As you may be aware, I am not a futurist in my day job, nor do I play one on weekends. But there is a trend that seems to lend itself to becoming rather self-evident, and that would be in the not too distant future that we have the option to “live” in a virtual reality setting.
Hear me out on this, because YOU are closer to this than you may realize. Let’s start with the easy one…social media. When you go onto some of the most popular platforms and look around, this is in many cases is not the real world. This is someone’s filtered version of their world. Yes, a “virtual” representation of the world they want you to see them living in. We are (hopefully) all aware of the fact that most people paint a flattering picture of the life they lead. It is not usually the whole truth and nothing but the truth by any means. Maybe it is just human nature to try to impress others around you; we have done it to some degree since the beginning of civilization. But clearly things have amplified in the past few decades. I have participated in this myself, so I am not innocent in this game. But I will defend my participation as a way to grown my brand and make people aware of the message(s) I am trying to share with the world. Each time I get sucked into a new form of social media I end up fading away, observing but not posting, and eventually canceling my account. I did this with Facebook and I am getting real close to doing it on Twitter as well. The fakeness and negativity are getting to be too much…
Next up…Gaming. Again, an easy way to see an example of living temporarily in an alternate reality. In an extreme example, some people play video games for many hours or even days at a time. Literally sitting in diapers so they do not have to break away from the screen, they shutter themselves inside their home and inside this new world where they feel more comfortable. Think about that, this is self-induced isolation to avoid directly interacting with others (in some cases). This is not how human beings are wired, it is in our DNA to need direct interaction with other. While this lifestyle seems to have a level of inclusion to it, it is not checking ALL of the boxes that lead to a healthy lifestyle. While eSports continues to gain in popularity, this trend is not going away any time soon.
After a year in what amounts to lock down thanks to COVID-19, many people have gone deeper into the first two examples I have listed, and certainly the next one as well. The problem is, this is exacerbating the already dangerous trend of diminished social skills and the ability to live among a society full of people. Driving skills seem to be worse than ever, basic social skills continue to erode, and patience wears evermore thin. Isolation is rough, and my concern is that this makes living in some form of an alternative reality even more appealing.
The next one is quite obvious if you have ever partaken…Dating Apps. Yeah, talk about living in an alternate reality and avoid the cold hard truth about yourself. Using the best photo you have of yourself ever as your dating profile pic is a good example of this as well. Since this is a form of “window shopping” it wouldn’t make sense to put a bad photo of yourself out there for the world to swipe left to, but it also is a test of your comfort level with yourself. Everyone who poses for pics SPECIFICALLY for use in social apps such as this is guilty until proven innocent in my book. Fluffing up your lifestyle, your credentials, your wealth and all of the other forms of lies that so many participate in is yet another version of an altered reality. You are trying to being someone/something you are not, mostly for the purpose of impressing others. The goal with the dating app is a little different than some of the other examples given, but in the end, the lack of true representation of your life right now is still the source of the problem. In case you were not aware of this trend, the porn industry is usually one of the first adopters of new technology (its why we had VHS players instead of Beta-Max machines in the 80’s) and certainly the VR world and this industry are colliding. This may be the most concerning of the forms of this trend, as it has the potential to “replace” real human interaction with a digital version of it.
Alright, let’s talk binge watching. Yet another form of living in an altered reality is to sit in front of your oversized flat screen TV and watch entire seasons of a show in rapid succession. And by the way, have you noticed that Netflix has reduced the “in between time” from 25 seconds to 5 seconds? The reason is easy, twenty-five seconds gives you a chance to get up and go do something else, five seconds does not. THEY are reinforcing the binging behavior by making a change like this, furthering the process of sitting on your ass for hours on end and avoiding life in general. Since on occasion I do indulge in social media myself, I laughed the first time I saw the tweet: I watched everything on Netflix…now what? It sounds funny, especially given the number of shows that are on a service like Hulu or Netflix, but the idea that you as a subscriber have watched everything of interest to you on Netflix and are now bored is a scary thought. And the TikTok videos of people doing everything from indoor golf tricks, elaborate domino or playing card set ups or trick shots with a ping pong ball, you know how bored some people out there really are.
So where is this all leading? Well that is hard to say, but I have a feeling that at some point people will be making the choice to live in an alternative reality. If you have not seen it, watch the movie Vanilla Sky and you will know what I mean. This is one example of how this new technology can (will) be used. Given that this movie was released 20 years ago, it is eerily prophetic. I don’t want to give too much away about the movie, but the idea of living in a different world by choice (and/or out of necessity) has enough appeal, and we are slowly becoming more and more accepting of this, that I can’t help but think this is a real possibility for the future.
The question is…where does that leave us?
I do not have answers to questions such as these, but I can tell you that I do have my concerns. Sorry to generalize, but since I do spend so much time with college students (through my coaching and speaking) I see the above trends accelerating in some cases. I can also tell you this, I will not be part of this to much of an extent. I can see where technology such as virtual reality meetings pervade the business world, and I will be partaking in this form, but as far as sitting on my ass playing video games for hours on end, or putting on a VR Headset and delving into a world like that, ain’t gonna happen. I am too aware of the health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle and I will remain active and physically challenging myself until I am no longer capable of doing so. Example: next week my wife and I are going to hike the Grand Canyon. While I could “see” this through a VR experience, there is no way to replicate the smell of the desert in the pre-dawn hours, or the thrill of seeing a real Bighorn Sheep in the distance, and of course the strain and pain of hiking Devil’s Corkscrew (four miles of uphill switchbacks) and the triumphant feeling of completing an undertaking such as this.
There is no replacing the real thing….Please keep this in mind as you live your life.