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In the Future Your House Will Nitpick You
An eye-opening visit to the future at Seoul's 'Ubiquitous Dream Hall'
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2005-07-03 17:05 (KST)   
Star Trek or Seoul?
©2005 D. Weber
Seoul's "Ubiquitous Dream Center" at the Ministry of Information and Communication offers visitors a glimpse into life in the future with all of its conveniences and fussiness. It's the type of future that some consumers will lap up and enjoy while others may find it a little disconcerting to have their household furniture telling them what to do.

It's a future where your bedroom mirror will decide if your tie is appropriate with your trousers, where your refrigerator will give you updates on the freshness of the food it contains, where your television reminds you of appointments then promptly shuts off, where your car gives you directions, and where you can never escape communication from the office and time/money-consuming family members.

The Ubiquitous Dream Hall, which uses an odd interpretation of the word ubiquitous, has set up a model of a futuristic home. It's a home that manages itself and you. TV screens are everywhere from living room to bedroom to refrigerator door. These screens serve not only to show TV programs but still-life photographs and more importantly, live video calls -- the stock of phone-sex companies will no doubt offer a bonanza to future investors.

Before visiting the dream home replica, visitors are shown a short film showing the wonders that will be ... IN THE FUTURE! The Dream Hall has put together a short feature that depicts a day in the life of a Korean doctor in the near future and how technology assists him like a kind, nagging mother.

The film begins with the good doctor watching a TV program when his TV suddenly informs that he is late for a meeting then it promptly shuts off. Like a conditioned Pavlov dog, the doctor scurries out to his car. A few minutes later, he is driving down the road while listening to his car tell him the current road conditions and the directions he needs to follow like some backseat driver. His rather anal car then goes on to inform its driver that his arrival will be approximately at 10:17.

Language teachers and translators of the future will no doubt hold the next presented invention with particular disdain as they wait for their monthly unemployment check and food stamps. At his appointment, the doctor converses via live video with a Japanese colleague (good to see tensions will have eased between these two countries by this time) both in their own languages. Translation is done simultaneously. Another career and academic discipline made redundant by the wonders of technology.

A dining room table of the future
©2005 D. Weber
After his meeting the doctor is interrupted by a colleague at work. It seems a patient isn't doing so well and now it's time to operate. With minutes to go, holograms of hearts and organs begin popping up as the doctor coaches the surgical team on the right procedures to follow. It was a good thing he wasn't doing anything else when the hospital called. I imagine golf courses in the future will be cluttered with doctors performing hologram surgery while their golf partners wait in quite desperation to tee off.

To take a break from his hectic schedule of holograms and video conferences, the doctor decides to let off a little steam by watching a soccer match on his cell phone. He gets a bit carried away jumping about all by himself in an empty park. It seemed a bit sad really.

At the end of the day, the doctor helps his daughter who is studying in America with her homework via the TV screen. Viewers will notice right away that the age of the two doesn't seem so great. Several of my fellow viewers mistook the daughter to be the doctor's wife or his mistress. Either the effects of old age will be greatly lessened or we'll be having our kids much earlier in life from age 10 or so. While the two talk, the narrator comforts us by telling us that physical distance will be meaningless in the future due to these TV calls. The narrator must have come from a broken home.

After the film, visitors are given a tour of a home of the near future. The living room was much like the one from the film. Its large screen made TV and videogame junkies weak in the knees. The living room screen is hooked into all of the screens within the house so if one has to go to the kitchen, they can follow their TV shows and phone calls to the refrigerator door.

Mechanical jellyfish float about in an aquarium of the future.
©2005 D. Weber
The screen on the refrigerator door has another function displaying the freshness of the food within and its expiration date. No more sniffing milk to see if its sour or eating semi-rancid pork chops by mistake. A package of pork was offered as an example of a food item that had passed its expiration date. Instead of having a porkless fridge, the owner can order new pork from his refrigerator screen to replace the expired pork. I should note it was comforting for those of us meat-eaters in the crowd that the consumption of meat including pork will still be acceptable in the future.

