No, Virtual Reality Won't Make Us Fat, Stupid Slaves Of Mark Zuckerberg

from the fear-is-the-mind-killer dept

With the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift prepping for launch over the next few months, the public has only just begun to be inundated with a sound wall of virtual reality media coverage. And while that’s great if, like me, you’ve been waiting for functional, non-vomit-inducing VR since childhood, those unnerved by the idea of strapping a $600 plastic and metal headset to their face for hours will react poorly. The folks that believe games make us violent, Google makes us stupid, and cell phones make us antisocial are going to have an absolute field day demonizing VR. Usually, never having tried it.

Right on cue, the backlash began in earnest this week. Countless news outlets and Twitter users circulated this photo of Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg demonstrating Samsung Gear VR Headsets at the Mobile World Congress this week in Spain. It is, admittedly, very white, very male, and not particularly flattering:

But the Washington Post was one of numerous outlets to somehow read entire universes of meaning into the photo, breathlessly insisting it was mystically precognitive in nature, offering a glimpse into our “creepy” and “dystopian tech future”:

Zuckerberg has said that, in his vision for the future, these virtual experiences will be fundamentally social. But the photo suggests something quite different: Hundreds of people share a physical space, but no perception, no experience, no phenomenological anchor. The communality of a conference (literally from conferre, ‘to bring together’) is thrown over for a series of hyper-individualized bubbles. And you?re reminded, from Zuckerberg?s awkward semi-smile, that the man who owns the bubbles also owns what?s in them. That controlling virtual reality, in other words, is only a step from controlling reality itself.

Ooh, scary! I’m not necessarily a fan of Zuckerberg or his tone-deafness during the recent global net neutrality fracas, but the Post’s “digital culture critic” seems more than a little confused by what VR is, and what was happening at the event. As folks like Ben Kuchera were quick to point out the event was mostly harmless, with audience members being greeted with a surprise cameo by Zuckerberg after they took off their headsets. Audience members actually reacted with “gasps of excitement” at glimpsing a t-shirt clad billionaire. Nerdy white dudes being nerdy white dudes, sure. But 1984 this wasn’t.

When people unfamiliar with VR see someone in a headset, many immediately picture the fat hovering people in Pixar’s Wall-E, happily guzzling sugar water while anesthetized to all greater meaning. But while many spent the week deriding VR as a Zuckerberg-controlled big brother enslavement tool, most of the people that have actually tried VR realize it has amazing potential as a tool for creation, expression and connectivity for artists, story tellers, journalists, and musicians. Again, once people actually try VR, it doesn’t take long to see the potential.

Yet all week the photo had a bizarre, hypnotizing effect on the media that overshadowed this fact. Fusion, for example, became oddly transfixed by the heaviest man in the photo, magically equating his daily caloric surplus with the idea that VR will somehow make us all miserable:

If you were to choose an attendee in the crowd who most represents You, it would be probably be this man. Here you are, six years from today: Unsatisfied, dour, a VR headset crammed onto your face. Your belongings are at your feet, your computer balances on your lap, your identifying lanyard hangs from your neck. You are watching?something? It doesn?t matter. You hate it.

That’s some rich analysis, yo. The existential fear of VR from the Luddite wing of the American electorate is palpably bizarre. The Atlantic, for example, published a piece of moody dystopian fiction based entirely on the heavyset man in the photo. The piece is set years in the future — after we’ve all apparently become fatter, sadder and notably less productive thanks to Zuckerberg’s villainy.

It apparently needs noting: putting on a VR headset doesn’t magically prevent you from eating kale, doing yoga or going for a run. If you’re chubby outside of VR, you’re still chubby with a headset strapped to your head. That’s not somehow VR’s fault. At the same time, if you’ve actually watched some of the developer demos for games like Budget Cuts, you’d realize VR gaming can be a very physical and social experience. Still nerdy as hell, granted. But VR is not, contrary to this week’s press narrative, somehow synonymous with servitude and muscle atrophy.

We’ve been over this before at Techdirt countless times. Each and every time a new technology emerges this same narrative bubbles forth: “this new technology is going to make us less social than ever and usher forth a terrifying future where nobody interacts!” XKCD highlighted quite well a few years ago how this idea is neither accurate nor new, and it’s getting downright boring:

Does VR have some major PR obstacles to broader adoption? Absolutely. The initial cost of entry is significant, given to do VR “right” you need a quality headset (the Oculus Rift is $600 at launch and the HTC Vive will be $800) and a higher end PC with a beefy graphics card (around $1000-$1500) capable of powering it. But what will begin as a high-end playpen for art, porn and video gaming will quickly evolve into adoption at schools, universities and homes everywhere — especially as the technology matures, its uses expand, and prices drop.

