On my ride home from the gym, I listened to a segment on NPR called The Takeaway. One part asked the question, Is Technology Dehumanizing the Workforce? The featured guest was Simon Head, author of Mindless: Why Smarter Machines are Making Dumber Humans. Mr. Head tells about the part of his book where he interviewed a former Amazon employee who worked in their fulfillment warehouse.
In Amazon’s fulfillment center, employees wear machines that time them on exactly how long it should be taking them to perform tasks. If you are late, even by seconds, the machine beeps at you incessantly and records your lateness. Multiple latenesses can earn you demerits and termination.
I think I would rather hang myself with a sheet. Gave me pause about my Amazon Prime membership.
During the same segment, they discussed the news that Facebook bought Oculus VR, a virtual reality gaming company, for $2 billion. The product draw was Oculus’ Rift, a virtual reality headset, that Zuckerberg sees as a communications platform. In discussing the application of the headset to gaming, cofounder Palmer Luckey (I think it was him) talked about the Rift allowing gamers to be in an immersive gaming experience. And I got to thinking about that.
Why do we keep calling it virtual reality? Isn’t the point of these devices is to allow us to see things that are not there and to have experiences that we could not otherwise create? There’s nothing real about virtual reality. If you ever saw Star Trek, the starships had rooms called Holodecks, which allowed someone to enter a completely fake world and experience it as if it where real. But these things are not virtual reality. For us, when we enter these spaces, it becomes our reality.
I never really thought about it, before but I think that we should be calling it unreal reality because these experiences are simultaneously both unreal and real.
Have you ever seen the anime Serial Experiments Lain? If you enjoy anime, I highly recommend it because it is related to this subject and handles it in a very interesting way. It’s not a true to life demonstration, as virtual reality itself is not, so don’t hold me to this.