I'm willing to bet that in the near future, we will live in a world without mirrors. Yes, it sounds absurd. But hear me out.
When I change lanes, I no longer use my right-hand mirror to check if I'm about to smash into a passing vehicle. Most of the time, I don't look out that window at all. When I change lanes, I'm staring at my car's in-dash touchscreen without a second thought. Maybe you're thinking I shouldn't be driving a car? Give me the benefit of the doubt — my in-dash screen is hooked up to a camera that sees the road better than any mirror imaginable.
Don't believe me? See for yourself:
This is Honda's LaneWatch system, which shows me exactly when it's safe to pass any vehicle. Not only does my 7-inch touchscreen provide a far wider, clearer view of the road than my tiny passenger side mirror — completely eliminating my blind spot on that side — the screen's nifty indicator means I no longer need to worry about how close I am to other people's rides.
Oh look! This car is behind the red line. Totally safe to pass.
In front of the red line? Nope, better not turn that wheel unless I want to crash.
I can still keep an eye on the road ahead of me while I look at the screen, instead of turning my head to glance at some tiny passenger-side mirror and losing track of what's in front of me.
Brace yourself, but I've also stopped looking over my shoulder when I back my car up. I've also got a wide-angle backup camera on my vehicle with digital guidelines too, and these guidelines actually adjust as I turn my car's steering wheel. I can back right into parking spots without ever actually looking behind me because the computer graphics show me exactly how to do so.
Maybe this isn't news to you. Maybe you've driven a high-tech car too. But the car I'm describing is an $US18,000 Honda Fit EX. It's practically an entry-level vehicle. How long before features like these are standard on every car, just like airbags and seat belts?
And how long before we replace the car's rearview mirror with a objectively better one that can see through the heads of your passengers? Nissan already has the technology.
I started thinking about this in car terms, while driving my new 2015 Honda Fit. Then I started thinking about all the other mirrors in the world.
Women use compact mirrors to check their makeup and hair. (OK, some men do too.) But we're already using the front-facing cameras on our smartphones to do spot check those things — to fish stray bits of food out of our teeth, if nothing else. How long until those cameras are good enough that you can use them while you put your makeup on? How long until they help you put your makeup on with computer graphic assists, too?
Not long ago, I bought a cheap accordion arm mirror from IKEA so I could see myself better while shaving. What if I didn't need such a thing because my bathroom mirror could zoom?
Full-length bedroom mirrors are going to be the toughest to crack — no pun intended. (Raise your hand if you like the idea of a camera staring at your full naked body as you pick out clothes!) But again, when your mirror is actually a screen connected to a camera, a world of possibilities opens up.
Imagine trying on clothing you don't yet own, mixing and matching with items that are already in your closet. And without having to dig those items out of your closet, too. And what if when you do go to grab the items you already own, the mirror/screen on your closet door could show you exactly where you hung them? Fancy stores have been playing with virtual mirrors for years now, and I bet it's only a matter of time (and price) before they arrive in our homes.
But I imagine that by the time your kids or grandkids install one of those "mirrors," the idea won't seem very futuristic anymore. Because one of the weirdest things that mirrors do — which we take for granted today — is show things the wrong way around. The face you see in the mirror isn't the one you show other people. It's backwards, as I'm sure you know. At some point in your life, you saw a picture of yourself and realised things were a little bit off. If I'm not completely crazy, future generations won't tolerate that. They will have gotten quite used to the idea that a screen can show them their true face with the press of a button. Or always.
It's hard to imagine life entirely without mirrors, of course. There are tiny ones inside projectors and lasers. They're too useful for bouncing around light to totally go extinct. But to your grandkids, the idea of using a pane of silver-coated glass to see reflected objects will sound retro, even quaint — as quaint as using an analogue wristwatch to tell the time in 2015.
Illustration: Tara Jacoby