Brainstorm

 

I got an Oculus VR rig for Christmas, so my involvement with the actual, real, physical, tactile world has now come to a conclusion. 

Kidding! Somewhat. It’s not the holodeck. Yet. The headsets are still a bit too heavy, and the illusion of seamless 360 vision is not absolute. Bandwidth and the problem of the progressive lens can make the experience of your New Digital Home a tad less convincing. You see a nook you’d like to visit; you can’t walk there. You see a landscape outside your window, and you can’t walk out and smell the flowers. But you can call up a big pane with lots of buttons and options, right in front of you, floating in your digital space that is suddenly much, much more compelling than the room you were in before you strapped on the headset. 

I went to Rome to take a tour of the Pantheon. It’s a 360 view; as you walk alongside the guide, you can turn around and see the square, watch all the tourists pass. You can look up at the massive doors and capitols. Once inside, you can look all around the ancient structure and think: A) this is incredible, and B) if I had a better Internet up to my office, this might be less pixilated.

So within a half an hour of entering the new world, you’re already thinking about how it can be better, how it will be better. Today, a blurry Pantheon. Tomorrow, 6K resolution with interactive characters in the room who look fully human but can interact with you, answer questions, tell stories, flirt. 

I customized my avatar to look like me. It doesn’t. But it’s close! Except it isn’t. The options for customization are surprisingly scant, almost Sims 2.0 level. I’d expected more. This has the effect of channeling individuality into a limited number of manifestations that nevertheless provide great diversity — I might meet someone who looks just like my avatar but has an earring and a different hairstyle. However many combinations exist, they’re still defined by a look, a set number of polygons, a style. 

“Meet?” you say. Yes: There are social events in the metaverse. I decided to join one to see what was on the other side of the hermetically sealed apps and videos. 

You begin in a room, which is yours. It’s intentionally unreal, with stylized plants and furniture, but it’s a transition place to get used to your online social existence. There’s a mirror. You can look at how others will see you. A tutorial explains the buttons that appear when you raise your left hand: there’s the microphone button and the shield button. The former lets you talk to people. The latter keeps them from getting too close.

You wonder what it would be like to assume a female avatar and walk into the room with shields down.

You know that 83% of the people in the room will be male, and of the 17% who look female, 84% of them will be male, as well. In the social spaces of the metaverse, a female avatar with the voice turned off and the shields down is probably a dude. 

Or so I assume. I could not figure out how to open the door to get into the party and gave up. I went back to Rome and walked around for a while. I rode a rollercoaster, which was unimpressive — the visual experience was total, the physical forces completely absent.

That will change. Eventually people will shrug on haptic T-shirts and pants so they can get tactile feedback. When you shake someone’s hand in the metaverse, you will feel it. The estates that control the images of famous dead actors will license them to the metaverse so you can walk hand-in-hand with Leslie Caron down the streets of Paris. 

Most people will use it for meetings, or play golf or tennis, or watch VR videos their grandkids shot. The League of Hapless Onanists will link their headsets to their Bitcoin accounts.

It is an inevitable technology, but it comes along at the absolute worst time possible. There is no COVID in the metaverse. No empty downtowns or boarded-up shopping areas or no-go zones, no spaces teeming with the Unsafe. The people on Reddit who flood r/coronavirus to talk about their social anxiety and PTSD and hatred of leaving the house will settle into this world, eventually, like people lowering their scabby, raw bottoms into a warm bath, and imagine, in having left the real world for the metaverse, that they are on the vanguard of a new world. Lesser in some ways but better in so many others. 

It all began with the first quarter dropped into a Pac-Man console.

Last note: I found a VR view from the International Space Station. You appear in the capsule that looks down on Earth. You look left, right, up, down — you see out of all the windows, see the rest of the station. It’s not a recreation. It was filmed up there. It was absolutely beautiful. I ended up on my hands and knees in my studio, wearing the machine, lost in the view and grateful for it. Something I would never otherwise see like this. 

What else can I see like this? There’s the promise. And oh man, there’s the problem. And vice versa.

P.S. You need a Facebook account to use it, so of course everything is sorted and stored. I stay far away from Facebook and created a burner to use the rig, but I still expect my online ads to offer discounts on trips to Rome.

