Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting


The Display Continuum

September 2007 Flip Flops...

It was an early evening at a major airport somewhere in the continental USA.  After a long day of working with a client, I was tired – too tired to do anything else except anticipate getting on the airplane for my flight home.   The thought of doing more work-related reading or even something not quite as demanding was, frankly, beyond my capabilities at that moment.  Given that condition of mindless weariness, there is not all that much that one can do except sit and wait for boarding time to arrive.   Thus, I began to observe the people around me.  Some were similarly just sitting and waiting, other aimlessly wandering the concourse, and yet others rushing to try to make a delayed flight connection. 

As I watched and pondered, something began to make an impression on me.  Most of my fellow passengers were dressed about as casually as decency laws will allow.  Shorts and T-shirts seemed to be the predominant form of body covering.  And for shoes – well, it seems that flip-flops are now the accepted footwear for long-distance travel.  The overall impression was that most of my fellow travelers got out of bed that morning, put on whatever minimal clothing items were close by, slipped into their around-the-house flip-flops, and then forgot to change into something more acceptable before going to the airport.  It was really quite amazing to see people running to make a tight connection in flip-flops and shorts while dragging their roller-bags behind them. 

How did this come about?  Whatever happened to dressing to look nice when out in public?  The Seattle Sunday paper has a feature each week showing a comparison photograph of a Seattle location today versus earlier times of fifty or more years ago.  One of the recent photographs was of the Pike Place Market taken exactly one hundred years ago.  The market itself looks remarkably similar.  But what has changed dramatically is the appearance of the people.  In the hundred-year old photo, the men are dressed in dark suits and wearing top hats.  The women are dressed in long dark dresses.  Even the vendors and delivery men are dressed in shirts, ties, and vests.  One hundred years ago, apparently when out in public one took pride in one’s appearance. 

Who would have guessed that one hundred years later, we would all voluntarily walk around looking like impoverished peasants? 

At this point, my idle thoughts took a more serious turn.  Did anyone twenty-five or fifty years ago predict that our future would look like this?  As I remember from the popular worlds’ fairs of the 1960s, the future was going to be considerably different.  People were going to be dressed in svelte jumpsuits of yet-to-be invented fabrics.  Everyone would be of ideal weight, in perfect health, and wear futuristically fashionable clothing both at home and out in public.  Wow!  What a disconnect from reality that turned out to be. 

What else did we miss?  Well, we don’t have airplanes that fly at supersonic speeds.  We went to the moon some forty years ago and then instead of advancing -- we forgot how.  Fusion power is as much of a dream today as it was in the last century.  The predicted twenty-hour work week with nearly unlimited leisure time has instead turned into a 24/7 work week for many of us; while others spend more time in traffic jams on their way to and from a ten or more hour workday.  On the other hand, personal computers and communication devices have progressed beyond anyone’s predictions.  And in our own back yard of display technology – well, it has perhaps progressed just about as predicted.  Even forty years ago, the idea of a hang-on-the-wall full-color television was in everyone’s imagination.  And over the last decade we in the display community have made that dream come true.

From these examples, should we conclude that there is no way that we can reasonably predict how the future will turn out?  How could we not have realized that instead of svelte people in form-fitting jump suits, we would be living in a world of flip-flops and minimal clothing -- containing people carrying way too many excess pounds?  I have to admit that while I think I can explain the excess weight caused by too many hours in front of the television and/or computer screen (with food readily at hand) I am challenged to try to explain the recent clothing trends.   What societal force has caused this lack of interest in personal appearance?  It seems contrary to what we worship as our role models in the entertainment industry.  Why don’t we want to be more like them?  Some do try –even through extra help from cosmetic surgery.  But, on average, that sure does not show up while sitting in a gate area at a busy airport.

What effect, if any, will this have on future product and technology developments?  Are we going to prefer to interact more with computational devices than with each other?   Do we need to begin to consider a world where people lead a real life and then supplement that with a more desirable computer generated one?  There are some gradual changes taking place that I don’t think we yet fully appreciate.  If the current trend continues, what will we all look like in another twenty or thirty years?   I must admit that this one puzzles me.  How much more casual (i.e. sloppy) can we get?  I shudder to think.

Oh well, at least we in the display industry can provide all of these folks with a variety of displays and entertainment devices.  That way no one has to look at anyone else.  They can just enjoy the beautiful virtual life images on their display screens. 

If your crystal ball is telling you a better story, please let me know.  I would be interested to have you share your insights.