Our world is steadily being taken over by an unstoppable force, and with momentum picking up, we may have mere years remaining before we loose all sense of the world that we were raised in. The force is as strong as a natural disaster, yet is abstract enough to ensure that we will never be able to target it. In short, we, and most importantly our future children and grandchildren, are totally doomed. The threat? Virtual reality.
It sounds so non-specific, so theoretical, that many of us struggle to wrap our heads around the concept. Yet it is far closer to home than you may expect; what is the carefully curated world of Instagram if not the perfect tool for “normal” humans to construct their own virtual realities to portray to the world? Or, the ever-growing game of Pokemon Go that is bringing a virtual world into every stage of our day-to-day lives?
Essana O’Neil is a nineteen year old girl and former Instagram star. With 500,000 followers, she had scores of people watching her every move, commenting on her every photo. O’Neil left Instagram for good, after detailing how many of her seemingly spur-of-the-moment, candid, “Real life” photos were in fact the complete opposite. In one ‘selfie’ of a very pretty, but totally believable girl next door type that drew in fourteen point seven thousand likes, Essa captioned:
“Edit: “Please like this photo, I put on makeup, curled my hear, tight dress, big uncomfortable jewellery…. Took over 50 shots until I got one I thought you might like, then I edited this one selfie for ages on several apps- just so I could feel some social approval from you.” THERE IS NOTHING REAL ABOUT THIS. #celebrityconstruct”, and continued to tell the truth behind all Instagram images, detailing about paid advertisements, aesthetic procedures, use of make up and light and the feelings of intense loneliness and self doubt that thousands of likes could not overcome.
This is a very real kind of Virtual Reality, that is influencing the most vulnerable among us: teenagers and young people who are unconfident, struggling to make their way into adulthood and surrounded by advertisements and now social media accounts plugging a certain lifestyle, and applying immense pressure on them to subscribe to it. As social media mavens are finding out, however, no matter how carefully contrived your online presence, it is not powerful enough to ‘fix’ whatever problems you have in reality, nor do online friends translate into true friends, who will support you and keep your deepest secrets. It is, and will continue to be, one of the greatest challenges of this generation to fight to maintain perspective and to dedicate as much energy into improving their “real lives”, with all its challenges and flaws and imperfections as they put into editing their virtual reality.
But if you were congratulating yourselves on having escaped such problems with sons, or rolling your eyes at the surface level problems of teenagers, then think again. Heard of a little thing called Pokemon? Downloaded the ‘Pokemon Go’ app? Since its release last week, it has been downloaded over fifteen million times, despite the fact that availability has had staggered starts around the globe and remains officially unavailable in many countries. Well, where there is a will there is a way.
Seeking out Pokemon (achieved through travel, essentially) has caused a hell of a lot of trespassing, car accidents and near-misses, as users wander into busy roads in their quests to capture a pixelated figure to add to their collection. A man has been fired for foregoing his duties in favour of playing, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Arlington National Cemeteryand had to ask its visitors not to play Pokemon on its grounds claiming it to be “extremely inappropriate” and unbelievably, my own husband volunteered to go for a run for the first time in months, in order to hatch some eggs, which rquire walking specific distances in order to hatch.
The instant success of the Pokemon Go application is a sign of what’s to come; with technologies improving at a rapid rate, it is only a matter of time before Virtual Realities and games enter the mass market. Entered through donning a pair of ‘magical’ glasses or goggles, these fantasy worlds are purportedly life-like. Even those professionally involved have a hard time resisting the lure of virtual worlds, with one technician narrating how he was so entranced with whichever fantasy landscape he was exploring, that he did not feel the passage of time, and was shocked to see that four hours had passed once removing his goggles. Wonderful, yet definitely an additional danger in the ever-blurring worlds of virtual and real life. Watch this space.