Sunday, May 28, 2006

The "Gentle Seduction", faster than I guessed

In 1989, I read "The Gentle Seduction" by Marc Stiegler, in Analog magazine. It was a wonderfully optimistic tale of gradual but powerful adoption of technology by a skeptical woman. It stands out as one of a small number of stories that I still remember in vivid detail. One of the compelling images from the story to me was a scene in which the woman was hiking on a mountain wearing a "headband", essentially a neural-interface PDA:

For a moment she wished she could see it from above as well--and her heart skipped a beat as the wish came true. Suddenly she was looking down from a great height. She saw the long curves of shadows across the snow from high above, and she saw the shorter but distinctive shadow of a woman with a pack standing on the snow field. She threw the headband to the ground even as she realized what she had just seen: a view of the Mountain from a satellite passing by.

At the time I read this, this seemed a wonderfully amazing and futuristic notion. I was enamored by the idea of this kind of casual and seamless integration of technology. While the story wasn't explicit about dates, the above passage supposedly occured sometime around 2080.

Yesterday, we went out to dinner. We were going a little early and the weather was very nice, so we wondered if there was a playground nearby we could take our daughter to. Most maps don't depict playgrounds, but I brought up Google Maps sattelite view and scanned the area until I found this playground barely a block from where we usually park. After dinner, we walked over to the park and my daughter swung on the swings and had a great time.

Google Maps isn't "live", I wasn't accessing it from a mobile device (though I could have), and the interface was far from "neural", but the features that made the story so striking to me 17 years ago were all true. I had casually thought, "I bet there's a playground in thatarea. Let me look." Moments later, I had a high-resolution satellite map of the area, enough to pick out the shadow of a swingset. Pointing out that technology has advanced at a remarkable rate and we
live in an age of technological wonders is beyond passe, but the parallel between that scene from "The Gentle Seduction" and my life yesterday compelled me to write about it.

To cap it off that "the future is now" feeling, as I was writing this, I thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if I could find the text of the story online, rather than digging through old boxes of magazines to find the relevant quote?" That thought, a few words into Google and here we go: The Gentle Seduction by Marc Stiegler. I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks. I was looking for the story and could not find it with Google, then I saw your link to it. What got me here was reading a recent article by Damien Broderick called "Terrible Angels - the singularity and science fiction".

    Richard Mullins