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One of the predictions in my book, The Dilbert Future (1997), is that holodeck technology, as shown in Star Trek, will spell the end of humanity. As soon as sex and marriage in the simulated world of the holodeck become better than the real thing, no one will bother with the expense, stress, and inconvenience of actual procreation. Today I'm going to double down on that prediction, but instead of blaming it on holodeck technology, or sexy robots, I'll blame the Internet in general.

Young couples in the 1950s got as much enjoyment from spending time together as any young couple might today. I assume the sex felt just as good back then, the oxytocin release was the same, and the marital bliss was similar. Evolution works slowly, so things won't be much different in that department in the next hundred years. As a form of entertainment for each other, humans have plateaued. And frankly, the plateua isn't terribly high.

Comedian Chris Rock observed that humans only have two options: single and lonely, or married and bored. There's a natural limit to how good things can be in your personal life. One person can't provide the love, comfort, and safety you want while also offering the endless variety and excitement of something new. It's a logical contradiction.

The Internet, however, just keeps getting better, with no end in sight. Every year brings faster speeds, better screen clarity, more content, more variety, smarter applications, and improved user interfaces. No matter how unusual your hobbies, interests, and fetishes, you can find a growing supply on the Internet. The Internet offers a virtually risk-free experience aimed directly at what gets your heart pumping. It doesn't matter if you're into competitive quilting, first person shooter games, or you have a foot fetish; the Internet serves it up. And it keeps getting better.

At the moment, spending time with nice humans is generally better than playing on the Internet, but the gap is closing. Humans aren't becoming any more enjoyable whereas the Internet is getting more addictive. The crossover for some folks has already arrived. You've seen stories of people playing video games until they die of dehydration. Every day you see stories of Internet porn addicts, Facebook addicts, and Pinterest addicts. How much more addictive can the Internet get? Answer: You haven't seen anything yet.

If you're like most people, you enjoy seeing images of attractive humans on television and in print ads. We're wired to appreciate beauty. But we're also wired to have strong individual preferences. Soon the Internet will know your preferences so well that it will deliver ads featuring the specific types of beauty each person likes most. If you like tall brunettes wearing tee shirts and jeans, that's what the ads on your screen will feature. The Internet might even predict fetishes and preferences for you that you didn't know you had. As the Internet learns to anticipate and feed your desires with increasing accuracy, your addiction will deepen. You might even start to love the Internet because it "gets you" and it boosts your oxytocin without ever complaining or having a headache.

Unattractive people will be the first to give up on humanity in favor of the Internet. Generally speaking, unattractive people only have the option of sex with other unattractive people, unless money is involved. For that group, Internet porn is probably already the best option for a sexual thrill. In time, the Internet will evolve and improve until even the people with the best social and sexual options will abandon human contact. I label that phenomenon the Digital Crossover just to make it sound smarter.

The main uncertainty in the Digital Crossover hypothesis is the assumption that society's standards for human-to-human interactions will remain about the same. I think you might see people adapting to compete with the Internet. Perhaps we're seeing that already. Some observers believe that young women are more willing to have casual sex because young men are finding Internet porn more convenient than dating. In other words, women are adapting to compete with the Internet. In a hundred years, we might see humans stepping up their game in ways no one predicts. We've entered the first period in human history where human-to-human interaction has legitimate competition. Maybe it's a good thing. Perhaps someday people will be nicer to each other because they know they are competing with the Internet. That could be a positive development.

The other possibility is that people will, on average, continue their trend of getting fatter and more argumentative. In that case, the Digital Crossover is less than ten years away.
 
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Jun 12, 2012

"The Great Collapse" due to widespread cheap VR is a sub-plot of The Unincorporated Man by the brothers Kollin. The description of what happened is quite vivid.
 
 
Jun 2, 2012
Saturn's Children by Stross is a science fiction novel about a post internet unemployed sex toy. No humans left, you see...
 
 
Jun 1, 2012
@delius1967

A great thesis to be sure; however are you sure strip clubs do not have windows just to immerse their clients? It may also have something to do with people looking in I would think ;-)
 
 
May 30, 2012
I think the biggest argument against your theory is an economical one: while plenty of thrills are available on the Internet for free, people are still willing to pay a lot of money for person-to-person interaction. Go to any strip club and see how much money is changing hands, for example. Maybe I'll come along, just for the sake of having an independent observer.

