Fidelity of Interaction

Changing Means of Interaction revisited

As described in the previous section (Challenges: Distance), one effect of distance on communication is that the means of interaction change. If I need to communicate with my next-door neighbor, the means will probably be to walk over and knock on his door. If I want to communicate with a friend in Norway, I will write an email or a Facebook message.

Unfortunately, most of the long-distance communication technologies in use today are vastly inferior compared to face to face interaction. Email, SMS, Facebook, and chat are primarily textual. Phone calls are voice only and only mono audio. Video chat is only used rarely compared to the others, and faces issues of latency, resolution, and dropped packets. In every case, the difference between face to face interaction and the particular communication technology in question directly hurts the distance learner.

Will we ever have “distance equality” along wealth lines?

In the eventual future, we can expect technologies like video chat, 3D TV, Kinect, and YouTube to converge — forming a society-wide Internet of experience sharing. But as each of these new immersion technologies gets rolled out to the public, it will surely be expensive at first, meaning that the upper classes of the 1% and the 10% will always be a step or two ahead of the general public in terms of hedonistic enjoyment as well as the potential for gainful employment. Is inequality always unfair, or is this particular instance of income and enjoyment inequality justified, as the necessary price for society to pay to incentivize Progress?

Luckily for us real-life protagonists, the near future will likely see the arrival of virtual reality technologies that will allow for stereo video and voice in real time. The challenges will be to improve Internet fiber optics infrastructure so that all this data can be transmitted, and to improve cameras to have at least the high frame rate, dynamic range, and focusing ability of the human eye.