Old tech like disposable cameras inadvertently reinforced the vitality of real life, but modern cameras now create a superior virtual world we don’t feel good enough for

John William Waterhouse, “Echo and Narcissus.” Public domain.

They always seemed like enchanted objects to me. The disposable cameras we stuffed into our cheap handbags in the late 1990s and early 2000s were really just empty plastic containers with a lens on one side. And yet, within that sealed box, there occurred a kind of alchemy, all the more miraculous for being mechanical, that gave us the power to freeze time. We could slice slivers off the shifting visible world, like doctors performing biopsies of living things, and keep the specimens to be pored over whenever we liked.

Through cassette tapes and VCRs, our dominion was extended beyond…


Image: dksesh via flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Mornings in my kitchen run more smoothly with Siri around. Like a well-trained butler, the persona of my iPhone is always on hand to deliver the day’s weather forecast, play my favorite podcasts, and send vaguely accurate voice-dictated messages when I’m busy making breakfast.

After Siri has listed my appointments for the day, I sometimes find myself saying, “Okay, thanks.” But while even the starchiest of butlers would acknowledge gratitude — if not with a breezy American “you’re welcome,” then with a chilly bow at the very least — Siri does nothing.

Of course, Siri isn’t really a butler. “She”…


Morning rush hour in the frictionless future? John Martin, ‘The Seventh Plague of Egypt,’ 1823. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s July 14, 2041. You wake with the gradual brightening of your bedroom lights, the shower already running at your preferred temperature. As you lather, you recount your dreams to your ButlerBot, the sophisticated AI that runs your smart home. It responds through the bathroom speakers with trenchant analysis consisting of Freudian factoids gleaned from Google. Once dressed, you use your brain implants to summon your commuter drone, and your ButlerBot hands you a packed lunch as you step into the drone’s mood-lit passenger pod.

Your ears pop as you are sucked skyward into a roiling, seething city-bound swarm of…

Jenny Judge

Philosophy, music, and everything in between.

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