Thursday, July 16, 2009

The end of symbolic communication

A few years ago, probably more than 10, I happened to listen to Jaron Lanier, Virtual Reality's philosopher and visionary, talk about the end of symbolic communication, or how he called it, the post-symbolic age. Practically he envisioned, 300 to 500 years from now, a world where we will not need to talk by using our old and archaic symbolic language just because we will be able to transfer concepts directly from one mind to the other using "conceptual" authoring tools. So, 300 years from now, or a little bit later, I will be able to tell stories to my friends by creating images and movies in real time, and in some other way which ahs not been invented yet I will be able to convey abstract concepts too. Now, at that time, that idea did not really resonate with me, until when a few days ago I downloaded, on my iPhone, a couple of applications: Sahazm and SnapTell. With Shazam you can have your phone listen to some songs (it works better with American pop songs...) and it will tell you the title, the artist, and create direct links to Web sites where you can actually buy the CD or the tracks. In a similar way SnapTell allows you to take pictures of book covers and CDs (again works better with American books and CDs...), and in exchange it will give you back titles, authors, and a link to Amazon where, with a simple click, you can buy the item. And it does not take a lot of imagination to predict that things like Shazam and SnapTell will extend to movies, any objects in general, and everything else. Wow! That's impressive. Think about it for a minute: I can listen to a song, see a book in a book store, and buy them right away without going through any symbolic language. SnapTell and Shazam bypass the hurdle of language, and go directly from sounds and images to complete transactions. Is this the beginning of the end of symbolic communication?

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