Published in Science & Technology
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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    James Lileks: I went to Rome to take a tour of the Pantheon. It’s a 360 view; as you walk alongside the guide, you can turn around and see the square, watch all the tourists pass. You can look up at the massive doors and capitols. Once inside, you can look all around the ancient structure and think: A) this is incredible, and B) if I had a better Internet up to my office, this might be less pixilated.

    Do they have ushers at the entrance reminding you to take off your hat, because this a church? Do most of the male avatars who are wearing baseball caps ignore them? Do they have loudspeakers reminding you every couple of minutes and in several languages that this is a place of worship?  

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I’ll bet you have to go out into the backyard to get all the way around the Castel Sant’Angelo.

    • #2
  3. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    “MVPD issued a statement today that they have a new suspect in the case of the Metaverse Groper.”

    • #3
  4. Kevin Schulte Member
    Kevin Schulte
    @KevinSchulte

    James Lileks: P.S. You need a Facebook account to use it, so of course everything is sorted and stored

    Yes, the Borg intends for you to be assimilated. More candy will be created to entice even the most intransigent into the collective . 

    • #4
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Kevin Schulte (View Comment):

    James Lileks: P.S. You need a Facebook account to use it, so of course everything is sorted and stored

    Yes, the Borg intends for you to be assimilated. More candy will be created to entice even the most intransigent into the collective .

    I’m definitely holding out for a lot more candy.  

    • #5
  6. Raxxalan Member
    Raxxalan
    @Raxxalan

    I find it useful because I can use it to make my experiences on the rowing machine less monotonous, their are a couple of good programs for fitness on it.  One lets you link with a rower and actually row in an environment rather than just in some random unused room of your house.  I am sure the novelty of that will wear off but it gets me to actually use the machine rather than just stacking laundry on it, so some utility in the metaverse.

    • #6
  7. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    James, what app did you use to explore?

    • #7
  8. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    It all began with the first quarter dropped into a Pac-Man console.

    Or perhaps with the View-Master 3D Viewer.

    • #8
  9. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    “What else can I see like this? There’s the promise. And oh man, there’s the problem. And vice versa.”

    I can see the benefits to this technology, just as we adopted radio, then television, then sunk our eyes deeper into the internet and its various rooted tunnels and intricate labyrinths. As an entertainment, even an educational tool it could be the opening to an expansive universe – but when does it ever end there? We don’t all have the volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica at home, but most in the technologically-dependent West have Google. And with it the ever-evolving definitions of truth. Where will this fit? Whose perspective will we accept as reality – if any at all? And for all the homebody introverts like myself who would be immeasurably tempted by the lace windows of social interaction without having to expose what a mess is hidden behind them, could keep people in states of isolation to their detriment and our own, made less by their absence. Humans need humans, or so I thought.

    Charles Dickens, “Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”

     

     

    • #9
  10. DrewInWisconsin, Oaf Member
    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf
    @DrewInWisconsin

    On the one hand, isn’t technology amazing?

    On the other KILL IT WITH FIRE!

    • #10
  11. Kevin Schulte Member
    Kevin Schulte
    @KevinSchulte

    DrewInWisconsin, Oaf (View Comment):
    On the one hand, isn’t technology amazing?

    It’s a velvet coated chain. 

    • #11
  12. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Raxxalan (View Comment):

    I find it useful because I can use it to make my experiences on the rowing machine less monotonous, their are a couple of good programs for fitness on it. One lets you link with a rower and actually row in an environment rather than just in some random unused room of your house. I am sure the novelty of that will wear off but it gets me to actually use the machine rather than just stacking laundry on it, so some utility in the metaverse.

    Do you do it as training for rowing, or for upper body workouts? I’m sure your legs get involved, too, but when I ride on my bicycle smart trainer (on virtual routes around the world) I don’t get much upper body workout, which is why I asked.  In addition to the virtual video routes, the Rouvy service that I use has been putting a lot of effort into something called Augmented Reality in which you can do group rides with other people on their own trainers in their own basements, but the video routes are what keep me interested.   I do it to keep in condition for outdoor riding, but I could see where something analogous to virtual video routes could make rowing interested, too. I’m not sure there is such a thing for rowing, though. 