The bedroom has another large, flat screen TV that can be used to display images of works of arts and photographs to set the mood for whatever hologram person you care to seduce for the night.

Thanks to the bedroom mirror, fashion faux pas will be a thing of the past. No more overweight people in stretching spandex, no more middle-aged husbands in tacky golf pants and poorly color-designed ties, no more teenage fashion causalities from bored nihilistic youth. The bedroom mirror will immediately alert the fashion police in the event of any person who dares to flaunt its fashion authority. Like a computerized eye for the live guy, the mirror sizes up body size (and probably ugliness as well) to determine what style of clothing would be best for you.

With all these talking, nagging, nitpicking machines from televisions, cars and mirrors I think people of a more Luddite-like nature will spend much of their time telling their appliances just where to go.

I imagine the following conversation will likely to be heard on roads in the future:

Car: Turn right at the light.
Driver: I know, I know...
Car: The turn is coming up. I think you should get ready to turn.
Driver: Thank you! It's not like I haven't done this a million times before!
Car: Turn on your right turn signal.
Driver: Look! I'm not an idiot, alright!
Car: We will be approaching the turn in approximately 35 seconds. Move to your right.
Driver: I'm doing it! I'm doing it! Get off my back, will ya?
Car: I sense stress levels are rising.
Driver: Damn straight they're rising! Shut up already!
Car: For safety and legal precautions I am not allowed to be silent.
Driver: Lucky me!
Car: I should inform you that you have just missed your turn.
Driver: I know I missed my turn! I meant to miss my turn!
Car: That does not make sense. Now you will be approximately 43 seconds late for work.
Driver: Can I drive us into a river?
Car: I sense stress levels are still rising...

From the futuristic home replica, we were taken to a futuristic store and cafe. Even in the future, junk food will apparently still be available. No worries if you forgot your wallet or purse (though your front door would probably have reminded you anyway). As long as you have your retinas you don't need to fool around with cash and credit cards to purchase items. I fear the criminal element in the future will switch from purse snatching to eyeball plucking thanks to devices that identify purchasers by their eye patterns.

At the cafe, a squat unattractive little robot brings you your food and drinks. No more waiters and waitress to flirt or argue with. I hope we won't be expected to tip this little R2-D2 rip-off.

The robotic waiter brought home to me the problem that had been itching at me at the back of my mind since the end of the demo film: the lack of human contact. In both the film and the tour of the home, store, and cafe I saw very little in actual human contact save that which was done through a TV screen. Despite the assurance of the film's narrator that such communication will compensate for physical distance, I feel this will further alienate and isolate people from each other. TV screens and the Internet are not enough, in my opinion, to replace actual physical human interaction.

Our dependency on machines and computers in this future does not bode well if the power should ever go out. In the event of some catastrophe which knocks out the power, we're likely to have thousands of people die from eating moldy bread because the refrigerator wasn't working in order to tell them the bread had gone bad. Others will wander lost in their vehicles until their fuel runs out or they starve to death because they can't remember how to get to the store.

Will he be back?
©2005 Warner Bros
Eventually -- and, of course, barring any disasters -- our computers will turn on us and use our pasty soft flesh as gear lubrication and our brains as batteries. Science Fiction has long predicted computers and robots rebelling against mankind but scientists continue to plug away at creating better robots that can mimic human movement and even feeling -- all the better to hunt us down and kill us.

What the inventors of the future need to keep in mind is that ultimately humanity not convenience is the most important thing. We need inconvenience. We need the leeway to make mistakes. Trying to control our every waking moment to steer us from mistakes, from accidents is wrong. I want mistakes, I want accidents, I want those lovable moments of sheer frustration when I get lost and find something else I never would have found if I followed some car's advice. Creativity thrives in chaos and stagnates in order. Orson Wells once stated in "The Third Man" that:

"In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

In short I don't want a perfect convenient future. I want an imperfect human future.
©2005 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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