When Alice climbed through the looking glass, who could have imagined what she would discover on the other side—a world so utterly different to our own and yet, necessarily, defined by our own concepts, for strangeness cannot exist without normality.
Beyond the glass, Alice discovered a world where the seemingly immutable laws of reality could be bent and reshaped. The such a place the laws of physics, time and space, become as playthings; illusory and changeable. And this journey into a world beyond limitations is only made possible through the looking glass itself, which serves as a lens through which we may glimpse these other worlds.
Reflective surfaces have long been objects of wonderment and strange fascination. Even a puddle of water on the prehistoric steppes must have been influential in the human development of self-hood, as the primitive human looked simultaneously down at the ground and back up at himself, clouds gathering like thought bubbles around his head.
And to think—the undead, already lost to this world—are rumoured to have no reflection at all.
In today’s world, the magical looking glass is no longer something that exists only in stories. No longer must we hope to find a still pool of water in order to see ourselves. You do not need to go to the bathroom, or even keep a compact mirror in your handbag. Because we all carry one with us: each of us possesses a looking glass no less magical than the one that Alice climbed through.
In common with Carroll’s absurdist fantasy, our looking glasses not only reflect the world back at us, but become portals through which we can view and shape reality according to our own whims and desires. They reflect reality; but only in as much as we want them to.
Our instagrammed faces, distinct from our real faces, become something that we can control. And as such, these fictions become something we cling to, perhaps even addicted to, as we increasingly seek to shape reality in accordance with our desires.
Those images stored on a server far away—are not us. They possess none of the physicality of a real person. They are mere reflections, trapped in time, possessing not even the material reality of a photo album. The selfie is unreal and yet, increasingly defining of humanity.
Increasingly: reality is defined by unreality.
Everything is now recorded: not only a child’s first steps, but every step. Reality is transforming into something else, it is splitting into a sort of dual-reality: that which is lived and that which is digital and they are becoming ever harder to tell apart.
And yet, no matter how high definition our displays become, no matter how much data we are able to store and retain and recall at an instant—the digital mirror, these looking glasses into which we all spend so many hours wistfully gazing is not real life. It is an illusory jumble of machine-code and dead pixels; true dead pixels, forever devoid of life, because a pixel is never truly alive in the first place.
The looking glass is evolving. Already it has moved from our desks into our pockets and—much sooner than we think—it will be wrapped around our faces. Before we even allow ourselves to consider the implications everything we see we be a digital reflection of the actual reality that exists beyond the lens of unreality.
This strange new technology will bring strange new possibilities. Our world, previously constrained by the laws of physics, is being replicated. And concepts previously believed to paradoxical, chaotic or unpredictable to meaningfully explore will suddenly become plausible, or even likely.
We may not be able to rewind the real world, but the digital chronology is different entirely. If you sleep through an entire meeting or lecture, you could simply watch it back later. Or remind yourself what somebody said to you a mere moment ago when you weren’t actually paying attention.
As we increasingly dwell in this changeable reality we will cease to be living in the present and as a result, reality itself will slip away from us. We will have become time travellers.
Beyond the lens of the future, reality will become something else. And eagerly we will rush to this place in order to escape the many failings of the real world into a reflection of reality that will allow us unprecedented control over our own experiences.
We will become detached from the concepts of time and space that have so long tethered us to this material world. And humanity will truly emerge us gods—each of us dwelling at the centre of our own personal universe, with little cause for concern over what transpires beyond it.
“Oh what fun it’ll be, when they see me through the glass in here, and can’t get at me!”
— Lewis Carroll, “Through the Looking Glass”
But what will become of the world we leave behind?
Originally published some years ago under the title “Through the Google Glass”.