Primal Numbers – Holodecks on Holiday, Part I

If you’ve taken a trip lately, you know how frustrating travel can be. From cancelled flights to lost luggage and bad resort food, it’s not uncommon for people to return from vacation more exhausted than when they left. Soon, technology could put an end to travel woes and let you choose a virtual vacation. But will we ever really prefer a digital beach over the real thing?

The ultimate virtual vacation would, of course, take place on a holodeck?that room on Star Trek’s USS Enterprise where characters could create any world at will. Whether it was transformed into a 1940s city or a tropical paradise, the holodeck let users make physical contact with the digital objects of their imagination.

Virtual holidays aren’t quite that sophisticated yet but we’re getting closer. As this Telegraph article reports, the tech firm Oculus has developed “virtual reality visors that will enable wearers to explore popular destinations and entirely new realms without leaving their homes.” Wander the English countryside, discover the Great Wall of China, or go skydiving. You won’t taste the food or feel the wind in your hair, but those advances could be as few as 10 years away.

The question is, will we ever give up the real thing (complete with sunburns and flight delays) in exchange for a perfect holodeck holiday? Two key signs point to yes.

For starters, there’s the fact that we seem perfectly content to spend more and more of our time indoors instead of out. And we’re conditioning our kids to live that way too. Whether it’s a lack of time, bad weather, or the lure of screen time, life indoors has eclipsed the time we once spent in nature. As this 2012 post by the David Suzuki Foundation notes, more than 70 per cent of Canadian kids now spend 23 hours of every day inside.

That’s a staggering 96 per cent of their lives spent in a controlled, indoor environment. No worries about rain or mud or the uncomfortable realities of bee stings and blisters.

Sure, plenty of families still spend a week or two hiking or camping each summer. But the overwhelming reality for North American kids these days is a life lived indoors. Once they become adults, odds are that technology will have perfected the tailor-made, hassle-free holodeck vacation. It will be a world they’re already familiar with?a video game or TV show come to life. Why go through the messy reality of bug bites and cramped plane seats when you can take the entire family on vacation from the comfort of your living room?

Then there’s our growing habit of spending more time with people online than we do in real life. According to the Australian site News Limited, a 2014 study reveals that more than half of young Australians (aged 18 to 34) “now spend more time talking and interacting with friends and family on social media than in person.”

In a 24-hour period, 64 percent of participants had connected with their families and friends online. But during the same time span, only 15 per cent of them spent time socializing with those people in real life.

Canadians and Australians aren’t alone in those social trends, and it’s probably not hard to find examples in your own life.

What we have, then, is a market that will be primed and ready to embrace holodeck holidays. A population that enjoys the indoors, manages everything from cars to friendships on a screen, and wouldn’t know poison ivy from a pimple.

Will there be benefits? Most definitely, though they won’t come without a cost. Join me here to chat about that next week. I promise the virtual sightseeing will be fabulous.

S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.