My research includes work on developing digital twins [see ‘Digital twins that thrive in the real world‘ on June 9th, 2021] of aircraft, power stations and other engineering systems. And I am aware of similar work in other disciplines [see ‘Digital twins could put at risk what it means to be human‘ on November 18th, 2020]; but I was surprised to learn about the demand for digital clothing. Three-dimensional virtual spaces or metaverses exist in computer games, chat rooms and more recently virtual spaces designed for socialising and shopping that are populated by avatars that need to wear something. So, some fashion brands are producing digital clothing and charging you for the privilege of attiring your avatar with their logo. In other words, you can buy clothes that don’t exist for people who are not real. However, DressX has gone a step further producing a ‘digital-only collection’ of clothing for your digital twin or, at the moment, two-dimensional images of real people. So, now you can buy clothes that don’t exist, superimpose them on pictures of real people, and upload the results to social media. Perhaps it’s not as crazy as it seems at first because it might alleviate the need for fast fashion to produce single-use real clothes at enormous cost to the environment. However, dressing up your digital twin does not seem to offer the same level of anticipation and excitement as getting dressed up yourself. (Except in a lockdown? Ed)
A week has just raced past and it’s time to write a blog post – the 479th. The first twenty or so posts were published randomly when I thought of something to write. Only the last 457 have been published regularly on Wednesdays. However, given the average life expectancy of a male in Britain is 4225 weeks, that implies I have been writing a weekly post for slightly more than a tenth of my life expectancy. More depressing, considering the speed at which weeks are racing past me, is that I probably only have about 1000 weeks left. A thousand is a big number if you are trying to count sheep to get to sleep but quite a small number when thinking about the life of the universe [see ‘Will it all be over soon?‘ on February 2nd, 2016]. I have mixed feelings about my perception of a thousand weeks of life remaining. It seems short enough to make me pause, think about slowing down so that the weeks do not fly past so quickly and to write about it. But it is probably not short enough to induce me to make dramatic changes to my lifestyle. Perhaps the most likely effect will be to increase my awareness of the need to make time for the important things in work and life. At work that probably means being more focussed on the big picture while in life it suggests focussing on the atelic activities, i.e. those pursued for their own sake, such as our weekly walk up Moel Famau.
We sense the passage of time by the changes that occur around us (see ‘We inhabit time as fish live in water‘ on July 24th, 2019) and these changes are brought about by processes that generate entropy. Entropy is often referred to as the arrow of time because forwards in time is always the direction in which the entropy of the universe increases, as demanded by the second law of thermodynamics (see for example ‘Subtle balance of sustainable orderliness‘ on June 22nd, 2016). The temperature in a refrigerator is sufficiently low that it slows down the processes of decay in the food stored in it (see’ Life-time battle‘ on January 30th, 2013) which effectively slows down time locally in the fridge. However, there is a price to pay because the process of creating of the cold zone in the fridge increases the entropy in the universe and moves the universe infinitesimally closer to cosmic heat death (see ‘Will it all be over soon?‘ on November 2nd, 2016). So, cooling the food in your fridge slows down time locally but brings the end of the universe a tiny bit closer. Perhaps that’s not worth worrying about until you start thinking about how many fridges there are in the world (about half a billion are sold every year) and how many other devices are generating entropy. The end of the universe might still be billions of years away but all that anthropogenic entropy is contributing to the increase in the temperature of the Earth’s ecosystem.
I recently came across this quote from Paul Virilio, a French philosopher who lived from 1932 to 2018. Actually, it is only the first part of a statement he made during an interview with Philippe Petit in 1996. ‘When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution. Every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time as technical progress.’ These events have a catastrophic level of negativity; however, there is a more insidious form of negativity induced by every new technology. It arises as a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics which demands that the entropy of the universe increases in all real processes. In other words, that the degree of disorder in the universe is increased every time we use technology to do something useful, in fact whenever anything happens the second law ensures some negativity. This implies that the capacity to do something useful, often measured in terms of energy, is decreased not just by doing the useful thing but also by creating disorder. Technology helps us to do more useful things more quickly; but the downside is that faster processes tend to create more entropy and disorder. Most of this negativity is not as obvious as a shipwreck or plane crash but instead often takes the form of pollution that eventually and inexorably disrupts the world making it a less hospitable home for us and the rest of nature. The forthcoming COP26 conference is generating much talk about the need for climate action but very little about the reality that we cannot avoid the demands of the second law and hence need to rethink how, when and what technology we use.
Paul Virilio, and Petit Philippe. Politics of the Very Worst, New York: Semiotext(e), 1999, p. 89 (available from https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/politics-very-worst).