What’s Wrong With Your Actual Reality?

Image via Annapurna Pictures

First appeared in my “Usable Thoughts” section of my private User Defenders podcast email list.

In the wake of the exciting Google I/O conference, some of the biggest buzz was around VR (Virtual Reality). I don’t know much about VR and have never put one on my ‘huge noggin’, so this is really more of an opinion/reaction piece to the hype surrounding this exciting new innovation.

Apart from porn (unfortunately) and painting in the air, I haven’t learned of any use-case or “problems” being solved with VR. Maybe the use-case is really just cool entertainment. That’s fine. The biggest problem I see, is one that already exists in our current device-riddled world. It’s one I believe VR could only be perpetuating.

The problem is social ineptitude and escapism.

We already almost always have our heads down looking at our phones in public. Whether it’s waiting in line at a store, for a Double-Double, or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, etc. (guilty!). I’ve even seen couples on a date in a nice restaurant both looking at their phones instead of talking to each other. If you have teens, chances are they’ve broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend via text message! Our society is looking more and more like something out of the movie “Her”.

We’re more connected than we’ve ever been…and we’re lonelier than we’ve ever been.

Speaking of going to the store, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t have a self-checkout line now. Full-disclosure: I use them regularly because I hate waiting in lines if I can help it. The issue I have is more and more of our systems that have traditionally been known for human interaction have become (or soon will be) automated and robotic. My wife took our 10/yo daughter to Panera Bread last week for a birthday treat and noticed they now have a self-service option. You order, pay, and pick up your meal…all while never having to have a face-to-face interaction with another human being.

Besides the obvious implication of real people’s jobs going away, my main concern is the less human contact we expose ourselves to, the less skilled in the art of conversation we become, the less empathy and care we’ll have for other human beings. We’re all created with an innate, God-given need to connect with one another (how else could Facebook garnish 1.65 billion global users??).

The more we isolate ourselves into our technologies, the less we build the authentic connections we are truly longing for.

With VR, we won’t be straining our necks looking down at a device all the time (it’s a great time to be a chiropractor!), we’ll be hiding the windows of our souls, and finding ourselves with yet another instrument of escape from the real people in our lives who love us and exist in our “AR”. And when I say “AR” I don’t mean Augmented Reality, I mean Actual Reality.

Not based on a true story. She would never be that okay with this.

I don’t think this is something we can stop, nor am I even suggesting we try to. For the love…I work in technology, and host the User Defenders podcast where I talk to the people who are shaping this future as we know it. This stuff is undeniably interesting and exciting!

What I’m suggesting is we use the innovations we’re privileged to have access to as tools, while doing everything in our power to hold onto the human condition these technologies are attempting to steal away from us.

Here are some ways that I’m personally going about this:

  • Being more intentional about keeping my phone in my pocket and engaging in conversation with people stuck in lines with me
  • Abandoned Facebook in favor of productivity, contentment and authentic conversations with loved ones
  • Removed personal email from my phone
  • Made email check manual and only check personal email at designated times during the week (10 and 4)

The result is I’m fostering more of a curiosity, empathy and love for the amazing people I’m blessed to be surrounded with IRL.

As awesome as technology is (and it is awesome), I’m just sincerely concerned with the cultural and societal direction that some of our innovations are taking us and what that means for the future.

In closing, maybe the question we ought to be asking ourselves is this:

What’s so bad about our actual reality that we now need a virtual one?

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