Media as a complement

‘A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.’ – George Moore

It is paradoxical as to how the experience of travelling to faraway places helps us appreciate our own home better. The same paradox might also apply to technology media.

We often think of media as a substitute for real-life experiences. The painting takes the place of a real-life scenary, and the photograph the place of the painting. A play on the life of Julius Caeser stands in for his real-life legacy, and a movie takes the place of such a play performed in-person.

An interesting question for the 21st century is that if virtual reality can some day replace reality itself, in all its aspects. Could VR turn out to be the ultimate real-life substitute?

Yet, there is a wholly different way to think about media – as a complement rather than a substitute.

If you simulated a virtual VR jungle right next to a real-life tree, what is most striking is how real the tree is. One notices the subtle movements of its branches, its leaves and the intricate texture of the tree’s bark. One realizes how rich in detail a simple tree is, and how the VR simulation pales in comparison.

Had there been no VR, it was likely that we simply walked past this tree without paying any attention to it.

In a similar vein, a recording can help us appreciate a live performance better. A book or a movie that depicts a person’s legacy also helps us observe how wonderful, complex and intricate life itself is.

Instead of considering technology media as a substitute for the real-world, what if we recognized it as a complement? That way, our apprecition of media doesn’t subtract from our real-lives. Instead, it adds beauty.

Inspiration: Jaron Lanier

Nature and technology

Technology is mistaken to be our ability to overpower nature. But nature cannot be overwhelmed.

Technologists are often portrayed as being the opponents of nature. Several nature lovers view technology with suspicion, seeing it as a means to destroy nature. However, this is often short-sighted. The best technology is in sync with the laws of nature, rather than at odds with it. The best technology is in step with nature and thereby harnesses its power.

Technology that isn’t in line with natural law backfires either in the short-term or in the long-term. The longest of time-horizons, of course, is only known to and is accessible to nature itself.

As Francis Bacon already summed up 4 centuries earlier, ‘Nature cannot be commanded, except by being obeyed’.

A search engine that fixes climate change

Not enough people know about Ecosia, the search engine that helps you fix climate change.

Just like Google, Ecosia runs on ads. But unlike Google, Ecosia directs most of its profits towards large-scale tree planting to serve as a carbon capture sink. The search page has a neat little counter to tally up your searches, each of which contribute towards tree-planting.

The search results are high-quality as well – Ecosia uses Microsoft Bing as the search engine. In several studies, Bing has been proven to be as good or superior to Google.

Further, Ecosia’s features that help you make eco-friendly purchasing choices. Searching for Patagonia gives you results with a green leaf next to the link, indicating that the company’s focus on sutainability.

In contrast, Amazon gets a ‘D’ for its climate efforts (or the lack thereof).

As consumers, we have immense power to vote with our wallets and fix climate change. An easy way for you to contribute is to make Ecosia the default search engine on your browser.

A bicycle for the mind

Steve Jobs called the computer a ‘bicycle for the mind’.

A computer is a bicycle for the mind given how it multiplies our intelligence. Yet, a bicycle is all but useless in the absence of a well-paved road. If you’re being chased by an elephant on the Serengeti shrub, a bicycle is useless.

For a computer to be useful, we need roads. Making computers is only a tiny part of the IT industry. Operating systems, programming languages, the internet, cybersecurity, email, e-commerce, touchscreens, artificial intelligence – the computer needs an enormous ecosystem for its potential to be realized.

Every innovation that hits the market isn’t a lost opportunity. Instead, it often creates the need for a whole new ecosystem to be built around it. The more we innovate, the more there is to innovate.

Magic in our pockets

In the world of Harry Potter, wizards and witches stayed in touch by sending each other owls.

Given that the book was set in a pre-internet, pre-smartphone era, sending scrawls of paper attached to owls was seen as a ‘magical’ means of communicating.

In the 25 years since the series was invented, we have far superior means of staying in touch. I am sure nobody would trade-off communicating with a smartphone or via video conferencing with owl post. Not even the wizards and the witches of the Harry Potter world.

Yet, given that we have grown up along with these technologies, we fail to recognize them as being magical.

Arthur C. Clarke was right when he remarked that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. The innovators among us are those whose eyes shine with the same wonder on seeing new technology, as those of a little child when she flicks across the magical pages of the Harry Potter world.