I first came across the intricacies of virtual reality in the film “Strange Days” (1995) with Ralph Fiennes. For those of you who can’t remember this cult classic, it deals with the illegal sale of virtual reality-like recordings that allow users to experience the emotions and past experiences of others. Naturally it all goes pear shaped and, as this was a science fiction, it was also far removed from the realities of the present.
Some twenty years later, I wonder whether we are now on the cusp of what the movie meant to warn us about. If virtual reality is so much better than real life, what point is there to remain in the real world? Now before you laugh this off and give the countless arguments about the wonders of technology and that progress can’t be stopped, remind yourself of what has happened in the last ten years. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and the countless other social media applications literally keep mankind glued to their screens. I witnessed the ultimate signs that things are horribly wrong when we were at a restaurant the other day and there were four young adults having lunch together, all of them utterly focused on their screens and not one of them even talking to one another.
Social media isn’t virtual reality you say? Well, how is it not, when you are in a world where you create an online character of yourself and you only share the things you want the rest of the world to see, so as to create a “virtual” presence of yourself online? Now look, I am not advocating going back to the stone ages and ridding ourselves of those wonderful means of sending each other photos and messages, but seriously where is this going to go? Virtual reality will only get better, and with ever more realistic means of escaping into a virtual world where you can be a master of the universe or engage in every other fantasy, no matter how twisted or far it may go, what point will there be to go to deal with the fatal flaws of realty?
The next generation are now spending nearly nine hours per day on social media and their ability to interact with other humans, where 93% of our communication is non-verbal, is eroding at an alarming rate. Perhaps we should be very careful what we wish for.