The existence of the bubble seems to be the only thing we agree on anymore… You know the bubble, the thing that the person who disagrees with you must live in?
The bubble where everything you see and interact with fits your predetermined vision of the world. The bubble where anything that doesn’t fit with your reality is dismissed as #FAKENEWS. The bubble that leaves everyone perpetually struggling with the concept of what’s real and isn’t real, what words like “truth” and “lie” even mean.
Bubbles are not good—yet, the “new” new thing, virtual reality, seems to be designed in part to enhance your bubble, to make your bubble as real and exclusive as possible. Right now, we live in bubbles that are constructed by the information we ingest when we stare at a screen.
In the future, the bubble will be strapped to your head.
I know this whole rant makes me seem like a luddite, but when I see people wearing virtual reality headsets, it’s hard not to be reminded of a horse wearing blinders. The headsets might be a gateway to a virtual reality, but they also serve as an exit from actual reality.
Granted, there is a lot of appeal to that idea. When you’re viewing the world through a headset, there probably aren’t all the problems we deal with back here in the real world. Everyone is healthy and attractive, politics aren’t a perpetual sideshow (in fact, there are no politics), you car always has a new car smell, the Grand Canyon you virtually hike never has too many tourists—and if you get bored with the Grand Canyon, you can always find some zombies to shoot.
And even with the zombies, there isn’t all the mess of actual reality.
But is now the best time for human beings to forego actual reality for a perfect, all-encompassing bubble? Is right now the best time to strap on blinders and disconnect ourselves from the real world?
At the moment, humanity isn’t exactly nailing actual reality. It seems like some of the challenges we’ve always faced are either getting worse (like income inequality) or taking a new form (we’ve always had hate, it’s just easier to express that hate with social media).
Will virtual reality help address some of those issues?
When the “new” new thing is almost here, people think of all the amazing things it will do, without spending much time contemplating what the downsides might be—like the internet and social media, which have brought significant benefits.
But the internet and social media have also done some other things really well, like bombard us with advertising, and create bubbles that make it almost impossible to have real, reasonable dialogue on the issues we face.
It’s hard to see how virtual reality won’t just amplify those problems.
One of the things I hear most frequently about virtual reality is how it will allow companies to expose us to constant, lifelike advertisements.
Because what was missing in my life was more advertisements.
(That was sarcasm.)
And bubbles? With virtual reality my bubble can become my entire world, filled with only the things I want to see, and devoid of anything that challenges me, makes me feel uncomfortable, or disagrees with me.
If you are my age or older, you can remember all the predictions about the way the internet, and then social media, would connect us in ways we couldn’t imagine and create conveniences that would make our lives easier than ever.
There was never a mention of a world where reality happened on your phone, and the human sitting across the table was a distraction. There was never a mention of a world where humans are poorer, angrier, and more polarized than they were before we could connect with anyone, anywhere, using just our thumbs.
Now I read about the way virtual reality will allow us to meet with people from other parts of the world, expanding our bubbles—but if the technology we hold in our hands has only shrunk our bubbles, it’s hard to imagine how the technology we strap to our heads won’t make our worlds even smaller and more exclusive.
Maybe you can’t stop progress. Maybe a society of begoggled humans viewing their own personalized version of the world is inevitable.
But before that happens, we should at least try and exercise the free will that makes human beings different than any other species, and ask ourselves if that’s a world we want.
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