Despite several years of blistering hype about the rise of the “Metaverse” (read: Facebook’s clumsy attempt to dominate a market simply by rebranding video games, AR, and VR as…something else), new data from Piper Sandler indicates that there’s little real interest among younger Americans.
According to the firm’s latest survey of 5,600 teens (part of a much broader study of teens in general), just 27 percent own a VR device, compared to an 87 percent iPhone ownership rate among teens. Just four percent of U.S. teens actually use VR on a daily basis:
The survey results suggest that virtual reality hardware and software has yet to catch on with the public despite billions of dollars in investment in the technology from Big Tech companies and a number of low-cost headsets on the market. Teenagers are often seen as early adopters of new technology and their preferences can provide a preview of where the industry is going.
That’s a comically stark difference from several years of hype related to the technology, which always seemingly assumed mass adoption of a niche technology with numerous barriers to entry. Cost and comfort remains an obstacle for many, though so does motion and “simulator sickness,” which continues to impact a large chunk of potential customers and was the subject of a Verge story this week.
I enjoy VR myself, but can spend about twenty minutes in VR before I get cold sweats and am disoriented and ill for hours. Especially when it comes to so many of the jankier titles that don’t implement meaningful counter balances to motion sickness. All of the supposed tricks, from slow, expanded usage to train the brain… or pointing a fan at me while playing, don’t work. Data suggests I’m not alone.
None of this is to say that VR and AR won’t increasingly be useful and exciting technologies as the underlying tech advances. And somebody (probably not Mark Zuckerberg) will eventually offer a low-cost must-have VR gadget that truly delivers something truly revolutionary that doesn’t make you puke. But until then, the best we’re left with is yet another cautionary tale about the perils of speculative hype.
We’ve noted for a very long while how most of the explanations that corporations use to insist that your privacy is protected are effectively worthless.
For example, corporations will routinely inform you that it’s no big deal that they’re over-collecting and selling access to your browsing or location data to any idiot with a nickel because that data is “anonymized,” protecting your identity. In reality, that term means nothing, and study after study have shown it’s easy to identify you with only a few snippets of additional information.
The research analyzed more than 2.5 million VR data recordings (fully anonymized) from more than 50,000 players of the popular Beat Saber app and found that individual users could be uniquely identified with more than 94% accuracy using only 100 seconds of motion data.
Even more surprising was that half of all users could be uniquely identified with only 2 seconds of motion data. Achieving this level of accuracy required innovative AI techniques, but again, the data used was extremely sparse — just three spatial points for each user tracked over time.
Researchers found that the data they leave behind in virtual reality is more useful than a fingerprint to identify individuals. It also provides significantly more data to monetize, including a user’s height, handedness, gender, potential disability, strength, personal tics, etc.
Combine this data with the profiles already commonly being built at major companies and ad brokers, and you could see how this might be a bit of an issue in a country that’s literally too corrupt to pass even a basic privacy law for the internet era (there was just too much money to be made, sorry).
There have been so many studies at this point (including other previous studies of user VR data) showcasing how “anonymization” is a gibberish term. Yet the next time there’s a hack, breach, or huge batch of public data left unsecured in an Amazon cloud bucket, notice how quickly the term is immediately utilized as a catch all defense for sloppy privacy and security practices.
It will never stop being bizarre to me that a social media app tried to claim ownership of VR, AR, and effectively every next-gen, Internet-related technology under the “Metaverse” brand… and the entirety of the tech press just simply… went along with it. As a result, we’ve spent the better part of the last few years mired in an endless ocean of unhinged hyperbole about “the Metaverse vision” and what it means.
While the press and investors have spent countless hours propping up Zuckerberg’s ego on this subject, the actual end product isn’t much to write home about. Employees have found Meta’s flagship VR social network, Horizon Worlds, to be a buggy mess they don’t enjoy using:
“Since launching late last year, we have seen that the core thesis of Horizon Worlds — a synchronous social network where creators can build engaging worlds — is strong,” [Meta’s VP of Metaverse, Vishal] Shah wrote in a memo last month. “But currently feedback from our creators, users, playtesters, and many of us on the team is that the aggregate weight of papercuts, stability issues, and bugs is making it too hard for our community to experience the magic of Horizon. Simply put, for an experience to become delightful and retentive, it must first be usable and well crafted.”
At the same time, Zuckerberg’s ego has resulted in all Metaverse marketing utilizing the image of a CEO whose outward-facing charm is muted at best. Despite having an unlimited marketing budget and access to the best marketing talent in the world, most Metaverse marketing looks like it was barfed out of a 2007-era Xbox promotional demo, with Zuckerberg’s pasty visage bizarrely the singular focus.
