Virtual irony

Tonight I went to a Virtual Reality Tech MeetUp. It was very nice, and the people there were all extremely enthusiastic. Brownies were served.

Quite a few attendees had brought their Oculus Rift DK2 or GearVR (and in some cases, both), and were taking turns putting them on and showing each other the virtual worlds they had made.

All of these excited happy people, who were mostly quite young, were clearly enjoying a sense of community, of hanging out, of being together with fellow travelers.

But I couldn’t help thinking that if all of this succeeds, there may come a time when a gathering such as this will seem as quaint as a horse and buggy. Why travel to a common meeting place, when you can have a face to face conversation without ever leaving the comfort of your own home?

Most people don’t miss the horse and buggy. In fact, most people don’t think about it at all. We have long since moved on.

So I wonder about that future world where kids grow up hanging out together without ever being in the same room, where brownies are “shared” by people who are in different houses, or on different continents.

When that day arrives, will the people I met this evening feel nostalgic for the time, long gone, when they once gathered in a room, to usher in a world where nobody ever gathers in a room?

3 thoughts on “Virtual irony”

  1. So interesting that you bring this up now! At the moment, I’m living abroad and as such, I’m in this transitional space right now in which I am getting used to only communicating with my loved ones (and of course my partner) through screens. It’s very painful–sometimes almost physically so, like one of my limbs is missing. It turns out that when you spend enough time in someone’s physical presence, you actually feel withdrawal symptoms when they’re gone.

    Maybe in the future people will think of physical presence like an addiction, and they’ll look back at us like we look back at the cocaine in coca cola or the opium users of the late 1900s, asking themselves, “how did they ever do that to their bodies and think it was normal?”

  2. To some extent, this is already happening. Teenagers already spend hours on multi-user video chats with their friends. If you ask most of them to choose between a smartphone and a car, most will pick the phone – it’s where their social life is.

  3. There’s a novel Isaac Asimov wrote with a definite stance on this subject, which I often wonder about the plausibility of. The book is “The Naked Sun,” and it takes place largely in on a planet occupied by a branch of humanity that long ago ceased direct contact with one another, and who—as a result—now find themselves terrified of it: it would be a traumatic event if one were to end up in a room with another person.

    It seems like a tragic sort of eventuality, but I have a hard time deciding whether that’s really the case or just lack of imagination…

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