The time was 1990. The place was Edinburgh, Scotland. I was there as part of a student work exchange program, which allowed students from the U.S. to take a couple semesters off of school and experience a foreign country from the inside. My weekends traveling around Scotland and experiencing Edinburgh in its multifaceted glory were incredible. My co-workers were memorably quirky and fun. The temp job that occupied the bulk of our time, however, was a mind-numbingly dull data entry gig, entering information about clients of an insurance company into devices we called computers, but in retrospect seem more like high tech data storage units.
I worked in a cramped warehouse converted into a temporary work space with rows of long buffet-style tables, containing about five work stations, each with its own monitor. It felt like something out of a Kafka novel. In this environment, my mind tended to wander, occasionally taking flight from the four-walled, windowless prison.
One day, I paused to observe my fellow prisoners while breathing in second-hand smoke from their cigarettes that wouldn t be banned indoors for well over a decade hence. I imagined what it would be like if, instead of entering redundant client information into these primitive devices that were well shy of state-of-art even at the time I could somehow tap into the minds of my co-workers and literally read their thoughts on my monochromatic screen. Such technology, I imagined, might even allow me to spark up a romance with the cute girl a few rows up, who started a week earlier.
This was a world that wouldn t see the emergence of the World Wide Web for another three years. The technology that would become Wi-Fi was in its infancy. It wouldn t evolve into a wireless networking niche technology until the late 1990s, and only then find its way into homes, schools, colleges and offices over the next few years.
Now that Wi-Fi is as common as the morning paper used to be (and for most people Wi-Fi has taken its place), those musings in Edinburgh don t seem quite so far-fetched. We may not see into people s minds using our various Wi-Fi devices, but we are digitally connected through email, texting, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. We see into, and keep updated on, our friends lives in ways we could scarcely have imagined just two decades ago. Dating sites make romantic connections easier and riskier than ever before.
Similar, linked technologies also have telepathic qualities. You can keep track of a friend s exact location via a GPS tracking device. A friend of mine goes hiking alone for an entire week every year. Anyone can go onto his website and watch his progress across miles of backwoods mountainous countryside. If he is attacked by a wild animal, gets injured or trapped somewhere, finding him should never be a problem. If that isn t like telepathy, I don t know what is.
With the advent of 802.11ac technology in premium wireless routers, delivering increased speeds and decreased lag time, the gap between Wi-Fi and telepathy is smaller than ever. We can communicate in any number of ways in real time, in the midst of being entertained.
We ve come a long way since the days of my one-dimensional monitor in 1990 Edinburgh. We still have a way to go before technology crosses true telepathic lines and we are able to control minds and form mental links between two people. That s still sci-fi territory, and may always be to some extent. But if we can progress this far along telepathic lines in two decades, how far will we be two decades from now?
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