The new Meta Quest Pro VR headset, released this week, could possibly be a huge evolutionary leap, but again, you’d never really know it because Meta’s update this week featured a gobsmacking and bizarrely heavy dose of poorly rendered simulacrums of an already charisma-challenged CEO.
“Mr. Zuckerberg’s zeal for the metaverse has been met with skepticism by some Meta employees. This year, he urged teams to hold meetings inside Meta’s Horizon Workrooms app, which allows users to gather in virtual conference rooms. But many employees didn’t own V.R. headsets or hadn’t set them up yet, and had to scramble to buy and register devices before managers caught on, according to one person with knowledge of the events.
In a May poll of 1,000 Meta employees conducted by Blind, an anonymous professional social network, only 58 percent said they understood the company’s metaverse strategy.
The foundational idea that Zuckerberg can convince the entirety of Facebook’s aging populace to migrate to a sometimes vomit-inducing walled garden of sweaty plastic headsets never made coherent sense. But because Zuckerberg is so wealthy, absolute legions of yes men and women have lined up in service to his ego. So far that’s not working out great, with Meta stock seeing a 60 percent drop in the last year alone.
In the U.S. there’s long been a steadily growing chasm between marketing and reality, and the Metaverse personifies this dominant American cultural trait. Marketing could go a long way toward covering the warts of Horizon Worlds, but there’s absolutely nothing about the current marketing that screams cutting edge or futuristic, and Zuckerberg’s mandated presence is just… odd.
Such terrible marketing can’t obscure the fact that Meta can’t seem to innovate its way around competitors like TikTok. Nor has it proven (at any point, really) that it can be innovative enough to become the kind of next-generation AR/VR global town square it envisions itself becoming.
Facebook has never really been known as an innovative company on the kind of scale we reserve for companies like Apple, but the Metaverse hype and investment train requires that everybody pretend otherwise in a strange, greedy, mass delusion. And with the FTC finally (for now) cracking down on the company’s longstanding catch and kill strategies, Meta can’t M&A its way to AR/VR dominance either.
Meta could still possibly succeed if it removed Zuckerberg’s ego (and possibly Zuckerberg himself) from the management equation, stopped using a man with the charisma of a damp walnut in absolutely all Metaverse marketing, and gained a little humility after the last few years of regulatory, political, and market headaches. But there’s scant evidence that any of that seems likely anytime soon.
Content moderation in virtual reality comes with its own unique challenges. What works for the moderation of text and video doesn?t neatly translate into VR. In late June, Facebook?s Horizon, a VR social space still in beta testing, released an update to prevent its blocking feature from creating ghosts. That might sound hyperbolic, but it is a perfectly apt description of the feature?s effect in Horizon prior to the update. In the earlier build, both the blocker and the blocked were made invisible to one another, but allowed to continue interacting with the same virtual world. While they couldn?t see one another, they could see each other?s effects on their shared environment. If someone blocked you, your obscene gestures might be invisible to them, but you could still move the furniture about and rattle chains ? practically becoming a poltergeist.
Improvements to Blocking in Horizon
We?re beginning to roll out changes to how blocking works in Horizon. These changes are based on people?s feedback, and are designed to improve people?s experience and make Horizon a safer and more welcoming place.
Previously, when you blocked someone in Horizon, both you and the person you blocked became invisible to each other. We heard feedback from people that this was confusing, for example when the other person continued interacting with objects in the same space.
Now, both the person who has been blocked and the person who blocked them will be able to see each other?s username tag, while keeping their avatars invisible to each other. This update allows both people to know they?re present, but blocked and muted.
You?ll also be able to see the people you?ve blocked in your menu (such as in the People Nearby list) instead of them being completely hidden. This means you can see who you?ve blocked without having to interact with them. You can also visit the settings page and see a block list, where you can see people you?ve blocked and choose to unblock them if you want.
As the patch notes explain, when used in VR, the traditional approach to blocking caused unintended problems. Unlike static social media profiles, users embody their avatars. The user?s digital representation mimics their motions and gestures as it moves through a shared virtual world. On traditional social media, blocking another user hides your speech from their view and limits their ability to reply. Hiding your avatar from their view is a logical translation of this policy to virtual reality. However, because the invisible-to-one-another blocker and blocked still shared the same virtual world, a malicious user could potentially block someone to haunt them or spy unobserved. Tagging speech from blocked users would be unnecessary on traditional social media, as their speech is already excluded from the blocker?s conversations. However, in a shared virtual environment, it becomes a necessary component of a useful blocking feature.