Sure, until VR tech can be shrunk down and integrated into contacts or glasses we’ll all look downright stupid wearing VR headsets. It’s just a fact.

But if you’re dismissing an entire technological revolution for appearance’s sake, the problem would be yours, not virtual reality’s.

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Comments on “No, Virtual Reality Won't Make Us Fat, Stupid Slaves Of Mark Zuckerberg”

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Deniable Sources says:

Meh. This is a revolution?

But if you’re dismissing an entire technological revolution for appearance’s sake, the problem would be yours, not virtual reality’s.

Well, yes, and do let me know when the revolution arrives. Right now I see a vanishingly small number of well-to-do dilettantes blinded by smartphones strapped to their faces. In the event that pigs fly, time runs backward, and Oculus sells more units than, say, Google Glass, we might be talking “revolution”.

It’s not a small distinction. We already have hundreds of niche uses, consumer pilots, “cardboard VR”, and every other gimmick introduced over the past decade to convince us that now is the time. And yet “now” always seems to be “later this year or maybe next year”. I work in health care, and I’m fascinated by the potential uses in minimally invasive surgery, biochemistry, and procedural education. But at this point they’re all potential uses, not practical and widely deployable technology. And they’ve been potential uses for, well, decades.

So seriously, please do let me know when the revolution arrives. But I’m not holding my breath.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Meh. This is a revolution?

Not having tried any VR headset, I’m pretty much as underwhelmed as you. The only immediate use I’d have for this is a larger-than-my-actual-monitor virtual screen. That could justify a purchase as I could use it like that constantly and for more than just games. But for games or gimmicks? Nah.
And I don’t even think it’s a matter of letting the cost go down, of either the headsets themselves or the HW required to run them. That will happen in due course. But the usability challenges of VR vs a normal monitor (say a largish UHD one) are hard to overcome. The little things like having to unstrap it from your head vs turn away from a monitor to see something or someone else around you. Having a (necessarily) fairly large contraption weighting down your face, no matter what position you take.
VR looks cool, probably is as cool as can be, but I sure wouldn’t call it a revolution. I just hope it doesn’t go the way of 3DTVs, because I’m interested in having it pave the way for AR.

Hey there says:

Re: Meh. This is a revolution?

Maybe people say “later this year” because thus far none of the 3 main commercial VR headsets (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or Playstation VR) have been released yet. In around 2 months both the Rift and Vive will release, and only then will the revolution start to take it’s baby steps to becoming something that is widely used. To this point it’s just been a lot of demo units and speculation. It’s going to take a few years, but eventually I do believe VR will become very very popular.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Meh. This is a revolution?

SO 25 million gearVR headsets already sold (and more to come as it’s bundled with the S7), 1.9 million pre-orders for oculus rift, hundreds of thousands of expected Vive pre-orders, Sony stating it thinks around 3/4 of its PS4 userbase will buy a headset…looks like you don’t need to hold your breath for very long.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Meh. This is a revolution?

As someone who actually has tried VR (I own an Oculus DK2) I can assure you that you have no idea what you’re talking about. The modern VR experience has limitations, sure. It’s not like going outside, but if you wanted that experience, well, you can do that.

But if you want to fly through the universe, explore the ISS, visit the bottom of the ocean, and see computerized worlds come to life, well, VR is probably the closest most will ever get. That’s not including completely unique creations, like Sightline, which causes the world to change depending on your point of view. Take that, object permanence!

VR is great, and allows you to see and interact with games in an entirely new way. It’s not another Wii, and if you haven’t experienced the difference a 360 degree view creates it’s hard to understand the immersion in purely technical terms.

Sure, you may not thing it’s that impressive after you try it, but before then I’d withhold judgment.

Annonimus says:

I'm more worried about Zuckerberg

I’m not worried about VR or it’s tech. I’m more worried about the exclusivity of systems on which VR can be used.

As for the picture: when I saw I though oh right if Zuckerberg has his way with software development we’re having an Oshanta AI scenario. Look up The Last Angel by Proximal Flame. The second book describes why people like Zuckerberg should not be left near social software development.

