I have seen the near future and it is speeding toward us at warp speed. Case in point: When I worked at Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, we began by interviewing a radical cross-section of amazing thinkers from academia, business, and entertainment, you name it. We’d ask them to envision the world of their practice 20 years hence. Then we would aggregate those snapshots to create a comprehensive futurescape. From that vision, we’d work backward — ‘back casting’ was the art term Faith coined for the process – to ensure our clients had a detailed roadmap to navigate their businesses and brands to and through that futurescape, while missing the potholes and landmines along the way.
One client, a telecommunications giant, sparked our deep dive into the future of telephone technology. I remember posing a question to Faith’s sister Mechele, an integral part of leadership: When you can digitize yourself and send yourself through the phone lines, how many people will have to do it first before you dial yourself on a trip? Her answer was prescient in a variety of equivalent venues: “One person I know.”
My question – misguided as it was, relying on our telephonic past to portend the future identifies a common misadventure for those of us who have ever donned a futurist’s hat. We may well be able to transport ourselves, but it won’t be through a landline, right? Which is why I can write now that I have seen the future as it barrels towards us. A future in which our hologram self goes whirling through the ether, enabling us to show up at speeches, live performances, and even in the witness box in court proceedings. Not to mention serving as an in locos salesperson to explain the vital quality proof points of a luxe brand’s trenchcoat. Indeed, the exact proof points deemed too boring for the IRL salesperson to look up from her iPhone to discuss with us.
Shapeshifting with Proto
In short, I have been to an art gallery at 507 West 27th in the meatpacking district of Manhattan to see the Protohologram in action: “It’s not communication, it’s holoportation” explains my host. “Proto delivers a truly lifelike holographic experience so viewers can see, hear and interact with others, anywhere in the world.” As Proto states, it makes digital real by delivering truly lifelike holograms. Albeit they appear in a Proto “box.” It’s real. It’s live. It’s human. And it’s mind-blowingly otherworldly. Like so much of Web3 that will be whooshing through our lives in a nanosecond.
Simply stated, the Proto is offered in two sizes: One life-sized and one more, well, manageable, rather like a small, flat panel and very smart TV, set to one channel. Whichever you choose, it offers up a hologram. Hey, there’s Howie Mandel and Heidi Klum! Look there’s Kim Kardashian! Now look, Sean Combs! Oh, is that really Paris Hilton? And isn’t that Degas’ Tiny Dancer sculpture from Christie’s auction of Paul Allen’s collection? Yes, it is. And then there’s this year’s cache of luxe bags from a couture house. Wait, isn’t that a well-known specialist consulting with a patient who doesn’t have to travel to gain her expert assessment of an urgent medical complication?
Magical Tech Thinking
We’re not digitizing ourselves and moving through the phone lines, but we are suddenly able to be in two places at once. Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum, the one which posits that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” is the only fitting descriptor for this moment rife with double-vision potential. Think of a Legoland competition beamed simultaneously all over the world. Noodling it with a few retailer colleagues, we quickly imagine an Italian designer ensconced in her studio in Milan and still able to be present on a Vietnamese manufacturing line to illustrate exactly how the lapel must lay. Or a trunk show for high-end customers happing simultaneously in major markets throughout the world. Consider the immediate VIP access to bespoke designs Hollywood stylists can provide their clients. Everywhere all at once.
Beyond fashion and apparel retailing, wider worlds beckon. If Kroger or Mondelez were to invest in this tech as display merchandising, imagine the playful real-time creations consumers could build out of Oreos and showcase right this very minute in aisle seven. Gamification comes to the food sector.
Or consider the neighborhood bar’s jukebox replaced for special occasions by Proto in-person performances by world-renowned solo artists. Or the publishing industry’s fabled (and contracting) live author readings, signings, and interviews that can now take place everywhere and anywhere, sans travel costs and writer wear and tear.
You might ask, isn’t this just a big Zoom call? Not really. Not when a whole 3D human appears before your eyes and answers your stunned gaze with a “Hi! You can see me, and I can see you!” One of the more remarkable aspects of this seeming teleportation is in the response of those of us on the other side of the screen. We believe we’ve met and visited with a distant person because we have. Perhaps even got a selfie with her.
A woman who showed up at Christie’s London office to bid on the Degas Tiny Dancer was asked if she wanted to see the piece in person. She responded, “Oh no. I have seen it.” How? Because she’d visited the Proto installation at Christie’s New York. She thought the three-dimensional object rotating just beyond the glass was the real sculpture. Because, of course, it both was and wasn’t. It was a hologram, both real yet not really there.
Business meetings, celebrity appearances, stand-up comedy, art auctions, solo musicians, how-to coaching from experts while we fix and repair our homes, learn a new language teacher, defend our doctoral dissertations off-site, acquire a new skill, discuss a book, get a second opinion from a specialist, bring our designs to life half a globe a way. It’s all on the cusp of this changeling moment called “now.” Magic making its way into reality.
This is how the future presents itself. The same but different from how we imagine it. Talking with Mechele about the future of telephony, we imagined it would arrive through the phone lines. Had we had a 20/20 visionary vision, we would have told the client not to worry about the landlines but to hold onto those phone booths and then strategically locate them on every street corner. With a bit of rewiring, that real estate would be ready for its close-up: conversion to hologram boxes, and yes, every one of us could be digitizing ourselves and sending ourselves everywhere, anywhere, all at once. The implications for retail are impressive. When the technology hits ecommerce, we will have quantum leaped into a future that will up retail’s game forever.
I think the implication for retail (even more than ecommerce) is staggering: Designers explaining their thinking direct from Paris or London to the Neiman Marcus high roller at home or ensconced in the personal stylist’s salon. (No longer needing to schlepp to the runways, a more personal, private conversation.) At the lower end of the spectrum, imagine Starbucks after-dark performances for Odyssey members able to hang out and hear Taylor Swift performing live solo (at every Starbucks location, simultaneously). Or the impact on manufacturing precision, when quality assurance is genuinely assured in real-time.