While these are far from life-threatening abuses, they illustrate why best practices for traditional content moderation can?t always be easily applied to VR. In many ways, Facebook Horizon?s moderation challenges look more like those of a video game, especially a massively multiplayer online game (MMO), than those of a traditional social network. In both cases, players interact through avatars, and can simultaneously affect the same virtual world.
In either a game or a shared VR world, the properties of the digital environment govern player interactions as much, if not more than, rules about players? speech. This often introduces tradeoffs between antiharassment measures and realism or interactivity. If a game models fire realistically, a malicious player might kick a campfire into another?s tent and set it ablaze. This can be avoided by either limiting players? ability to interact with fire (stopping them from kicking it), or the properties of the fire itself (preventing it from burning the tent). Environmental design choices in games or VR somewhat resemble architectural choices faced by traditional platforms – whether to create retweet or quote tweet functions, or to allow users to control who can reply to their tweets. However, creating an interactive virtual world requires making many more of these decisions.
MMOs are typified as either ?theme park? or ?sandbox? games. In the former, designers set fixed goals for players to compete or cooperate towards, justifying referee-like governance. The latter offers players a set of tools, and expects them to make their own fun, limiting the need for intercession by designers. Conflict between players with different goals is an expected part of the fun.
While platforms for knitting patterns or neighborhood conversation have purposes that recommend some rules over others, more open-ended platforms have struggled to justify their rules. YouTube is a home for video content. Which video content? Who?s to say? VR is, for the time-being, mostly used for gaming. However, as social and commercial applications of the technology become more popular, this question of purpose will become politically relevant, as it has for YouTube.
Horizon?s chief product is a framework for users to create their own virtual worlds. Horizon exists not to provide a Facebook designed environment, but to offer users the ability to create their own environments. This gives Horizon some guiding purpose, and relieves its designers of pressure to make one-size-fits-all decisions. Because most worlds within Horizon are created by users, these users can set the rules of interactivity. Facebook has neither the time nor the resources to govern the behavior and use of every virtual tennis racket across myriad virtual spaces. However, the creators of these little worlds know whether they?re creating a virtual tennis club or a garden party fighting game, and can set the rules of the environment accordingly.
This will not be the first time Facebook finds that a rule that works for text and video publishing platforms falls flat in virtual reality. However, its response to the unintended effects of the block feature shows a willingness to appreciate the new demands of the medium.
Will Duffield is a Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute
This month’s stupid patent describes an invention that will be familiar to many readers: a virtual reality (VR) system where participants can interact with a virtual world and each other. US Patent No. 6,409,599 is titled “Interactive virtual reality performance theater entertainment system.” Does the ‘599 patent belong to the true inventors of VR? No. The patent itself acknowledges that VR already existed when the application was filed in mid-1999. Rather, it claims minor tweaks to existing VR systems such as having participants see pre-recorded videos. In our view, these tweaks were not new when the patent application was filed. Even if they were, minor additions to existing technology should not be enough for a patent.
The ‘599 patent is owned by a company called Virtual Immersion Technologies, LLC. This company appears to have no other business except patent assertion. So far, it has filed 21 patent lawsuits, targeting a variety of companies ranging from small VR startups to large defense companies. It has brought infringement claims against VR porn, social VR systems, and VR laboratories.
Virtual reality was not new in mid-1999. The only supposedly new features of the ‘599 patent are providing a live or prerecorded video of a live performer and enabling audio communication between the performer and a participant. Similar technology was infamously predicted in the Star Wars Holiday Special of 1978. In this sense, the patent is reminiscent of patents that take the form: “X, but on the Internet.” Here, the patent essentially claims video teleconferencing, but in virtual reality.
Claim 1 of the ‘599 patent is almost 200 words long, but is packed with the kind of mundane details and faux-complexity typical of software patents. For example, the claim runs through various “input devices” and “output devices” assigned to the “performer” and “participant.” But any VR system connecting two people will have such things. How else are the users supposed to communicate? Telepathy?
Like many software patents, the ‘599 patent describes the “invention” at an absurdly high, and unhelpful, level of abstraction. Any specific language in the patent is hedged to the point that it becomes meaningless. The “input devices” might be things like a “keypad or cyberglove,” but can also be any device that “communicate[s] with the computer through a variety of hardware and software means.” In other words, the “input device” can be almost any device at all. The patent suggests that the “underlying control programs and device drivers” can be written in “in many different types of programming languages.” Similarly, the “network communication functions” can be accomplished by any “protocols or means which may currently exist or exist in the future.” The overall message: build yourself a VR system from scratch and risk infringing.