    • #12
  13. Cal Lawton Member
    Cal Lawton
    @CalLawton

    • #13
  14. JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery Thatcher
    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery
    @JosePluma

    Cal Lawton (View Comment):

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    When I heard about this, I immediately thought Ready Player One, though Zuckerberg is no Halliday.

    • #14
  15. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    If this is a Mega/Facebook production, expect to see Mayor Pete making “guest appearances” in your virtual world.  

    • #15
  16. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    If this is a Mega/Facebook production, expect to see Mayor Pete making “guest appearances” in your virtual world.

    Wait’ll they assign you your very own personal Social Justice Nag, who follows you around pointing out all your microaggressions.

    • #16
  17. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    Raxxalan (View Comment):

    I find it useful because I can use it to make my experiences on the rowing machine less monotonous, their are a couple of good programs for fitness on it. One lets you link with a rower and actually row in an environment rather than just in some random unused room of your house. I am sure the novelty of that will wear off but it gets me to actually use the machine rather than just stacking laundry on it, so some utility in the metaverse.

    I also use mine for exercise.  I’m a distance runner, but I hate doing squats.  I use Pistol Whip a couple times a week to force this exercise.  While shooting things, you have to move up and down and all around to stay alive.  I get quite sweaty, actually.   

    I do not like that I have to have anything to do with Facebook.  I’d prefer just paying for the game and playing.  I tried to make my user name “I Protest,” but it wouldn’t let me.  

    • #17
  18. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Raxxalan (View Comment):

    I find it useful because I can use it to make my experiences on the rowing machine less monotonous, their are a couple of good programs for fitness on it. One lets you link with a rower and actually row in an environment rather than just in some random unused room of your house. I am sure the novelty of that will wear off but it gets me to actually use the machine rather than just stacking laundry on it, so some utility in the metaverse.

    I also use mine for exercise. I’m a distance runner, but I hate doing squats. I use Pistol Whip a couple times a week to force this exercise. While shooting things, you have to move up and down and all around to stay alive. I get quite sweaty, actually.

    I do not like that I have to have anything to do with Facebook. I’d prefer just paying for the game and playing. I tried to make my user name “I Protest,” but it wouldn’t let me.

    I use it for exercise, too. I couldn’t believe how sweaty I got playing Synth Riders. My husband used some app to put our pictures in a “museum” setting. He had my sister-in-law watch it and she was in tears looking at her kids from birth to present. Most people take a gazzilion pictures with their phones but hardly ever look at them again. My husband hates that it’s tied to fakebook, too. 

    • #18
  19. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    JoelB (View Comment):

    It all began with the first quarter dropped into a Pac-Man console.

    Or perhaps with the View-Master 3D Viewer.

    • #19
  20. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    JoelB (View Comment):

    It all began with the first quarter dropped into a Pac-Man console.

    Or perhaps with the View-Master 3D Viewer.

    “Binky!  Your girl is actually 3-D!”

    • #20
  21. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    James Lileks: I went to Rome to take a tour of the Pantheon. It’s a 360 view; as you walk alongside the guide, you can turn around and see the square, watch all the tourists pass. You can look up at the massive doors and capitols. Once inside, you can look all around the ancient structure and think: A) this is incredible, and B) if I had a better Internet up to my office, this might be less pixilated.

    Do they have ushers at the entrance reminding you to take off your hat, because this a church? Do most of the male avatars who are wearing baseball caps ignore them? Do they have loudspeakers reminding you every couple of minutes and in several languages that this is a place of worship?

    Virtual masks?

    • #21
  22. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    When you can take batting practice off Sandy Koufax or Tom Seaver, call me.

    • #22
  23. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    EJHill (View Comment):

    When you can take batting practice off Sandy Koufax or Tom Seaver, call me.

    I think they can set you up with 3 rounds with George Foreman.  Perhaps Olympic gymnastics or pole vault might be more to your taste. 

    • #23
  24. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    EJHill (View Comment):

    When you can take batting practice off Sandy Koufax or Tom Seaver, call me.

