What will tomorrow bring, and how will it shape our everyday lives? Jonathan Wilson muses about the future.
When I think back to my redundant collection of records, audiotapes, videocassettes, CDs, not to mention a portable compact disc player, all gathering dust, it’s amazing how far we’ve come so quickly. I remember handwriting assignments for university and job applications with a fountain pen. Then there was the period when you wrote a draft before you typed it up. I’m even old enough to have used a typewriter.
And let’s not forget the frustration of getting your photos back from the developers, only to find out that the camera film hadn’t been properly wound, or people had their eyes shut.
In my first office job, I wrote my client contact details on A5-sized recipe cards and kept them in a box. Only the office secretaries had computers and you had to get them to type your letters. In 1999, one of the reasons I joined a new company was because they offered me my own computer equipped with email, a contact management system, and PowerPoint – but no Internet access. Then in 2000, I jumped ship again to another company where, this time, I had a computer with Internet access.
I think back to when we were searched before entering music concerts. Anyone found hiding a camera or a Walkman with a recording function was thrown out of the venue. Now, all you can see are hundreds of glowing phone screens held aloft by audiences frenetically videoing, photographing, uploading and sharing.
But not everything’s changed – headphones are as large in size as they were in the 90s. In fact, then, only hip-hop heads were cool enough to brave the streets with big headphones – to everyone else that was just dumb. Look where we are now.
So we’ve changed and there’s no turning back. It’s become pretty clear that sci-fi is shaping our worldview as it’s inspiring people to turn science fiction into science fact. Can you imagine a life now without smartphones, MP3s, digital photos, GPS satnav, Wi-Fi, Internet, the cloud and social media? Remember what it felt like when you first discovered them.
All of this got me thinking: What developments could we see related to Muslim experiences in particular? Here’s what could be round the corner.
Fabric that doesn’t need to be ironed, is stain proof, and has a hydrophobic water-repellent coating. The fabric has solar cells so that the energy collected can be used to either heat your clothing, or power your smartphone and tablet. You can get a body scan so that clothes will match your body shape perfectly; and you’ll be able to see a virtual rotating 3D image of yourself wearing potential outfits.
Imagine having that one hijab that does it all. Why have a lot of hijabs when you can have one that changes colour like a chameleon according to the shade of your choice, and in a fabric that has fold memory, so that it remembers your favourite style.
Food and drink
Halal and kosher will mean that all animals will be stunned, but to a level that everyone is comfortable with. For food and drink in general, the calories you burn and your energy levels will be monitored. Suggestions will be made as to what you should eat and drink, based on selected dietary settings like: energy boost, weight loss, sport, office, Ramadan, and comfort eating. Your refrigerator will know what food and calories you take out and will automatically order products in. Also, a movement detector will record how much exercise and how many prayers you’ve made. These will give you reward points, which can be redeemed at participating businesses for products and services, like gym membership, spiritual tourism, and healthcare.
There will be more dealcoholised drinks, which taste the same as the alcoholic versions. When I went to Japan recently, I noticed that alcohol-free beers have grown in popularity, especially amongst professionals at work-related events, women, drivers, health-conscious people, and would you believe, special flavours for children.
People want to socialise without letting go fully or potentially embarrassing themselves in photos shared on social media. I think that this trend will pick up among young Muslims as they find new ways to enjoy themselves and with non-Muslims. Also, oxygen shishas will overtake traditional pipes and they will be fortified with vitamins and minerals.
Augmented reality smartphones and glasses
When you hold up your camera phone, or look through glasses, you’ll be able to see Iron Man-style information flash up in front of you. These phones and glasses will pick up on your location and generate information so you’ll get relevant hadiths that apply to what’s in front of you, or give directions to the nearest mosque and halal restaurant.
You may choose to opt-in and receive matrimonial or friend suggestions based on your preferences matched against peoples’ profiles, professional and social networks, online purchase history, and social media comments. Face and eye recognition will provide you with feedback on how people are responding to your communication.
There will be BabelFish-style real-time translation earpieces. Imagine, you’ll being able to choose the language you want, rather than the one the other person is speaking in. Now, when you’re in the mosque you’ll be able to switch between Arabic and another language.
Sounds crazy? Check out this video, which was from before you were thinking about Google Glass:
And Peter Gould’s concept specifically for Muslims:
There will be an automatic zakat calculator linked to your bank account, which will let you know how much you need to pay. When you do make a payment, or decide to give to charity, you’ll be able to track exactly where your money goes. You’ll be sent images and footage so that you can experience first-hand what difference you have made.
Now some of you might be thinking, “Wow, I can’t wait.” For others, this may be sending shivers down your spine. When we look back on technological advancements at the time that they were unveiled, they always tended to split opinions. Centuries ago, the idea of selling copies of the Qur’an was not well received by all; and later on, translating copies into different languages was similarly greeted with trepidation. More recently, I’ve listened to discussions about whether it’s a good thing to allow people to make an online payment for an animal sacrifice at Eid, especially when countries are ranked according to the price of an animal in each region.
I’m convinced that all of this will happen sooner than you think. If we look at Indonesia, for example, nearly two-thirds of its people living in urban areas access the internet using a mobile device; the country has the fourth-largest number of Facebook users globally; and more people have mobile phones than bank accounts.
The big problem, however, is the idea that a widening divide will be created between people who will be split according to access, aptitude, opting-in and acceptance of technology. Also, issues of privacy remain, especially whilst Muslims are viewed with suspicion. Al Jazeera reports of continued profiling in the US, and there’s a real risk of a Minority Report scenario.[i] Thought crime, or closer to the divine? We’ll find out in time, but it’s in our hands.
[i] Judge dismisses lawsuit against NYPD for surveillance of Muslim Americans, Al Jazeera America, 21 Feb 2014.