RPX filed an inter partes review petition arguing that claims of the ‘599 patent were obvious at the time of the application. The petition argues, persuasively in our view, that earlier publications describe the supposed invention claimed by the ‘599 patent. The inter partes review proceeding has since settled, but any defendant sued by Virtual Immersion Technologies, LLC can raise the same prior art (and more) in their defense. Unfortunately, it is very expensive to defend a patent suit and this means defendants are pressured to settle even when the case is weak.
The ‘599 patent highlights many of the weaknesses of the patent system, especially with respect to software patents. First, the Patent Office failed to find prior art. Second, the patent claims are vague and the patent isn’t tied to any concrete implementation. Finally, the patent ended being used to sue real companies that employ people and make things.
We’ve made the point for a long time that, on a long enough timeline, pretty much everybody is a pirate. The point is that the way copyright laws have evolved alongside such useful tools as the internet makes knowing whether common sense actions are actually copyright infringement an incredibly dicey riddle to solve. Often times without even trying, members of the public engage in infringing activities, up to and including the President of the United States.
And, it appears, up to and including entire branches of the United States military, though claims of accidental infringement in this case would appear to be rather silly. Bitmanagement, a German software company that produces virtual reality software, is accusing the US Navy of what can only be described as massive levels of copyright infringement.
In 2011 and 2012, the US Navy began using BS Contact Geo, a 3D virtual reality application developed by German company Bitmanagement. The Navy reportedly agreed to purchase licenses for use on 38 computers, but things began to escalate.
While Bitmanagement was hopeful that it could sell additional licenses to the Navy, the software vendor soon discovered the US Government had already installed it on 100,000 computers without extra compensation. In a Federal Claims Court complaint filed by Bitmanagement two years ago, that figure later increased to hundreds of thousands of computers. Because of the alleged infringement, Bitmanagement demanded damages totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.
Both parties have since investigated the issue, with the Navy reportedly simply admitting that it installed the software on nearly half a million computers. Bitmanagement had assumed the Navy would be paying for these installations, but the military branch failed to do so and instead tried to work out much lower licensing costs with the company long after the fact. For its part, the government insists that it bought concurrent licenses rather than client licenses, but this defense makes little sense for any number of reasons. The scale of installations suggests that more than 38 users would be on the software at any given time, not to mention that Bitmanagement’s VARs are not authorized to sell concurrent licenses, and that nothing in the contracts the Navy agreed to even mentions the word “concurrent.”
In a request for summary judgement, Bitmanagement is asking for the government to be liable for the hundreds of thousands of installations it carried out and pay for them accordingly.
Now, while this infringement by the US government seems anything other than accidental, keep in mind that this same US government that regularly puts out reports and comments on the dastardly amounts of copyright infringement carried out by other foreign governments and their citizens. It seems as though America should get its own house in order, at least at the level of the federal government, before pointing any more fingers.
A German software company, Bitmanagement Software, is now suing the US government for copyright infringement and demanding almost $600 million. The lawsuit, which was filed in the US Court of Federal Claims (basically a special court set up just for cases involving suing the US government for money), says that the US Navy copied Bitmanagement’s 3D virtual reality software, BS Contact Geo. Apparently, the Navy had tested the software and had an evaluation license allowing the software to be used on 38 computers. And then the Navy just copied it onto hundreds of thousands of computers.
The lawsuit notes that the Navy had specifically requested the removal of Bitmanagement’s usage tracking code, and then told the company that it wanted to license the software for upwards of 500,000 computers — but also that it started doing those installs while the company was still negotiating a license. While that negotiation was ongoing, someone (accidentally, apparently) forwarded an email to Bitmanagement indicating that the software had already been installed on 104,922 computers. Apparently, a few months later, the Navy also disabled some other tracking software, called Flexwrap. This part is a bit confusing in the lawsuit, since earlier it notes that the evaluation contract required Bitmanagement to remove tracking software, but then the lawsuit notes that later on it was the Navy that removed Flexwrap, “in violation of the terms” of the license.
This is also a rare copyright case where the plaintiff is asking for actual damages, rather than mere statutory damages. That’s partly because it notes that a single license of its software runs approximately $1,000 — and it believes the software may have ended up on 558,466 computers. Thus, it’s asking for $596,308,103, which is the market value of the unpaid licenses. If it had sought statutory damages, it would have been limited to just $150,000, as that’s the maximum per “work infringed.” But it’s also because the US government has a special super power, called sovereign immunity when it comes to copyright claims, basically allowing it to avoid a copyright lawsuit in a regular (“Article III”) district court. However, at least based on my understanding of the law, they can still go to the Federal Claims court (as Bitmanagement is) and seek the actual licensing fees.
