Mar 8 2019

Anti-VR

A central theme of science fiction over the past 20 years has been the dystopian future of humans, laying on couches, connected to machines that feed them and process their waste, while they interact with a virtual world. Advanced versions of this technology let you move around or relax in a comfortable creche.

Today we call it VR. I wish the abbreviation, which seems so harmless, had never taken hold as the phrase “virtual reality” helps remind us, just a tiny bit, of what we are talking about.

Ever since Jaron Lanier popularized the phrase virtual reality when I was in college, I’ve struggled with it. When my friend Warren Katz introduced me to the idea of a head mounted display in the late 1980s, I was simultaneously thrilled and disturbed. When Lenny Nero figured out what happened to Iris, I simply was disturbed. Yet, when John Underkoffler created the Minority Report user interface to the precogs in the early 2000s, I was enthralled. When Amazon decided to pull out of NYC in 2019, I wasn’t surprised.

Wait, that last sentence was for a different blog post. Just checking to make sure you are still here and paying attention.

I don’t believe humans want to strap a headset on, block out all the stimuli they are getting, lay down in a creche, attach themselves to biosensors that handle their meat puppet, and immerse themselves in a virtual reality, without being able to simultaneously interact with the world around them. Just imagine what that’s going to be like when News Corp gets control of the programming.

There’s no question that VR has an enormous potential market in online gaming. This isn’t anything new – the online gaming industry and the porn industry are two of the most aggressive adopters of new technologies. It’s not difficult to imagine going from your couch to your creche. It would be easier to play esports if you didn’t have to eat or go to the bathroom.

But, beyond that, I don’t buy it. Outside of video games and esports, my bet is on holograms and augmented reality. See you in the future.