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3D Is Played Out. Let’s Talk 4D.

3D is old news.

Yeah, it’s coming to TV in real-time, and James Cameron seems to have an affinity for it.* Great. But the technology has been around forever. As in, since the 1890s. The classic image of people wearing 3D glasses at the movies is from the 1950s, after all – half a century ago.

What people are eager for, I offer, is 4D. 4D viewing is what makes the TiVo popular – you can watch a show in any direction, can (once on your hard drive) jump to any point within it. You can see the outcome before you see the set-up, which saves a lot of time in M. Night Shyamalan movies. (“Oh. They’re actually in modern times. Got it.”)

4D is also how one might describe imaging that offers the ability to overlap time periods; to compare what a thing looks like now with what it looked like then. When you restage a photo from your youth (a popular Flickr pastime), you’re adding the temporal dimension to your image. (Technically, of course, comparing photographs of the same object over time is another form of 3D, eliminating the perception of depth. But I’m already three paragraphs into this conceit. Just go with me.) Doing so allows for a sort of personalized “Spot the Difference” game – less hair here, more gut there.

People like doing this with their hometowns, too. New Yorkers and those visiting our fair shores may be familiar with a book, popular at tourist sites, that applies this concept to the city. Called New York: Then and Now, it presents historic photos of New York side-by-side with recent images. As your eye skips across the book’s gutter, it traverses decades, centuries.

Two years ago, the New York Times offered an online version of the same thing. Its Then/Now series (by reporter David Dunlap) allows site visitors to slide images across one another to see changes over time.

Other examples abound online. For you Left Coasters, the Los Angeles Times this week posted a series of images comparing the view from City Hall today with that of 1951. (Note the last photo, in which the Times’ building itself appears – not much the worse for wear. You can just make out the ‘For Rent’ sign.) (Not really.) Flickr has an entire group dedicated to recreating historic photos, from which some of the pictures on this page are taken.

The concept extends to social commentary. Last year, a Russian photographer overlaid images of modern Leningrad with photos of the same scenes from the siege during World War II. Brutal and gruesome shots of corpses and rubble gently saturate with color around the edges to show modern residents, oblivious to what happened a few feet away, many years prior. An online Holocaust memorial compares drawings of concentration camp life with the now-bucolic surroundings in which they occurred.

In the same way that we’re fascinated by baby pictures of friends and loved ones, it’s irresistible to compare the world we live in with its youth. Google is explicit about allowing similar comparisons in Google Earth. (I explored this theme somewhat tangentially, in another post.) Within Google Earth’s ‘Layers’ menu, choose ‘Gallery’ and ‘Rumsey Historical Maps’ to explore a variety of ancient and historic maps. Here, for example, is what the Mall and “President’s House” looked like in 1861 – before anyone was considering a Lincoln Memorial:

Still visible to the southwest – the swamps of the Potomac. With a click of a checkbox, you can see what now lies where this muck once was. (Probably rhymes with Beeberman.)

Now that I’ve clearly demonstrated to those television manufacturers and media company owners reading this post that there exists real demand for a four dimensional experience, let’s get cracking. (How can this exist, you ask? Not my job. Sony‘s job.) Granted, those in the betting-on-things business might take issue with being able to know the outcome of a game before it’s over, so we shouldn’t expect sports to lead the pack on this. For sports fans, then, this will have to do.

* I haven’t seen Avatar, because, meh. But how dumb a name is “unobtainium”? I hope the movie at least comes up with some reason for why that’s what they settled for. (See also: Will Hunting.)

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