Human-Animal Relationships In The Digital Age
Relationships with animals are embedded in the genes of humanity. Bonds with animals have been the building blocks of societies worldwide from well before the Stone Age.
Since the advent of the internet new means of communication and social media have drastically changed how we communicate, do business, and live.
With the advancement of technology, our relationship with animals has been changing as well. However, our interaction with animals seems to have stayed the same — we still feel the need to take care of them, watch them grow, feed them, play with them, and draw immense pleasure from interacting with them. And, interestingly enough — children treat robotic animals as if they were living beings, no matter how much interaction with real pets OR technology they have in their lives.
In this century, our relationship with animals is changing so much, our future companions don’t even have to be living, breathing creatures anymore.
"The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order."
- Alvin Toffler
The global landscape has shifted completely since the year 2000. We’ve changed what it means to be social — we have reconceptualized social behavior. This is changing the way we live and think.
Social media is used by 3.96 billion people, as our smartphones are becoming an extension of our brains, a cloud-supported extended memory.
The urge to not be left behind drives most tech adoption, the real mass adoption. When most of the people around us adopt a new way to communicate or live, we crave to join them.
And it’s the young who drive adoption most of all — kids don’t have the same fears as adults do, and are always primed to explore novelty. After all, they have been living with this tech all their lives.
And so, as new generations grow up in our midst, the curious and slightly disconcerting eventually becomes commonplace and mundane, a pendulum that swings between stability and excitement.
What this Force of Adoption compels us to ask again and again is — what is normal?
We Care About Our Pets A Lot
Many cultures and individuals express a common desire to see animals as powerful, mythical forces in human life. The signs of the zodiac, totem animals, spirit guides — all of these have been inspiring humans to examine our own place in the world, and these belief systems have strengthened the bonds between us.
Animals have provided us with the resources and companionship to remap the globe. Throughout history, walking side by side by animals has given us depth and nuance in viewing and respecting nature.
In contemporary society, animal companions have many different roles. Some are a status symbol and an expression of a personality and style, while others, like guide dogs for the blind, are actual physical helpers. Others help us bond with other people and strengthen our social relationships.
But the most common reason for owning pets in Western societies is companionship. A growing body of research on the positive effects animals have on human health, psychological well-being, and the therapeutic value of keeping companions is confirming in scientific terms what humans have known for a long long time — good doggos are always good.
Is it a surprise to read that in the US alone there are 163 million dogs and cats, compared to 73 million children under 18? Or that some of the latest treats pets receive are air-conditioned doghouses, craft beer (no alcohol of course), and humpable sex dolls?
Shift Paradigm, Shift!
Hunter-gatherers first befriended animals, and then the agrarian revolution brought on animal domestication and coexistence with livestock. The industrial revolution supplanted animals as beasts of burden. Each era has changed the way we see and treat other species.
When Tamagotchi, the artificial pet in an egg-shaped shell came out in 1997, it had an LCD screen and three buttons for interaction. Simply by being able to feed, clean, and play with the virtual pet, more than 82 million Tamagotchi have been sold earning just short of a billion USD in gross sales.
Furby, the furry (terrifying?) owl-hamster robot came out in 1998 and sold 40 million copies in its first three years alone; it was in such high demand, bidding wars erupted worldwide. Some people just can’t help themselves.
In 2005 Nintendo released the wonderfully named Nintendogs, a simulation game of raising digital puppies, and later kittens as well. The series sold 28 million copies for the handheld Nintendo DS.
The franchise My Talking Tom Friends featured a virtual cat capturing the user’s voice to repeat it. The smartphone app has been downloaded more than 13 billion times since 2017. Not a typo — 13 billion downloads.
Finally, Pokemon Go, the massive geolocation AR hit made over 5 billion dollars in five years.
As the psychologist Gail Melson pointed out;
We are inherently social creatures. We have evolved to be attuned to other life forms — and not only other human life forms. We are predisposed to see the characteristics of life.
Technology has changed how we think, and feel about social behavior.
And yet, there is a seed of magical thinking here, where our imagination soars, projecting life to the world around us.
This is what we are trying to capture in the metaverse.
Modern computer vision allows your hand to be detected and faithfully reconstructed in 3D space by your camera, which in turn allows us to give your digital companion an understanding of your physical presence.
In plain English - you can touch your pet. Although you may not be able to feel the animal, it can still respond to your touch.
Even though the pet is digital, we want your interaction with it to be as organic as possible. Touch, voice, gestures, perhaps even your facial expressions, will provide a rich tapestry of sensory data for the virtual creature to respond to.
One of the most rewarding qualities of humans is how we can get attuned to other life forms — all life forms. We at Matterless are excited to help you reimagine that incredible quality using AR and breathe life into our digital companions.
Our goal is to create something that responds to us in an organic way, and touches our hearts.
-Damir First, Matterless CCO
About Matterless Studios
Digital life. Real connections. True Affection.
Matterless Studios is an augmented reality studio building the future of digital relationships, creating outlets for human love, nurture, and creativity. For more information visit www.matterless.com, join the Discord, or follow us on Twitter or here on Medium.