No, the title of this post isn’t a typo. An article from the journal Policy Options this month got me thinking about how technology is changing public spaces.
Science fiction writers usually need to create a believable setting for their story. If that story takes place on an alien world, the imagination can run pretty free, except for some limitations from the laws of physics. But if the story takes place in a human future, we try to extrapolate from future trends. That can be pretty tough, ’cause we’re almost bound to miss a trick or two. (Right now I’m in the middle of reading a pretty decent space opera novel that takes place when humanity has colonized the larger moons of the gas giant planets and many asteroids, but it features a police detective consulting what amounts to a personal tablet computer with wifi. Really? Hundreds of years in the future that’s still the best we’ve got?)
When it comes to public spaces, I think the movie Blade Runner hit the mark. It shows giant animated advertisements streaming across buildings and passing airships in bright neon colours. These days, with ultra-powerful computing and relatively energy-stingy LED lights, office buildings, transportation terminals, and even cathedrals have been transformed into high-definition displays. They can showcase brands, run teaser campaigns, or just provide entertainment, but whatever they do they’re captivating. Who’s to say where this trend will go? Especially since I haven’t heard of any attempts by lawmakers to regulate it.
If the cost of giant LED display panels continues to drop, we might see most new building construction opt to have sources of advertising revenue instead of blank walls. Think neon billboards hundreds of feet high everywhere you turn. What about a huge yellow arrow that travels across every building along a major thoroughfare to direct you to the newest big consumer event? Yet there’s no reason for such visuals to be confined to advertising. They could just as easily be used for propaganda, personal, corporate, or government. Maybe media companies will fill them with programming like giant TV’s (imagine the driving hazard that could create). Maybe mansion dwellers will try to outdo each other with lightshows, even when it isn't Christmas. I’d have to assume that sky-high pornography would be shut down in a big hurry, but I could be wrong.
My point is that people, companies, and governments are finding it harder and harder to catch our attention. Literally surrounding us with their messages is probably the next big step. Science fiction writers should likely reflect that in their stories. And those who view this idea with utter horror should start looking for a nice, off-the-grid, remote island to hole up.