Living in the Virtual World

I’ve been thinking a lot about Virtual Reality (VR) lately, and I’m not completely sure what I think of the entire concept. On one hand, as the CEO of a data center company I say, “bring it on” because the bandwidth, processing and storage requirements are going to be, in the parlance of one of the aspirants to our nation’s highest office (insert your own visceral reaction here), YUUGE. On the other, I’m not sure about the potential physical and societal impact of the ability to go anywhere, or do anything, just by wearing a contraption that makes everyone kind of look like that guy from X-men who can shoot lasers out of his eyes.

Just like any radical new technology, virtual reality has the potential for some unexpected side effects. Although we can expect future iterations to become lighter and more streamlined, the current viewing mechanisms tend to be a little bulky. Weighing in at slightly less than a pound, virtual reality “goggles” have the potential to be a chiropractors’ and message therapists’ dream. Sure a pound doesn’t sound very heavy, but how many of us routinely wear something that weighs that much on our face? For many future VR enthusiasts, the phrase “a pain in the neck” will become a literal symptom description. Just like “tennis elbow” in the 70’s, nothing says mass participation than a related ailment

While it may take a while to develop viewing capability that takes less of a physical toll on users, I think VR is tailor made for shut-ins, agoraphobics or the just plain unsociable. Think about it, if rounding up the family to go visit that elderly relative in the “warehouse” you picked out is met with all the enthusiasm of taking in a Celine Dion concert, you and the kids can watch them nap, without the weird smells and Jell-O, from the comfort of your own home. When a technology has developed the power to assuage collective guilt is there any limit to what it can do?

Some people just prefer their own company. It’s like my marketing guy says, “it’s not that I don’t like people. I just don’t care to have them around very much”. But even the most reclusive among us still feel the need for human, albeit virtual, contact and VR offers them a way to get it without actually having to be in the same room with them. Also, for those of you reading ahead, I think we can agree that VR will have some serious ramifications for all those on-line daters out there. Sure it will mean that a lot of people won’t be able to hide behind that online picture of a model, but isn’t truth in advertising a concept that we can all get behind? And, when you swipe right, she can tell you to buzz off without you even having to get in your car.

Gamers, of course, are ecstatic about the potential that VR can bring to their efforts to slay zombies, defeat the Nazi’s or become a magic troll. Their parents are equally hopeful regarding VR technology as to its ability to enable their goggle clad progeny to experience, if only virtually, cities, sporting events and natural wonders. In other words, the world outside of their basement.

I’m sure that VR has the conference call people concerned. Rather than a conglomeration of disembodied voices you will actually be able to “see” all of the participants. Of course they’ll all be wearing goggles on their faces and you won’t be able to hit the mute button to utter “What a doofus” after that guy in Cleveland offers up his idea. In retrospect, maybe the conference call people won’t be so worried after all.

I think one upside of VR is its green potential. Think about it, if you can go anywhere without having to actually go, I think there’s going to be a lot less traffic on our roads and thoroughfares. Conversely, the travel industry may find itself adversely affected, but isn’t that really a pretty minor consideration when you can still have Christmas with Grandma even though she’s recuperating from her broken hip down in Florida?

And why actually experience the crisp air, elevation and majesty of the Rockies when you can just keep eating Cheetos in your living room?  Obesity should be a big winner here. Even when VR does try to get some exercise like Pokemon Go, you can count on your government to protect you by outlawing it. Apparently, texting and walking has nothing on these Pokemoners.  Some idiot swiped a cop car while driving and pokemoning the other day.  Congress and the safe spacers should have a field day on this one…

So there you have it folks. As you can see VR has its pros and cons. The ability to experience almost anything without having to leave the couch is an exciting proposition. However, in enjoying the virtual let’s not forget the reality.