online. But we will need some way of keeping our bodies in good working order.

In fact, the more important our second self becomes, the more difficult it is to remember how important our first self is. Our bodies and brains become the limitations, and then what we look forward to is the Singularity. But that’s opening up a can of worms. Check out other interesting places for you to explore the Singularity concept.

Are you aware of the first impressions your second self creates? Do you think we’ll reach a point where being physically present at work is unnecessary? What kinds of jobs might still require physical presence? Leave a comment below or find me as +Traci Loudin on Google+, the perfect place for fans of science fiction and fantasy to hang out.

I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what science fiction comes up with in regards to those questions. And of course, I’m sure truth will turn out to be even stranger than fiction. The next half-century is bound to be interesting!


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