Who has not seen the movie “The Matrix”? As incredible as it seems, there still seem to be those who have not. I guess none of my readers responds to this challenge so I skip the storyline and the cast.
One of the defining scenes of the first installement was when Cypher (the traitor) had a meeting with agent Smith in an posh restaurant. As they sat and ate, they contemplated the details of a deal they have been working on.
Cypher was about to deliver the resistance fighters around Morpheus to the agents. In exchange for his treachery, he would be re-plugged into the Matrix and live a life of riches, pleasures and endless enjoyments happily ever after. It would be a virtual life of course as everything in the Matrix was, but to him it would be no less real than a full bones and flesh existence. Minus all the stuff he never liked in his life. The Matrix would allow the fulfillment of even the wildest dreams.
Still, it’s not real, you might say and who could possibly want to exchange the real thing (flesh, bones, hardship, disease but also the good moments like love of a wife or kids) for some virtual, vaporous, fickle dream? The answer will shock you. Probably more than 90% of the world’s population would gladly do that. Yeaahhh, there is a 9 in 1 chance that you would want too.
A huge part of the worlds population (that includes most of today’s naysayers) would jump into such a virtual life with both feet if they really could do so realistically now. Don’t believe it? Let’s get specific.
In my teeny years, I read a little booklet on self-development. It was my first real self-development book and the beginning of a long journey to build myself and a mind I would be proud to call my own.
The author had divvied up all people on planet earth as belonging into one of 3 very distinct categories.
According to him there would be
- Those which want to be DUMB;
- Those which want to be SMART;
- Those which chose to be WISE;
He went on pretending that about 80% of the world’s population belongs to the DUMB camp. 18% to the SMART camp and just about 2% were truly WISE.
He furthermore stated that those proclivities were not genetic but that each and every individual was entirely free to join any of those groups at any moment. One just had to decide for himself – no greater authority would be needed to seal the change or to document it.
Dumb were supposed to be those who needed someone telling them what to do, when and how. Smart were supposed to be those who needed someone they could tell what to do, when and how. And wise were supposed to be those who made their own decisions and lived by them.
What does all this have to do with the Matrix and with Cypher?
Cypher clearly was dumb. He was not unintelligent. He actually had quite a lot of technical knowledge and was certainly capable of very complex stratagems and schemes. He was a highly involved and motivated person with at least a passive interest in things around him and he was even able to wisecrack.
But he desperately longed to be rid of all responsibilities and chores of a real life and craved a sorrow free, carefree life where he had nothing to worry about. He was willing to take quite considerable risks in betraying his closest friends and companions, and was pretty entrepreneurial when it came to outwit them.
The guy was a strategic planner and still, he wanted a life that was easier on him. So does the bulk of the population. Not sticking the head out and avoiding being singled out for anything is supremely important to most people no matter what creed, color or country they originate from. It’s the ultimate equalizer.
But those smart also crave a system like the Matrix. They are as dependent on those dumbs as those are dependent on the smart-cracks. Imagine someone in search of someone else he could give orders but he does not find any. Ain’t that dumb?
This would mean that 98% of any population would welcome a system that assures them of a carefree life. They would happily trade freedom and self-determination for a life in carefree dependence which the Matrix really is.
And if we look at developmental trends in daily news, this looks just about right.
But I don’t want to debate numbers here. A couple of percentage points up or down will not change trends.
My real issue is – are people really going to trade a life as they know it right now for one almost permanently hooked into a virtual environment? One does not have to go to the Matrix to imagine it. The Matrix is a somewhat extreme version where nobody has a real choice.
The movie surrogate with Bruce Willis offers another example that feels much closer to what we would describe our daily grunt. It’s unrealistic on many counts but the basic tenet is that people spend the majority of their time is so called stimulation (stim) chairs and experience the outside world through sophisticated robots, their surrogates.
These surrogates would enable humans all pleasures in the perfect safety of their homes. Some of course would reject plugging themselves into a stim-chair and want to go real.
But judging by how many people spend a large part of their wake time in a totally virtual world through smartphones and computers, I am tempted to believe that acceptance would be quick and widespread.
Let’s be frank – no real world pleasure will be able to match to sheer variety and endless adventures a fully virtual environment would offer. If you can be everything in the virtual world and the virtual world becomes indistinguishable from the real world such as it was in the Matrix, why should people chose to have the dull real version?
There will always be some but the majority will plug in.
This has extreme consequences on our world. If we spend most of our wake time in a stim-chair, the amount of space one single person needs in order to live a full social life will be much more limited. I can imagine persons taking very small apartments consisting of a bed, a stem chair, a loo and a shower. A couple of square meters will suffice. Japanese apartments in Tokyo will appear parlor like compared to those closets.
Also, if eating in the virtual world gives one the same pleasures (or better) than chowing your daily BigMac, people will eat less and go on a very different diet. Having a date online will not require real restaurant space or taxi services at night. It won’t even require a real person to share it with you.
Don’t believe it? Have you ever used intelligent systems today? They can really fool you to believe they are real – don’t they? Well OK, not really but trust me. Give it 10 years and they will. Especially combined with high resolution, high fidelity Virtual Reality eye- and ear-wear like an Oculus Rift on steroids. Judging by how many people prefer online intercourse to the real thing today, just imagine how this is going to be in 10 years time or more.
But if everyone is going to get permanently plugged into a Matrix style VR environment – where are all the people going to be. Will we need all those streets, subways, restaurants, hotels, airplanes and whatever else we think we cannot be without anymore? Think about that.
The Matrix is closer than you think. It will hit you and you will not want to get out anymore.