What the holodeck concept presents that the Internet is missing is an immersive experience. Someone earlier referenced the "TV will kill the movies" theory that turned out to be wrong -- but the reason it turned out wrong isn't that people want to be with people, it is that the average TV is not nearly the same experience as being in a movie theater, where the picture fills your entire field of view, and the surround sound, erm, surrounds you. There's nothing to break the spell, and that's the key.

There's a reason, beyond simple courtesy, why theaters remind you to turn off your cell phones. (Notice, by the way, that theaters USED to remind you not to talk; most don't anymore.) It's the same reason that strip clubs don't have windows, and casinos don't have clocks. They want you to be immersed in the experience, to have all your senses engaged, so there aren't any distractions to lead you away someplace else, where you won't be giving them money. It's true that theaters get most of their money up-front, but they do want you to come back again.

If the online experience can evolve to cover all your senses beyond sight and sound, then your prediction stands a lot better chance of coming true. I actually think there is another, even more fundamental problem, though, which is that another thing humans are wired to do is to place a higher value on things that are hard to get. The drive behind this is the desire to prove yourself better than other people, and that is something that will never, ever go away.

If you hike three miles to see a waterfall, it will look more impressive than if you can just drive up to it. The experience becomes a reward, a way to separate yourself from the hoi polloi -- I had to WORK to get this, not just anybody could do it! And the harder something is to achieve, the more value is attached to it. The Internet, though, is the exact opposite of this.

Here is my addendum to your prediction: as basic human needs become easier to fulfill online, person-to-person interaction will become harder, and thus paradoxically more valuable. The vast herds of common folks, sitting in front of their computer screens, will envy those who are able to actually talk to another human face to face, and will strive to emulate them by spending more time with others. The pendulum will swing back and forth between the two extremes, driven by people's unceasing need to prove themselves better than their neighbors.

In the end, our vanity will be the thing that saves us from the Borg. Fairly ironic.
 
 
May 30, 2012
Somehow, I now feel less creepy about my love for Salma Hayek. I'm not obsessed, I'm "evolved"!
 
 
-8 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2012
For $$$K/(3 1)year, I:
Starting from next interview, job's, putting on make ups.
Cash pay......exchange rate is bi weekly?
Promissionary note...what RMA?
To just fill an empty office space up with satisfactory resulting personnel, pick me, me here, me please.
"Have a great vacation before moving into the new office."
"Dissolved, board decision of mileage savings over their cost estimate."
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 30, 2012
" Generally speaking, unattractive people only have the option of sex with other unattractive people, unless money is involved."

Damn Sam, you nailed that one. You could add "Fame" in as well as money but since fame usually leads to money, the point is moot.

Even if you were thinking of straight cash transactions, you still covered off all the fugly athletes and entertainers who have hot sexual options falling over themselves to present.
 
 
May 29, 2012
I doubt it. Do you really think Internet anything will ever take the place of human. . . interaction, for want of another word that your bad-word filter would overwrite.

People like to be with other people. When television came along, Doom-sayers said that it would mean the end of the movie industry. Why go to the theater, they reasoned, when you could sit at home and see the same thing?

It is an interesting thought that young women's increased desire for casual sex being a reaction to the Internet. I remember the "free love" movement, which was women's overreaction to the idea of women's liberation. I have heard that a great way to have intimate knowledge of women in those days was to go to some kind of protest rally. Might still apply. Not that I'm interested in such things.

As with most fads, it will get people in front of the computer (Hey! That's where I am right now!) more at first. But ultimately, the person-to-person contact will win out. I mean, face it; is there any guy out there who would actually rather, er, respond to Internet girlie sites in an intimate way than they would to intimately interact with a real, breathing member of the opposite sex?? I would think there are few, if any. Dancing around your word filter is tiring, but I do it for the further edification of those who follow this blog.

The biggest reason why your prediction is unlikely to become reality is that people do not act linearly. Human trends move in cycles. We go from periods of less direct interaction to periods of increased interaction. People get tired of doing the same thing. I daresay that people who were at first excited to watch Internet p o r n will get bored of it, and want to once again meet and attempt to have intimacy with real women.

But you never know. My guess would be the only thing that has a chance would be a Stepford-wife kind of virtual human female. I doubt the Internet would ever get sophisticated enough to replace good old-fashioned nookie. We'll see if that last word made it through the filter.



 
 
May 29, 2012
The crossover already happened.

http://www.ted.com/talks/zimchallenge.html
 
 
May 29, 2012
I highly doubt the internet is going to ever get an award for being nice.
 
