Peter Sullivan

Karabo Moletsane

 

This is the Tale of How My Dad’s Laser-Eye Surgery Was the Key to His Success.

The story goes that my dad could not wear contact lenses because his eyes are “shaped like rugby balls” and so he had to make do for years with very thick glasses. But one day someone invented laser-eye surgery and my dad decided to have it even though he was scared and, boom, no more spectacles. That is the reason people started to respect him and give him promotions and choose to Be in the Car By the Time I Count to Ten or Else I’m Leaving Without You.

The other night my fiancé – who had just sustained a very bad eye injury (involving a squash ball travelling at about 200 kilometres per hour) that caused my dad to call him one million times and caused me to tell my fiancé the story above – and I went for dinner with my dad, who sure enough very quickly told this exact story, as dads are prone to do. He added one never-before-heard detail, which is that not only had he had thick glasses but also big (red) hair. “The big hair didn’t seem to matter so much to everyone after I had my laser-eye surgery,” said my dad over spaghetti.

Laser-eye surgery has been around since the 1980s and not much else has changed for eyes since it was invented, or at least not much else has stuck, until now (or soon).

 

Karabo Moletsane

 

There are a few eye-based technologies we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. The first is using your eyes to control screens in the way you now use your fingers or voice. ‘Blinkwashing’, for example, will let you skip YouTube ads by blinking, and all without ever having to use the word ‘Blinkwashing’.

Then there is virtual reality (a term popularised in the 1980s apparently, by this guy, who also made a movie called “Muzork”). I’ve experienced virtual reality only once, at my friend Phil’s house. It was an entirely enchanting experience that involved me as a mouse on an intricate mouse roller-coaster zooming around a living room.

With Google’s Tilt Brush you will soon be able to draw a mouse world of your very own. Tilt Brush is an app that lets you ‘paint in 3-D space with virtual reality’. One application of this would be that you could put on VR goggles and sing “Paint With all the Colours of the Wind” while drawing yourself a dress (or mice that could sew a dress) and birds to sing with you and a talented red crab to keep you out of trouble.

 

Karabo Moletsane

 

I’m not rushing out to get one any time soon, but what struck me about Tilt Brush was something that Neal Ungerleder writes about in his piece for Fast Company, which is that one of Tilt Brush’s main functions is to teach people how to use and to get used to virtual reality in general.

Ungerleder explains that the precedent for this is everyone’s favourite old-timey procrastination, Solitaire, which was apparently added to computers mainly to teach users how to click and drag. According to Ungerleder, Tilt Brush was designed (or at least funded), to fulfil a similar function for VR.

This, if anything, seems to show that our digital overlords feel like virtual reality is totally going to be a thing. Augmented reality, less of a whole new digital world and more of a digital layer over the real world, is even likelier to be part of our everyday lives. Although the possibility of ghostly apps filling my peripheral vision is magical in a way, it doesn’t fill me with excitement. It seems, I suppose, like a more intense version of how things are now, but where it is even easier to accomplish certain tasks (sending emails, making bookings, Pinterest) especially – hooray! – while accomplishing other tasks (crossing the road, spending time with your family).

There was only one problem with my dad’s laser-eye surgery. He had learnt to surf sort of half-blind because of course he couldn’t wear glasses when he was catching sweet barrels. But once he’d had the surgery, he realised that he’d been catching waves that were far bigger and scarier than he would have had he been able to see them properly.

The possibility that augmented reality offers – of so much information all at once, constantly –  feels a bit like waves that are frighteningly big. And everyone is bouncing into the sea to catch one, wind whipping through our big red hair, only to turn around and swim as fast as we can back to shore – before the wave dumps us there. It makes me want to train a drone-pecking eagle.

Then again the future could just look a bit cheap and weird for a while, like the first time you watched HD TV.

 

Helen Sullivan is the co-founder and editor of Prufrock, a multilingual print quarterly of African fiction, nonfiction and poetry. To submit, subscribe, find stockists or get in touch, visit prufrock.co.za. Follow her monthly column on Casimir about new technologies and how they interact with, or replace the things they aim to improve upon. 

 

Illustrations by Karabo Moletsane

 

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