Culture Trip: How are tech advances rewiring the rituals of Christmas?
Hayley Ard: Emerging technologies are enabling even the most remote and Grinch-like family members to take part in Christmas celebrations. Out-of-town loved ones can log into Yuletide get-togethers, thanks to telepresence robots, such as Suitable Technologies’ Beam bot.
Shoppers can now have last-minute gifts delivered to their door by drone. Amazon’s experimental delivery service Prime Air can deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less. Google parent company Alphabet began testing its Project Wing program by delivering burritos by drone in Australia in October. We can only hope the program will expand to include mince pies in time for the festive season.
Nothing’s shifted more radically than the gifts under the tree. More than two-thirds (69%) of US 13- to 34-year-olds believe in the non-physical realm. These digital soul seekers are putting mystic tech at the top of their wishlists. The new must-have is the iBand EEG headband, which plunges users into a hybrid state of consciousness and raised 1,289% of its crowdfunding goal on Indiegogo.
For kids, gender-neutral speaking dolls have replaced Barbies as the gifts of the season. The renaissance of Robot Wars is fuelling demand for remote-controlled robots that do battle, such as the Hexbug BattleBots Arena. It’s no longer enough to have an imaginary friend: discerning tots are demanding intelligent assistants in the guise of plush toys. Woobo is a sensor-imbued soft creature with an expressive face and the ability to buzz or vibrate in reaction to a hug.
Even pets’ presents have evolved. Pumpkin-spiced kibble won’t cut it this year – digital dogs will expect smart collars that monitor their wellbeing, including resting vitals, temperature and sleep. High-tech pet accessories are on an upward trajectory: the global pet wearable market is expected to reach $2.36bn by 2022.
CT: Fast-forward five years – what will Christmas look like? How will technology change our experience of Christmas in 2022?
HA: Over Christmas 2022, we’ll deck the halls with holographic holly, don augmented apparel and see the virtual yule before us.
In the run-up to Christmas, gift buyers will experiment with sub-threshold doses of psychedelic drugs to boost their creativity and concentration – giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘shopping trip’. The ultimate present will be an emotional experience, delivered by cutting-edge neurotech. Physical goods are so 2017.
The art of gift-wrapping will be outsourced to algorithms, which will generate millions of one-off packaging designs. These algorithms will be infinitely more efficient than Rowan Atkinson’s character in Love Actually – no rosebud sprinkling here. By scanning the gift tag with an AR app, the recipient will trigger a personal message, 3D animation and cute sound effects.
Culinary architects will give Christmas pudding a cubist aesthetic, using edible ink, 3D modelling software and synthetic lacquer-like finishes. Robot baristas will complete a tea round in 20 seconds, while artificially intelligent kitchen assistants will monitor cooking times. There’s no place for dry turkey in 2022 – the bird will be roasted to perfection in a smart oven that understands guests’ dietary and taste preferences.
Festive feuds will be solved by smart drugs, not booze. We’ll swallow superfuels and next-gen nootropic blends that will give us the brain power to outmanoeuvre our in-laws in tangled arguments. Wearable speech translators will remove language barriers, enabling toddlers to communicate their concerns seamlessly.
Instead of watching the Queen’s Speech on TV, we’ll join the royal family in an interactive game, complete with CGI corgis. The format will be choose your own adventure and it’ll be up to the viewer to decide who will wear the crown in the new year.