Anonymous Coward says:

if, like me, you’ve been waiting for functional, non-vomit-inducing VR

VR systems inducing motion sickness has a simple basis, the eyes and the ears telling the brain different stories about motion. So unless you weaken the VR experience, by ensuring that a real world reference is in view, like the edge of a TV, it that is always likely to be a problem for those people susceptible to motion sickness.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“It’s just 3D without the 3D glasses. They’ll have head tracking, but no depth perception.”

Um, no. VR has nearly perfect depth perception. That’s the primary reason a powerful computer is needed; VR works by independently rendering separate images for each eye, with images based on the 3D rendering of the scene, which gives the exact same impression you get from seeing actual physical objects.

3D glasses work on a similar principle, but because they require a distant screen, they need to trick your eyes into seeing two different images transposed on the same screen. That’s why they’re slightly different colors and look fuzzy if you view them without the glasses; they have two simultaneous images rendered together, with the glasses filtering one image for each eye, to create the 3D effect. This is much less convincing, however, since the filter inevitably dilutes the color contrast and because the 3D effect is dependent on your position from the screen, which is why sitting on the edge of 3D movies tends to look weird.

VR has none of these issues, and can make adjustments for your head in 3D space via IR cameras. The effect is on a completely different level from 3D movies. If you thing VR is just another 3D movie but worn on your head you’re in for a jarring surprise when you see the real thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I have seen the real thing, it wasn’t that great and still stand by what I said.

That being said, it’s great and all that you explained the difference between VR 3D and the ol’ blue-and-red 3D, but I was only really using that as a point of reference for what sorrykb was asking. If someone has one eye, they can use VR, but it’ll basically be only for head tracking. A single-eyed person is not going to get any of that fancy dual-rendered depth perception because it’s physically impossible for them to.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Lmao.. Why develop shoes that align both feet, one legged people won’t benefit from them! Why make more comfortable pedals for cars, people with no legs won’t benefit from them! Why make better multi channel sound that emulates positions if people deaf of one ear will barely notice it?

I assume you didn’t mean it but it’s funny anyway!

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I misunderstood the question; I thought he was asking if VR had depth perception.

Obviously if you can’t perceive depth in real life you won’t be able to in VR, just like it won’t make the blind see or the deaf hear. I’m not exactly sure why anyone would expect VR to give someone senses they didn’t already have.

That being said, it shouldn’t significantly degrade the effect, since it’s what the person is already used to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

So long as there is a difference between what the circular canals report as to the direction of gravity and changes of motion do not match what the eyes report, motion sickness is a problem for those who are susceptible. That is why car drivers rarely if ever suffer from motion sickness, but passengers who try to read books, or otherwise take their eyes off of the word outside, while keeping them open, can suffer from motion sickness.
The quality of the images is not really part of the problem, and artificial gravity, capable of creating forces on the body that correlate with the apparent changes in motion would solve the problem. Solve that problem and flight simulation for example could be perfectly simulated, and require the seat and belts to keep you in the virtual pilots seat.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

People get used to motion sickness issues, plus there are plenty of methods to overcome them. Pilots have been using simulators for years as training tools and handle it just fine. There are plenty of tricks they’ve already used to avoid motion sickness, including blacking out the screen when you move your head rapidly to avoid blur.

In fact, unless you’re either extremely sensitive or doing something in VR that’s very different from what your body expects, like a roller coaster (not that bad) or a forced camera view (much worse) most people will probably adjust to motion sickness in modern VR in a matter of minutes. VR is probably easier to handle than, say, deep sea boating, and thousands of people do that without issues.

The human body is pretty adaptable. Don’t underestimate it.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re:

VR’s motion sickness issues are highly dependent on the person as well as the program you’re using. For relatively stationary or slow-moving experiences, especially if inside a vehicle or capsule of some sort, it’s pretty easy to avoid any motion sickness at all.

Your brain is pretty adaptable, and can usually adjust to different sensory input. I had issues going over an hour or so with the Oculus DK2 when I first got it, now I don’t have any issues unless I’m in a particularly rough game. In fact, the number one issue that causes motion sickness for me isn’t movement but FPS lag or judder.

As long as the framerate doesn’t dip most people will be fine after getting used to it, and if you’re really motion sickness prone, well, there’s probably a lot of really fun things you can’t do. That sucks, but it doesn’t mean that’s the fault of the system.

