Life Beyond the Digital FrontierIt would be an experience of a lifetime to live inside a computer, and be able to shape the world around you in any way you like. This was the dream of fictitious character Kevin Flynn from the TRON universe. His vision entailed a world free of bigotry or crime. Yet, unfortunately, his perception of perfection was fundamentally flawed. Still, I find his idea of a new world in a digital realm quite compelling. An infinite set of possibilities in thought, it would probably result in chaos — just like it did in the films.

Kevin Flynn called the grid, the digital foundation for his world in a computer, “a digital frontier to reshape the human condition.” What if we nurture for a moment the idea that we have the ability to reshape humanity inside a computer, in order to escape from the flawed society in the real world? Our new digital self-image would replace our previous iterations. Evolution would then be in our hands; we would be the gods and masters over what occurs at any time.

This world would be clean, angular, and shiny. It would be the quintessence of modernity and a perfected version of today’s rush for glass and steel surfaces in architecture. Just like in TRON, in fact, I find that world to be both beautiful and extremely functional in its design. As in that story, there are a couple of dilemmas fogging Flynn’s vision.

Regardless of your good intentions, anyone would bring too much humanity into this new digital realm. Too much can be dangerous, as history has shown us. By that I mean the struggle with the duality of human beings. This is perhaps the foremost catalyst for conflicts. Well, guess what? In the digital world, the same problems arise to plague us. We can change the circumstances and aspirations, but the duality remains.

The meaning of duality is quite simple, yet can be misleading. It implies two sides of a story, and at the same time it signifies dichotomy of human nature. In psychology this is called the duality of man. We all have two qualities, but a plethora of different skills. Every human has the ability to do good or be evil. These two terms have in themselves a confusing nature, as we cannot ever really understand what is good and what is bad. In other words, we can’t escape this inherent flaw, but it may be possible to leverage its effects.

The digital frontier is a point in reality, separating that which is possible from that which is implausible. As you can see, delusions of grandeur are inevitable. Throw any human into a blank grid where this person is allowed to construct the world around him as he wishes, and you will give birth to a tyrant in some ways. It’s quite fatalistic to assume each and every human being as having a corrupted mind and no heart.

Living the Life One Chooses

It would be an interesting proposition if someone came to you and gave you the opportunity to relive your life on your own terms, wouldn’t it? What if we could put ourselves to sleep, and let a digital self-image live a life for which you set the parameters? I’m sure many would immediately cease this chance to escape what Morpheus in The Matrix describes as “the desert of the real.” Beyond the technological intricacies of such a project, I find the psychological and moral implications so much more engaging to ponder. As a writer, sci-fi has always been a favorite genre of mine, since it explores our place in this developing future. The sad truth still is that all of us who have access to a computer and the Internet count as the privileged ones. How many of you ever wonder how it would be to not have all this technology? It’s hard to believe it would have a negative effect on your life.

Whenever future is the subject of a debate, it always leads to fundamental questions about purpose and morality. Through technology we usually have the intentions to improve the quality of living, yet it also has its dark side effects. The thought process could be taken as far as considering a calm life among the natives of the Amazon. In all honesty I couldn’t imagine such a life for myself. However, this is not about the rightfulness or wrongness of our technocratic society. Governments thrive in the use of technology to monitor, control, and in some cases, help their citizens. A government is nothing more than a very large corporation, for that matter.

If everyone were the architect of their own private world, it would be interesting to examine the difference between these digital worlds. To make a bold statement is always a good way to engage the reader. I might even go as far as claiming that everyone would create worlds that are very similar to one another in their moral parameters. Here is why.

We all have the same dreams flying, of being free, of pursuing a particular dream, and of finding the one person we can love for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t matter where we’re from, because deep in our hearts we have the same emotional roots. So it certainly is a fascinating thought process to give everyone the same chances, the same abilities, and the same knowledge. In this case, we would live in a dull world, however, and here’s the real problem: I believe that before long this search for perfection would end in tragedy. That’s simply because perfection will become quite boring after while. What else is there to do if you have created the perfect world? It would be a bit like playing Sim City. After investing many hours of playing the game, the majority of players will have more fun destroying the city than they had building it.

In a Conflict with Yourself

Kevin Flynn spends so much time inside his digital world, called The Grid, until he starts to neglect his responsibilities as a father and CEO of Encom. At one point, he creates a copy of himself to continue his vision of a perfect world, free for all programs. He calls his digital self-image CLU: Codified Likeness Utility. His purpose was to create the perfect system, devoid of any voids or limitations. Ultimately, he turns on him, believing he was betrayed by Flynn himself. Flynn remains trapped inside his own perfect world, unable to return to the real world.

Ironically, his own perception of perfection is flawed, leading to the breakdown of his own creation. CLU did, in fact, stay true to his initial task, and only Flynn himself failed to inject the right motivations into the code for CLU. However, what if the intentions were much less visionary than Flynn’s?

Building a world out of personal reasons is a wholly different story. Love can drive anyone to do great things. The video World Builder (above) tells the story of man who creates a digital world as a dream world for the woman he loves, who is in a coma. At the beginning one can witness the process of such digital world building, which looks very fun to be sure. Showing off nifty holographic technology, the man recreates probably a scene from her memory. It looks a lot like a quaint little town in the south of France. The centerpiece of his creation is a very meticulously designed yellow flower.

If the flower weren’t there, this world would seem alien and unfamiliar, which is the point. On the contrary, Kevin Flynn wanted to create a very clean, angular, and minimalistic world for his programs. These are two very distinct executions of the same idea. In Inception, the characters have so-called totems — unique objects only familiar to their carrier — to be sure they are no longer in the dream world. This was the only way for them to distinguish the real from the dream world. It seems logical to assume we humans always need some kind of emotional connection.

Our world is not without its share of flaws; no one can deny this. However, it’s not realistic to assume we can run away from our problems. Yet, wouldn’t it be somewhat inviting to consider creating a whole new world from the ground-up, to accommodate all our aspirations? It could also go the other way, like shown the in The Matrix universe, where the machines enslave humanity in a virtual world. Would it be considered a kind of salvation if we encapsulate humanity in an unreal copy of Earth, while the real world is rotting at its core?

What is your opinion on this matter? Would a life beyond the digital frontier really improve the human condition, as Kevin Flynn once believed?