Unbundling Reality

Reality is bloated.

It started off as a lean, mean MVP with a minimal feature set — hunting and gathering, procreating, a little story-telling around the fire, fighting for dear life — but now every last use case has been crammed in. There are so many layers of cruft on this thing, it’s a wonder we get anything done at all.

This is one of the ultimate drivers of consumer VR — not (just) to provide experiences we couldn’t have otherwise, but to replace many of the crappy physical experiences we slog through every day. Business travel. Middle school. Conferences. You know: pain relievers, not vitamins.

There’s been no choice until now, since we’ve been living in a platform monoculture where the monopoly provider hasn’t had any competition to keep it honest. Thankfully, that’s about to change.

We can start with the biggest pain points. My own (least) favorite is traveling for work, whether commuting or long distance: it’s resource-intensive, unpleasant, and inefficient. But it’s stuck around through the usual incumbent advantages, and because the alternatives, such as chat and video-conferencing, have been missing key UX features around nonverbal communication. Now, though, the writing is on wall.

Like many disruptive shifts, these virtual replacements will start in niche segments, and they will lack feature parity with legacy solutions. But they will nail the core experience, and expand up-market from there. In ten years time, we’ll find absurd many of the activities we waste our physical presence on today. How did people live like that?

It’s jarring to hear developers talk about wanting “to create virtual worlds more meaningful than real life”, but it won’t be for long. Many parts of real life, it turns out, have been poorly implemented using tools and frameworks originally created for very different purposes.

And if it’s hard to identify too many pain points in your own experience — if it’s hard to imagine much about your life that could be improved by porting to a new platform— then maybe you’re not the target user here. Consider the possibility that a visceral defense of the physical, and an accompanying dismissal of the virtual as inferior or escapist, is a result of superuser privileges. You are one of the Verified Users of the real. Congratulations for now, but beware the platform shift ahead. They can really sneak up on you.

Title photo “Crossed Wires” by Howard Lake is licensed under CC BY 2.0