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.
This might scare you: here in the US, when I change lanes, I no longer use my side 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.
Let me guess, you're thinking maybe 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 seven-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.
My favourite part? 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.
Okay, time for another revelation that might scare you: I've stopped looking over my shoulder when I back my car up, too. You guessed it: 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 you're not surprised by any of this. Maybe you've driven a high-tech car, too. But the car I'm describing is an $18,000 (£12,000) Honda Fit EX. 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 one that can see through the heads of your passengers? Nissan already has the technology.
Driving my new 2015 Honda Fit got me thinking about such things. And then I started thinking about all the other mirrors in the world.
Women use compact mirrors to check their makeup and hair. Some men do, too. But we're already using the front-facing cameras on our smartphones to do spot checks on 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 had digital 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.
Image credit: Intel
Imagine trying on clothing you don't yet own, mixing and matching with items that are already in your wardrobe. And without having to dig those items out of said wardrobe, too. And what if when you do go to grab the items you already own, the mirror/screen on your wardrobe 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 before they arrive in our homes.
But I imagine that by the time your children or grandchildren 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'll be 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 go totally extinct. But to later generations, 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 by Tara Jacoby