eBay recently installed the first "shoppable windows" in New York -- essentially gigantic iPads on storefront windows, so you never have to stop shopping for a single second, even when stores are closed. All you need is one working finger: Just scroll and tap on what you want to buy, and your presumably brilliant impulse purchase will be couriered to your New York apartment before the Purell dries.
Stay with me -- This is going somewhere, I promise.
In a smaller frame but on a grander scale is Google Glass, where your specs facilitate digital interaction with whatever you see. Because humans' ability to multitask is apparently now so far advanced that we can walk around with one eye babysitting the kids and the other eye playing Temple Run.
We are at an inflection point, people, and not a small one. Suddenly, the boundary between the virtual and the real is all around us, a vanishingly thin plane that can be stretched over any real-world object, and that can connect us, with fingertip pressure, to the deep digital, social, data-rich world behind that object.
I call this "The Touchscreen Singularity," because maybe that will become a thing, and if it does, I'll get to write the bestseller and the Keanu Reeves movie. You saw it here first, so don't forget that, please.
The Touchscreen Singularity. (All rights reserved.) On one side of the divide is a carbon-based world: with cheeseburgers and mud and sex, where things sweat, and require fuel, and move at subpar speeds. On the other side, beneath the surface of everything everywhere, is a silicon world, with deep pools of information and social connection and an infinity of cross-referenceable data. At the Touchscreen Singularity, any object in the physical world can have a working, fingertip-activated Internet interface. And because it can, it will.
We got here pretty fast, didn't we? The input/output devices we use to ferry information between these worlds have evolved at a breakneck pace, from punchcards to mouse and keyboard to trackball and trackpad to touchscreen. In maybe two generations we've made the ergonomic shift from "I need to learn this machine" to "This machine needs to learn me." And now we're here, at the minimum physical effort necessary to tug a thought into action: a tap. See something you want? Touch it and it's yours.
Remember yesterday, when you still had to tote little metal discs around in your pockets to pay for things, like the ancient Romans? Today you swipe a card, which is better, but tomorrow, your purchasing power will literally be at your fingertips. When a stoner grabs a shrink-wrapped after-hours burrito at a 7-11, it will instantaneously register an "Interaction Alert" with the burrito's manufacturer. The burrito knows you want it, man...cool. When he shambles out of the store to wolf it down, the burrito will (with its last breath) complete the transaction and charge his account.
But making purchase easier is just the start of the implications for the Touchscreen Singularity. When every real-world object is its own filter for the deep data of the Web, it will supercharge even the most trivial of activities. Consider:
* Your clothes will talk to your closet. Grab a belt-busting double-slice of pie and your belt will send a signal home to rotate your fat jeans out of storage.
* Teenagers' nail polish will cue carbon filaments in their hair to play songs off their Spotify lists when they twirl their locks. (The songs will still suck.)
* Restaurant menus will adjust to past preferences and what's trending in your social circles. "Wouldn't m'sieur prefer a cronut? 17 of your friends like this!"
* In the bathroom at the bar, a virtual membrane stretched across Loo Point Oh® will chemically determine exactly what beer you were drinking, and have a fresh one waiting for you on your return.
* On the way to that bar, your steering wheel will adjust the music to your perceived stress level -- but when you leave that bar, it will interfere with the starter if it determines your blood-alcohol count to be "Mel Gibson" or higher.
And... well, maybe we'd better stop there.
Won't our dumb 'n' diabetic culture collapse with the seamless indulgence of "tap and it's yours" technology? Yes, probably. But you have to admit, we had an awesome run. The Touchscreen Singularity heralds a new paradigm, where you can reach out and grab whatever you want--and where every real-world action you take provides instantaneous feedback that incrementally adjusts the machine to get even better at creating what you will want next. The world can read your mind now (or your intentions, anyway) and because it can, it will. Don't worry about privacy...worry about pizza. Delicious pizza. Reach out and touch the pizza.