Monday, June 12, 2023

Why VR Is A Really, Really Bad Thing.

Smart phones and Social Media have turned us all into raving madmen.  Why would we want more of this?

I scare people sometimes by telling them I left the house, drove into town, went shopping and didn't bring my cell phone!  The horror!  Worse yet, I don't text while I drive!  No doubt the smart phone police will be knocking on my door any day now and send me to a re-education camp.

If you've read the 5.000-some-odd postings spanning over a decade of my blog (brave soul!) you will know that when I started this blog, I had a bar-of-soap dumb phone and resisted getting a "smart" phone for as long as possible.  It was only because we travel so much that I realized that it is essential these days to be able to access things with your phone.

But getting one turned me into one of those pod people.  I get up in the middle of the night to go pee and when I get back to bed, I figure I might as well look at the phone, erase some messages and "see what's going on in the world."  An hour later, I am wide awake and have fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole.  I don't like the smart phone - it has the mental flavor of dried sawdust, in my mind.  But it is so addictive - like cigarettes or cable TV channel surfing.  Smart phone, I don't know how to quit you!

The problem with my life isn't not enough screen time, but far too much.  Maybe one reason I spend an hour or so every day writing blog entries is that is keeps me from surfing the web.  Better to create than consume, I say.  I tend to say a lot, though.

A reader chastizes me for dissing VR, as it has its cool aspects.  But he forgets that I used to fly out to Silicon Valley every month, back in the day, and saw a lot of these "inventions" years or even decades before they hit the stores.  I am always amused by someone showing me their smart phone like they invented it and not realizing that I wrote Patents on it and met some of the inventors behind it (there are thousands) years and years ago.

It is like when "Second Life" came out.  I met a fellow tech geek in Silicon Valley during one trip, and he showed me a similar setup and described how it would work - years before "Second Life" dropped. It seemed like a fun idea, but for some reason, the avatar lifestyle never took off.  I tried "Second Life" but to make it work well, you needed a state-of-the-art PC at the time, and a T1 or T2 Internet connection (fiber optic?  What's that?).  Without that, it was jerky and the rendering was shitty - something Zuckerberg is discovering with his bet-the-company VR headset.

Bear in mind that Oculus was in the game for over a decade now, and had primitive headsets on sale as early as 2015.  It hasn't taken off yet, and it shows no signs of it.  Google Glass, which Apple has made a dorky copy of, was on sale as early as 2013.  And IBM used to run commercials back in the 1990's illustrating how "in the future" we would have augmented reality glasses.  In that commercial, a man sits on a park bench, and using a special glove, swipes left and right to see displays in mid-air.  The ideas existed long before the products did.  Ready Player One!

Thus, the idea is nothing new - decades old at this point - and the hardware has been around for well over a decade.  It kills me that the media acts like Apple has "invented" something new, or that the "Meta" headset is breaking new ground.  Granted, these newer headsets have better processing power (but not necessarily better battery life!) and thus should render in a better resolution.  And yea, they are getting better at the physical user interface issues.  Any lag time in processing results in a disconnect between vision and motion - causing motion-sickness in an awful lot of people.  When your product makes half the users vomit, it is not really a viable product.  Maybe a super-duper processor in the future will fix this - but at the expense of battery life and product cost.

But the big problem with VR or AR is the dorky headsets which remove us from reality even more.  It is another step toward putting us all into The Matrix. All we need are some genital stimulus attachments and you've got the perfect porn setup.  Think I'm kidding?  Porn drives the Internet - and computer development.  Sexually frustrated tech nerds are who comes up with this stuff.  And yes, there are already WiFi- and BlueTooth-enabled vibrators, dildos, and butt plugs on the market.  On a business trip? You can still be intimate with your wife back home - just use your cell phone!  She'll appreciate it.

But beyond synth-o-porn, I am skeptical that people are going to march around with scuba masks on their heads, bumping into things and driving their cars off the road.  Hey, by the way, where's my self-driving car?  Next year, along with the UFOs and Trump indictments.  Always next year, never now. You get tired of waiting and start to think you are just being jerked around by media click-bait stories.

