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Sunday / July 14.
HomemilastwordThe Last Word: It’s Just Not Chocolate

The Last Word: It’s Just Not Chocolate

Facebook has splashed out billions on the leading augmented reality technology company Oculus in an effort to become more connected with its user base.

If its acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram, showed that Facebook was intent on solidifying itself as the preeminent social media behemoth, its foray into virtual reality now confirms that Mark Zuckerberg wants to step it up a notch, to create a digital universe.

When Facebook acquired Oculus, Zuckerberg said: “Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world… just by putting on goggles in your home… By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.”

Leaving aside the uncomfortable parallels with The Matrix, it is the phrase ‘feeling truly present’ that leaps out at me. Can you be ‘truly present’ in augmented reality, no matter how immersive the experience?

Leaving aside the uncomfortable parallels with The Matrix, it is the phrase ‘feeling truly present’ that leaps out at me…

Technology gives us so many ways to keep in contact. It is great and I use it… most of us use it… frequently! Like you, I’ve ‘reunited’ with childhood friends and ‘met’ people in faraway countries with similar interests through social media. In so many ways, social media expands our borders. For the housebound or geographically isolated, it can be a lifeline. Add virtual reality and the possible uses are mind-boggling. Imagine the good that can come out of it with being able to consult with a patient in remote Australia in a virtual consulting room.

But we’re still interacting with, and through, technology. We’re not actually there one-on-one, face-to-face.

No doubt, one day, immersive virtual reality will get to the point where I can slip on a headset and ‘walk’ to my favourite restaurant to ‘meet’ my friends. No doubt the steak I order will look real, smell real… and maybe even taste real. But it will never actually ‘be’ real.

If social media has taught us anything, it is that at a basic level, we all crave human connection. We’re making more connections than ever before. Yet social commentators tell us we’re more stressed, more dissatisfied and, oddly, more lonely than we ever have been.

Think of social media as carob. Nothing wrong with carob, if that’s what you want. But it’s not chocolate.

We all need real one-on-one face-to-face connection with real, flesh and blood people – our family, friends, colleagues, patients, even strangers on the street. That can’t be replaced with brief status updates, posts and tweets or the “feeling” of being “truly present”.

Moving social media into the virtual reality space may make it a little bit more chocolatey, but it will always just be carob.