Time Shifting

I don’t remember hearing the phrase “time shifting” before VCRs and DVRs. I now appreciate the value in being able to capture something while I’m doing something else and then view the capture later when I think I’ll have more time. With digital photography I can easily and sloppily capture my world and shift the difficult task of composition and editing to a later time. (Like, after I’m dead maybe.) I thought I learned in economics that land was the one universally limited resource, but I think that finite time is far more significant. Any tool that helps me shift time is valuable.

Publishing and letter-writing have long been great tools for time shifting. You don’t have to attend a lecture or speech to learn what someone has to say, and you don’t have to tightly synchronize your interaction with a correspondent. Books and letters were so difficult to produce that it was worthwhile to produce them carefully. The Internet has made it possible for us to separate the benefit of time-shifting from the benefit of consideration. That’s not always a good thing, but I’ll take the flexibility, thank you.

There are other double-edged swords with easier time-shifting. I often write a couple of blog entries on a Sunday, as I am doing today, and then schedule them to appear every couple of days. This has been embarrassing when a new lengthy blog appears when I’m supposed to be hard at work on, e.g., a new release. The disconnected reality of the Internet in general, and virtual reality specifically, are confusing enough without adding time travel to the mix. While many companies use these tools to save on travel time, there is also a concern that some use them to appear to be in two places at once. Consulting companies might double-bill their time by spending half the day interacting with two different clients. In the past they could only be at one customer site at a time, even if they spent half the day on the cell phone to others.

While power carries responsibility, I gotta say I enjoy having the power. We don’t have Turing-test-passing consulting robots, but we do have some nice asynchronicity features now.

  • Our current version has a virtual DVR that lets you record your view and sounds of the world for later review by yourself or others. You can also name any place and have the “camera” record from there even as you move around. You can also “space-shift” these recording to other places for review. You can’t yet view them outside our software environment, but that will come in time.
  • You have always been able to bring material into the world and leave it there for others to use later. Since access is controlled and transmission encrypted, this is effectively an easy-to-use, secure, spam-free way to asynchronously send stuff to others. In the new version, you can upload and download such stuff through the Web without actually entering the world – still authenticated and encrypted. (You can upload or download without being in-world, but if you want to do both, someone has to be in-world in between to save the object.)
  • Anything that happens on the Web can be programmed to be driven by a ‘bot, so it is possible to have a program upload stuff to appear at a given time. For our users, this is more likely to be an automatically produced report rather than a post-dated blog entry. If no one is in the world at the time, the new material is not lost – it is saved until someone is present and then made to appear. (If a tree falls in this virtual forest, it doesn’t actually make a sound until someone is there to hear it.)
  • A great deal of what happens in-world can also now be programmed in Python. People are using this to make stuff happen when someone is in-world but other’s that they need to work with are not. No one has yet asked for the programs themselves to be uploaded automatically by an external program, but maybe that, too, will happen someday.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.

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