It will be interesting to see how the US government responds. After all, this is the very same US government that regularly insists that copyright infringement is a horrible evil and that we need to ratchet up punishment for it. Yet, here is the Navy doing what appears to be fairly blatant direct infringement on software that it was evaluating, but failed to fully license. In the past, the US government has found itself negotiating settlements in similar cases. But, of course, none of that has resulted in the government recognizing that perhaps its hardline position on infringement by others is a bit extreme, considering its own behavior.
Normally, when we talk about any issue involving how realistic video games are becoming as an art form, those stories revolve around either the decrying of realistic violence within the games or occasionally governments attempting to use realistic game footage to pimp their own fictional military capabilities. But, while those stories often come off as silly, those examples and their like are not the only benchmarks for just how realistic gaming is becoming. Other examples involve games reaching a realism level high enough to open the door to real-life application.
Serving as a recent example of this is the latest from racing game giant Gran Turismo, which has achieved enough realism to earn it a partnership with Formula One Racing as a sort of proving ground for racers to get their license with the professional racing organization.
A new partnership with the FIA means that in-game progress can now count toward a racing license with the association. The partnership with the FIA somewhat mirrors the GT Academy, which allows some of the best Gran Turismoplayers to compete for the opportunity to drive a real race car.
Through the FIA partnership, game racers will be tracked on their ability and their “race track etiquette”, which I assume is a way to ensure that drivers are performing not only well, but in a manner that would be safe for real-world drivers around them. In addition, there will be a sub-section of the game specifically designed in partnership with the FIA, where drivers can compete with one another and have their skills and driving behavior analyzed.
This isn’t just a cool benchmark in gaming realism, either. It provides a nice example of how this kind of realism can benefit an industry like the racing industry in very real ways, both in terms of safety and cost.
Considering the astronomical costs of pursuing a career in motorsports, being able to knock certain aspects of it out in a video game—without the cost of wrecks, mechanical issues, parts and just buying a car—could open the opportunity for a wider array of competitors. Purchasing a gaming setup fit to race isn’t cheap, but it’s far cheaper than running real races.
Believe me, the moment that Major League Baseball teams start looking to the management of video game teams as a proving ground for hiring general managers and coaches, I’ll have a whole new career path on my hands. More seriously, this type of thing won’t eliminate the need for real-world racing experience to qualify for a license, but it likely will have a nice weeding-out effect for potential drivers.
This week, we’ve got three new crowdfunded products that let you monitor things in new ways — two that provide data you’ve likely never had access to before, and a third that takes webcams to the next level.
Fitness and workout metrics are among the prime areas where smart technology can deliver something new and truly useful to lots of people. From FitBit to Nike+, there are a variety of sensors and monitors out there for the fitness enthusiast — but Enflux Smart Clothing wraps all sorts of stuff into one form-fitting full-body package. The Enflux suit has two major sensor modules and 10 motion sensors in total, allowing it to not only track and store a huge amount of workout data, but to actually build a full 3D avatar so you can watch your own workout. This enables you to do things like watch your form and motion with an overlay of the ideal form and motion, or even have the app call out tips and cues during the workout like a human trainer would.
What Enflux does for exercisers, the BRAIN One does for motorcyclists. Just as the best athletes in the world have trainers and technology at their back, so do the world’s motorsports champions, because nobody gets to be the best without metrics that help them understand their own failings and improve. BRAIN One is a standalone telemetry device that attaches easily to any motorcycle and starts collecting key performance data with a bunch of sensors, most notably a 9-axis inertia sensor that watches your handling of turns and bends. It communicates with your smartphone, and even integrates with GoPro and other action cameras for additional capabilities, like challenging your friends to asynchronous races and creating videos of your results overlaid with performance data. It also has an open API and is designed to be extendable to other types of vehicles with a little configuration and coding — and it does all this at a fraction of what professional telemetry devices cost.
Just in case you’re not a fitness buff or an avid motorcyclist, here’s a device for everyone (or at least, everyone with access to Google Cardboard or, better still, a headset like the Oculus Rift). The WebEye VR claims to be the first virtual reality webcam, and while I can’t entirely confirm this, it’s clearly an early entrant in the field. Its biggest application is obviously video chatting, which could be bumped to a whole new immersive level with VR technology, but I suspect it’ll also find use for things from home monitoring to VR content creation. It’s got some solid specs: two full-HD cameras delivering a 160-degree field of view in full stereoscopic 3D, at a price that’s pretty much on par with a pair of high-end normal HD webcams. There are demo videos and live broadcasts for those who want to see how it performs, and one of the creators has even made himself available for live one-on-one demo calls with potential backers.
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.