 
May 29, 2012
I predict (since I have one foot in that door already) that certain pursuits, like sex, will seem entirely irrelevant when you can satisfy your interests at any time you want. We will deal with sex like we do hunger and thirst. A really good meal is worth the effort once in a while, but the majority of the time, getting your fix is a mild distraction from whatever you're doing.

Of course... lots of people obsess over food, drink, drugs, entertainment and sex, whereas I don't so much. Maybe my perspective is badly skewed.
 
 
May 29, 2012
A progressive idea (meaning one I'd be against) that might be feasible is to disable access to tv or internet after a certain hour. Say 8pm. That gives you at least an hour to get it on with your wife and make babies. Another idea would be to tax everyone who doesn't have at least 2 kids to keep the population from aging. Basically if people don't add enough kids to maintain society, they aren't doing their fair share and need to pay more. For the poor, you just cut all benefits like unemployment until they hit the 2 child minimum. For the rich you can make it a 4-8 child minimum because you want successful people breeding as much as possible.

A more conservative idea would be to clean !$%*!$%*!$% off of the internet (install netnanny on the internet servers and block access to the naughty sites from there) as well as to clean up tv. Sadly the liberals would never allow it.



Scott: "The main uncertainty in the Digital Crossover hypothesis is the assumption that society's standards for human-to-human interactions will remain about the same. I think you might see people adapting to compete with the Internet."

You mean women who do things like cook for you and clean up your pig st... house?


That will never happen.
 
 
+29 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2012
You mention these young women who have appropriately lowered their standards to compete with the internet. Do you know where I might find any of them? Coincidentally I have quite low standards too, so this might be a useful serendipity.
 
 
May 29, 2012
"At the moment, spending time with nice humans is generally better than playing on the Internet,"

You clearly know nicer humans than I do.

"Generally speaking, unattractive people only have the option of sex with other unattractive people, unless money is involved."

It is like you are living my life! Stop watching me.
 
 
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2012
You should go out and play more (like other people), then you wouldn't have such gloomy thoughts.

The Bob-theory:
Simulating all the sensory input to effectively create a virtual experience that is so good that it matches real-life is so difficult and costly that actually doing it in real-life will allways be easier and cheaper.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2012
I imagine that this is what its like to be an ant in an ant community. The queen uses her pheromones to control the ant population. The internet is our queen!
 
 
May 29, 2012
So you're saying I should skip the ab workouts and join toastmasters or is it keep doing the ab workouts and also get some time on MRPG's? Just checking which way to go to ensure I am prepared for the DC.
 
 
+11 Rank Up Rank Down
May 29, 2012
I think you've overlooked something when you say people aren't getting better. I'm not saying that people as a whole have gotten better (at least not significantly), but rather that our experiences with people are getting better. This is due to superior matching. A few decades ago if your favorite thing in the world was something only one in a million people liked you generally resigned yourself to dying alone with no one who really understood you. This was normal. Today, however, there are 7,000 people who also like your favorite thing and you can probably find a decent chunk of them online.

This is why we see that people on World of Warcraft are actually LESS likely to be single than the general population (by a substantial margin, which I must say, surprised the hell out of me). But in a weird way it makes sense. If you enjoy WoW, chances are you are the sort of weird person who would have had some difficulty relating to the meager assortment of people available to socialize with 40 years ago, but now all 10.2 million of these people are in the same place.

I could also argue that internet dating has served to lower the cost of human interaction, but honestly I don't think most conventional e-dating sites are a smart way to create meaningful relationships. Instead these will come from online communities that give people a chance to share their passions with other people.
 
 
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
May 28, 2012
So, those of us who are unattractive AND don't like internet !$%* are still left with hitting the lottery as our only hope.. ah well.
 
 
+16 Rank Up Rank Down
May 28, 2012
I actually believe the "holodeck crossover" pre-dates the Internet. People spends dozens of hours every week watching television that's personalized for them rather than interact with other people.

That said, with the Internet has taken things to a whole new level.

Tangent: I do wonder if this whole "human interaction being replaced by digital interaction" meme is overblown. This argument rests on a theory that any moment we spend on the internet would have otherwise been filled with interacting with another person. Which sounds like while it might be true *some* of the time, is probably not true most of the time.


"Some observers believe that young women are more willing to have casual sex because young men are finding Internet !$%* more convenient than dating"

And back in the 50's/60's "observers" believed that rock and roll was causing to women to have casual sex. Then it was drugs. Now it's the Internet. It will be interesting to see what these "observers" blame next.




 
 
 
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