Anonymous Coward says:

VR? Just Another Advertising Platform

I’ve tried an Occulus headset, and I’m bullish about VR’s future.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that VR’s being developed by the big boys because it’s a new advertising platform, and immersive advertising on VR is also just around the corner. And that’s not a side effect of VR — it’s one of the main points. Why else would Facebook and Google be developing it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Notably lacking in the excerpted quotes was a description of what all these people were looking at – were they, perhaps, conferencing? Virtually conferencing? Without those pesky thought-distractions of ‘Boy this guy’s a tub o’ lard,why am I listening to him?’ or ‘This person is sooo good-looking, I wonder what they just said?’ But no – likely they were looking at demos; such is the state of the art at present.

If these journalists really wanted to talk about dystopian futures, they really don’t have to look further than at pictures of families watching TV circa 1975. Hey, maybe they could comment on how those slack-jawed mesmerized boob-tubers were still capable of things like breeding and inventing computers and such.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

As someone susceptable to motion sickness already...

I expect to only dream of VR that doesn’t make me puke.

Granted my experience with sickness is driving through the Sierra Nevadas. A lot of people puke on windy roads between mountains with no consistent fixed points.

I do get woozy at your standard mall jostle-box-synced to video, but not at Star Tours, Disneyland. Go figure.

What surprises me is how no-one’s bothered with head tracking even after Johnny Lee demonstrated head tracking using a Wii. Head Tracking should be the el-cheapo next step for the rest of us who can’t yet (or don’t trust) the Ocular Rift.

And yet that’s a ball that everyone dropped.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: As someone susceptable to motion sickness already...

Head Tracking should be the el-cheapo next step for the rest of us who can’t yet (or don’t trust) the Ocular Rift.

That’s what the Gear VR is based on, just in using the gyro in your phone. That said, I wish there was a version that was phone agnostic due to the fact that I refuse to buy Samsung’s terrible phones.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: As someone susceptable to motion sickness already...

Check the video link. Head tracking doesn’t involve gyros, rather a camera looking for where your head is at relative to your screen. He uses infra-red LEDs mounted on plastic glasses frames and the Wii-mote.

It sorta turns your computer monitor into a window you’re looking through, rather than a fixed image.

Johnny Lee’s demo is pretty amazing, and I wonder why no-one has ever bothered to explore it as a gaming tool.

Your standard computer camera and either face-detection software or glasses frames with front-facing targets painted on the sides should be enough to make use of this tech. Seriously cheapo.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: As someone susceptable to motion sickness already...

Actually it’s both, sort of. The Gear VR doesn’t technically have “head tracking” in the same sense as the final Rift does. There’s two distinct sensors.

The gyro determines your head’s rotation. So if you look up, left, right, etc., it’s the gyro that is detecting it and adjusting your view.

Head tracking, however, uses IR cameras to determine where your head is in 3D space. With only the gyro, for instance, the system will tell if you look up or down, but not if you move your head forward or backward, like leaning in your chair. This actually isn’t that bad for VR, but isn’t great for detailed environments, and can be jarring.

The IR cameras give the system a way to tell where your head is, so you can lean forward and objects will move closer to you, duck and look below virtual objects, etc. They aren’t present on the Gear VR because they require a special camera on a desk or mount, and the phone version is designed to be portable. The final Rift (and competitors) will have external sensors used for head tracking and controller tracking for hand sensors.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: No fixed points in mountain driving

Fixed points on the horizon (or far enough away to sustain a consistent sense of up and down).

Without fixed objects that one can track, sensory conflicts can occur between the vestibular and ocular senses, which the brain interprets as hallucination, a symptom of a neurotoxin, triggering the area postrema, inducing vomiting.

Personally, I find the experience unpleasant.

Anonymous Coward says:


3D TV was hyped to be The Next Big Thing and it’s largely fizzled out. Turns out people don’t like unnecessary glasses strapped to their head. (Assuming they can use them without nausea or problems, and some people can’t see 3D through them at all.)

Nothing different compared to VR in its current form: It’s functionally glasses strapped to their head. And it causes nausea in some people, and some still can’t use it at all.

I don’t think VR is going to be A Big Thing anytime soon.

KissMyWookiee (profile) says:

Too expensive

So, $600 for the headset, another $1500 for a PC able to drive the headset. That’s $2100 in hardware alone!! Not many people have that kind of cash to drop on a 1st Gen toy, especially those of us who have mortgages, school debts, and kids (admittedly the furry kind) to feed.

But hang on, you said it could to VR Porn?!??


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