I mention self-driving cars because they have the same problem as VR/AR - the human factor.  On Tick-Tock, young urban youths ride their BMX bikes in the road, right into oncoming cars and then swerve out of the way just in time - well, most of the time, anyway.  It generates a lot of hits, from people who think it is "cool" and twice as many hits from people who say, "look at this video - how irresponsible these kids are!"  Imagine self-driving cars in the mix - people "brake-checking" your robot car, or otherwise messing with you.  And people will do it - a lot - because people suck, basically.  Self-driving cars will be for the very rich, initially, which will make a lot of people want to fuck with them.

Ditto for the VR/AR headset.  Google Glass was pulled from the market when a young woman went into a bar with the glasses on and was attacked by patrons.  Of course, how dumb do you have to be to go into a bar called "Molotov's" wearing Google Glass?  It is a recipe for an ass-whooping. No one likes that tech shit, particularly when they assume you are recording them.  Google realized quickly that while the technology worked, it was the human factor that didn't.  We already have a legion of "Tick-Tockers" doing "prank" videos.  Someone wearing an Apple AR headset would be an easy target.

And let's face it - it makes you look like a DORK.

Maybe there will be push-back from all of this, including so-called "A.I." - as was illustrated in Spielberg's movie of the same name.  Maybe people will turn into Luddites or Neo-Amish, and reject this faked-up technology and its legion of lies.  Maybe - stranger things have happened in the past!

The problem for humanity isn't that we don't have enough screen time or social media, but rather, too much of it.  We don't need more "Virtual Reality" we need more reality reality, where truth is truth and lies are lies.  Already, AI can mimic almost anything and write (poor) papers for us, or even create (poor) art and cartoons.  Deep fake videos make it hard to tell what is real and what isn't.  And click-bait news is now all the news - sensationalism designed to generate clicks.

The problem for humanity isn't that we haven't gone down this road far enough.  And I wonder if maybe people are starting to realize this.  Or maybe it is already too late.  There are people in America who believe that things are so "bad" that a new Civil War is needed.  Some argue for the extermination of entire swaths of the population.  It is the Nazi regime all over again and I am not exaggerating at all - they boldly call themselves Nazis and pledge to kill all the Jews.  And Blacks, Hispanics, Gays, and Communists, Socialists, and, well, if you aren't on the list, you are probably one of them.

No, we don't need more fake reality.  We need real reality.  And I for one, can't see myself donning some mask, even if they did fix the puking problem.  What is there to gain by watching movies in 3-D sense-surround?   Why would it be better to watch alone than with friends and family?  Therein lies another problem - VR/AR would not bring us together but push us further apart.  Sure, we would interact with one another, but over the Internet, as avatars or characters in a video game.

Video games - a precursor of what is to come.  The toxic community that brought us "doxxing" and "swatting" as well as "gamergate" and the associated misogyny. Gaming communities and online communities have also brought us the far-right, Neo-Nazis, Qanonsense, and Trumpism.  I'm not saying all gamers are Nazis, but most of these new Nazis are gamers.  And hey, playing a game for hours every day where you get "points" for killing people can't affect your psyche and turn you into a mass-shooter, right?  And no, not every gamer is a mass-shooter, but most of these mass-shooters are gamers.

VR/AR will take this sense of isolation - and the sense that other people are not "real" but mere avatars - to a whole new level.  It will be far easier to marginalize out-groups and minorities as being subhuman and worthy only of death.  And thanks to "first person shooter" games, we have a whole generation desensitized to the act of taking human lives.  It's just a game, man!

OK, so maybe I am ranting.  Or am I?  The entire Internet culture was never mentally healthy to begin with.  In recent years, it has become sicker and sicker.  And it is Internet culture that is driving a lot of the hate-mongering we see today - because hate sells eyeballs ten times more than love.

Sadly, even if VR/AR is a failure in the marketplace, I am not sure we will be in the clear.  An awful lot of people will have to wake up from this daze we are in, and eschew - with vehemence - the lies and deceit and conspiracy theories that have clogged up public debate, not only in this country, but worldwide.

Alas, I am not sure that that will happen, in my remaining lifetime - assuming that I live a natural lifespan and it is not cut short by some maniac with a gun who spent too much time online, or a train to some new Auschwitz.

Humanity had a good run.  But "Virtual Reality" isn't a sign of progress, but the end times.

My two cents.