In Celtic mythology,
the in-between places were places of magic and power
- shorelines, doorways, places of transition –
neither one thing, nor the other
the thin places
where the real world and the other-world

Somewhere between the real world and the virtual world is a special place, neither one thing, nor the other. It is a hybrid reality, both partly virtual and partly real.

It is possible to look at the real world and to interact with it, or at least a representation of it, in virtual space. Google Earth. MapQuest. Virtual city-scapes. We are putting the real world into virtual space. Yet the experience is neither entirely virtual, nor is it entirely real.

We are building a “mirror world” (1) - a representation of the real world in virtual space. And there are a number of innovative new technologies currently under development that promise to help make this vision a reality. Mix them together and we are ready to go. Take Google Earth and add photo tourism (2). That is, superimpose millions of photos on top of Google Earth, creating a rich, 3-dimensional representation of your favorite city. Then, add live video feed from surveillance cameras and cell phones, and mix it all together.

And while we are at it, we might as well throw in MapQuest, integrate an encyclopedia, add links and video clips, and don’t forget the e-commerce package. In this way, it is possible to create a virtual version of a real city – a hybrid space: internet, virtual reality, and real world, rolled into one.

Just select what you would like to see superimposed over a virtual model of your favorite city.

□ Real-World Overlay
□ Real-Time Video Feeds
□ Cashed Images (photographs)

□ Virtual-World Overlay
□ Avatars
□ Virtual Architecture
□ Persistent Video or Images
□ Links (information, news, books, images, blogs, video, local history)

In addition, it will be possible do a number of interesting things: To talk to someone in the real-world (by way of a computer screen, cell-phone, or projector). To “go back in time,” looking at old images and video feeds. To personalize a city space (making alterations that only you and your friends can see), or to set it up as a private chat room, or as a commercial shopping district (remember that a building may be occupied by one shop in real life, but another in the virtual world).

It may also be possible to find a friend – find and track the person in this photograph – probably using pattern recognition. Or to put on a pair of “augmented reality glasses” and superimpose the virtual-world on top of the real world. This would be great for driving directions (“just follow the yellow brick road”) or to see if you have any virtual visitors (you will be able to see the ghost images of people walking down the street, in virtual space, next to you).

The mirror world will be initially marketable as an ad space, and will be used for education, tourism, and entertainment, as well as for a number of practical applications, such as getting directions or checking up on your kids. (“I am going to be working late tonight, can you log on to your computer, drive my car down to SFO, and pick up Susan from the airport for me?”) But, it will not be fully marketable until the development of transworld communications devices, real-time video chat technologies, and virtual shopping software packages.

The mirror world will be a source of excitement and entertainment, a new medium to develop and explore, a new medium in which to project your image. Perhaps most interestingly, there may be a number of interesting social networking possibilities. On the other hand, it has some potentially disturbing consequences, such as almost constant surveillance (the topic of a future article).

In the future, people in the virtual world will be able to interact with people and things in the real world; and people in the real world will be able to, at least at times, interact with people and things in the virtual world. That is, the real world will exert considerable influence upon the virtual world. And the virtual world will reach into back into the real, affecting almost every facet of our lives. And in the thin places, we will see the blurring of boundaries between the real and the virtual world – the real and the virtual collide.

The thin places
will be places of magic and power
where the real and virtual blur
and where the extraordinary is possible.

(2) For more information on photo tourism, see:
(3) The lead in paragraph about Celtic mythology was in part patterned after a quote off the web:

msc 6/4/07