The multi-trillion-dollar race to make portable dreams
Why are we obsessed with screens?
In 2001, I played Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on my desktop PC, which had 512 megabytes of RAM.
My dad looked over my shoulder as it generated Hermione's polygon expression in blunt detail.
“I can't believe we've achieved this…” he said with the reverence of the apes discovering the Obelisk in 2001: a Space Odyssey. He was comparing the rough polygons to his 1970s experience of “Pong.”
He watched me play Harry Potter for over an hour.
What on Earth compels us to spend trillions to make these visual representations of reality?
It doesn’t matter if we can’t explain ourselves–money talks.
As a species, we spend more on recreating dreams (6.9% of GDP on media) than making food (5% of GDP).
We’re driven like mad apes to project our visual system on screens and share it.
In 1897 we created TVs long before it should have been possible. Tube TVs scan an electron beam across a glass tube at a 10th of the speed of light. The stream of electrons is directed only by a magnetic current. A marvel of engineering, even in 2022.
Seriously, take a moment to watch this slow-mo video of how an old tube TV works. This is a glorious testament to our obsession with recreating dreams.
Over a hundred years later, The Avengers movies are more expensive than oil pipelines and fighter jets.
On top of that, what drives our investment in greater and greater computational power? Video games. A computer can detect early-stage cancer because some dork wanted a higher polygon count on his digital dragons.
It seems we must externalize our dreams.
Visual stories, like dreams, attempt to distill reality into its archetypal parts. We aren’t good at explaining it, but we're clearly starving for it.
To make our dreams shareable, visual, and comprehensible, we spend trillions to make movies, video games, and TV.
What are we trying to achieve?
If we bring enough of our dreams to the surface, we may wake up.
Thanks for reading,
What’s moving me:
No fancy quotes this week, just an observation.
Traveling this week, I stopped at a Starbucks in a forgotten part of the country. A woman with three kids decided not to order her cappuccino so the kid working behind the counter could close the store a little sooner and go home to his family. “It’s thanksgiving,” she said. “I feel you.”
As always, your essays move me.
Those Harry Potter PC games were great. Though I never did beat the basilisk in chamber of secrets.