    Make sure you don’t dial in Don Drysdale by mistake.

    • #24
  25. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Funny! You couldn’t find a way back to the Party, so you went back to Rome! Why do I feel like this is an intro to “The world fiddled while Rome burned…”  What an interesting gift ?  As hard as Klaus Schwab tries to convince us that the virtual will be better than real, I think it will be rejected…..

    • #25
  26. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery: When I heard about this, I immediately thought Ready Player One, though Zuckerberg is no Halliday.

    You’re shooting way too close to hit the Man from Minnesota. He’s aiming to hang out with her:

    • #26
  27. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    James Lileks: I went to Rome to take a tour of the Pantheon. It’s a 360 view; as you walk alongside the guide, you can turn around and see the square, watch all the tourists pass. You can look up at the massive doors and capitols. Once inside, you can look all around the ancient structure and think: A) this is incredible, and B) if I had a better Internet up to my office, this might be less pixilated.

    C) the real Rome and the real Pantheon are spectacular. #LetsGoThere

    #LGT

    • #27
  28. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    “What else can I see like this? There’s the promise. And oh man, there’s the problem. And vice versa.”

    I can see the benefits to this technology, just as we adopted radio, then television, then sunk our eyes deeper into the internet and its various rooted tunnels and intricate labyrinths. As an entertainment, even an educational tool it could be the opening to an expansive universe –

    There are some VR tours of museums that are quite nice. In a few years you’ll be able to walk around the National Gallery instead of lurching from hot-spot to hot-spot, and perhaps choose your favorite gallery as the workspace for the day. The current Oculus allows you to define a seated area, such as a sofa or chair, so you can use your own chair and sit in a gallery or the garden court, and type. Or just woolgather. 

    but when does it ever end there?

    It never does. 

    We don’t all have the volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica at home, but most in the technologically-dependent West have Google. And with it the ever-evolving definitions of truth. Where will this fit? Whose perspective will we accept as reality – if any at all?

    “Trust” will be an important commodity in the 21st century. I can imagine certification boards that put the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or Underwriters Laboratory logo on programs that accurate reflect the reality of a place, or an experience. 

    And for all the homebody introverts like myself who would be immeasurably tempted by the lace windows of social interaction without having to expose what a mess is hidden behind them, could keep people in states of isolation to their detriment and our own, made less by their absence. Humans need humans, or so I thought.

    I visited a social room to observe, and noted some people who knew each other having a conversation. (They’d left their microphones on, so everyone could hear their chat.) When one of them reached out and touched the other’s shoulder, there was a brief crackling sound. 

    You’ll know the Metaverse has made a cultural impression when someone in a movie or TV touches someone and is surprised they don’t hear that sound, and most people in the audience get it. OTOH, The Sims sell millions of copies, and no one automatically looks up over someone’s head to see the color of the rotating gem to check their mood. None of this is satisfying, which is why it cannot scratch our basic itches. 

     

     

     

    • #28
  29. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    “Trust” will be an important commodity in the 21st century. I can imagine certification boards that put the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval or Underwriters Laboratory logo on programs that accurate reflect the reality of a place, or an experience. 

     

    I don’t have much confidence that these groups would remain any freer of bias than our current crop of ‘fact checkers’.

    • #29
  30. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    EJHill (View Comment):

    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery: When I heard about this, I immediately thought Ready Player One, though Zuckerberg is no Halliday.

    You’re shooting way too close to hit the Man from Minnesota. He’s aiming to hang out with her:

    That’s the post title ref. The movie suffers from some dated FX, but A) the scene in which Nurse Rachet hits record is a damned hard thing to watch, and B) the movie writer knew exactly what the brain-replay tech’s most popular commercial application would be. 

    It’s one of those sci-fi movies where the tech seemed just around the corner, and inevitable. It would take Black Mirror to consider the downside. And even so, completely informed, we want it. Or will. There are three stages: 

    I want a dash cam to ensure me against insurance claims

    I want an optional cortical-overlay recorder in a variety of situations where I want a record of the proceedings

    I accede to an always-on cortical-overlay recorder to enable various features and benefits

    • #30