The Courage Problem: What VR Won’t Solve

Image by Sammy Slabbinck

No wonder VR hasn’t taken off or caught on mainstream…we aren’t ready for it. We don’t need it! We already have more than we can bear. The phone in-pocket is enough of an on/off switch for virtuality. We don’t need a helmet.

The thing has always been fear of being seen without the signifiers and regalia of what we believe our true self to be—the person we’re proud of, the one who’s defensible to potential clients and lovers, the one with his or her shit together (but maybe this doubt, worry and fear are just youthful…maybe you get older [say, 36?] and stop trying or caring; you really run out of fucks to give).

The only problem in technology is people who don’t want to get close to others. The desire to stay away, to stay “free from” having to endure other people’s machinations…the desire to keep things at a distance.

We want our safe nest and familiarity

and to keep control over how we’re calibrating personal distance

Re: David Aron Levine’s thread above about VR and hardware. Companies might get around to building hardware that enables a human being to transition between virtual reality and actual reality, but it won’t solve the problem: we will still be vulnerable, lonely people seeking a response to our latest creative act. We want to make things people love. We want to get past money and fear.

There will always be latency, a waiting for others to respond; the chasm is so deep and treacherous, some people want to kill themselves (a T.S. Eliot poem explains why people want to kill themselves these days):

We are always waiting for the other’s response. I might even venture to say life is love and waiting. Communication is always emotional labor and technology can’t solve the need to spend time paying attention to messages, because messages calibrate and ensure meaning and secure attachment to the other person. Again, it’s about tribe and touch. We want to be in touch with people. There is no other future.

Hardware and software are fucking stupid I think—I think we’re done, I think we have enough, all software companies can retire or reduce staff by 90%.

To get closer to one another’s ideas and emotions we don’t need more communication or information technology. We need housing and healthcare. Software products, though they try, can’t solve the intimacy and immediacy problem the user has: not understanding and/or not being understood yet.

Social media relies on the mass misunderstanding.

A good reminder: all a computer can do is display and transmit information. It can’t do the work for us of emerging from our brain, tenderly, authentically and without fear. Our ideas are not possessions to hold in tight fists — ideas are tools. To quote Deleuze (a pastime of mine), “A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window.” Technology cannot decide for us. Facebook does not know political implications. It does, however, give you a blinking cursor with which to cut the world.

Holding the blinking cursor with the world waiting for you is terrifying. It’s the void; everything is reflected in the blackness of the light. Technology may hand you a blinking cursor and an audience but the work to do then is responsible management; it’s being a custodian and a steward of your power to show us things.

Becoming yourself, finding style, making mistakes and apologizing and thanking is the human work that technology lets us avoid. Resist it.

Like Marc Andreessen’s Twitter bio once said, “I don’t mean you’re all going to be happy. You’ll be unhappy — but in new, exciting and important ways.” We will. Like the author of the tweet at the beginning of this suggests, yes, we will fund hardware and software made by people who want to bring “us” closer together. Us. This will happen because for many humans, there’s little else more interesting than talking about things we find interesting. For me, I think the dichotomy is this: the enduring questions (philosophy, politics, art, media) and on the other side, the experiences in our lives that challenge us. I believe we should bend any news event to either of those two poles: what incremental learning can we gain from this and what can we do tactically?

Look back at the reality of life and you realize it is you who decides what to do next. Breathe!

BuzzFeed knows that “interesting things only work as lubricant between people.”

We’re awash in interesting things already. Yet, investors and entrepreneurs will keep building technology in open-floor office spaces, keep hiring engineering teams and employing product management because we insatiably want to be closer to people. We have Reality Hunger

I’m saying we’re already get close enough — we just don’t have the courage to reach out and touch. We could be touching, but we’re editing…trying to close something that’s open, to empty a suitcase that’s already put away.

The blinking cursor beckons; the audience is there; the technology problem is solved. The work now is to be ourselves. We will build headsets and reduce network latency but face the same problems as now: art problems; identity problems; courage problems. Technology can facilitate that work but the limiting factor is courage. Technology cannot increase it.



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