Reality Check

Lidor WyssockyBlog

I walk down an unnaturally empty street. I hear nothing but my footsteps. It’s hot and foggy. I feel like I’m walking on a cloud. Suddenly I hear a familiar voice, singing. The singing is not clear at first. I can barely understand the words. But as I walk further, I start to smile. The music is coming from one of the apartments facing the street. I can’t tell which one. It sounds old and scratchy, like a good memory. I can imagine an old gramophone playing it. The sun is suddenly peeking through the fog and the street becomes bright. As faint arcs of color appear in the sky, a gentle female voice fills the street with a promise: “Somewhere over the rainbow…”

We live in a strange age. We are surrounded by technology that makes everything so efficient and immediate. Tasks that took us hours just a few years ago are now just a swipe away. We should have had tons of spare time thanks to this overwhelming efficiency. This era should have been a perfect opportunity for us to reconnect. No, I don’t mean reconnecting to the nearest hotspot or the latest cool app. What I mean is reconnecting to what’s around us — reconnecting to the world. And yet, many of us are constantly occupied with something. And this something usually involves some digital pieces of information being fired at us.

This era should have been a perfect opportunity for us to reconnect.Click To Tweet

I know this sounds a bit preachy. So let me say it straight ahead: I love technology, I adore gadgets, and I’m pretty much online in one way or the other most of the day. So, if anything, I’m probably preaching to myself. But to understand where this is all going, let’s try to reflect on two recent technologies which are just gaining momentum: AR and VR.

It’s way too early in the morning. The streets are gray, not just due to the faint light. They just are. All of a sudden something crosses the street, floating surrealistically just above the ground. A red balloon. It has a string that someone probably held a few minutes or hours ago. It keeps moving, although I can’t feel any wind. Maybe it is held by an invisible person. Maybe it is some magic. I decide to follow it. I let it lead me through the streets. Just when I realize I don’t exactly know where I am, it begins to soar. I stand still and continue to follow the red balloon with my eyes until it is no longer visible.

Augmented Reality (AR) is a fancy name for a very cool concept: adding layers of information on top of the physical world. But most chances you already know that thanks to the latest addition to the Augmented Reality hall of fame: Pokémon Go. Millions of people around the world are in the midst of an endless chase after cute virtual creatures which appear to be living among us. Only they don’t really, of course. They are “living” only on the Pokémon Go servers, delivered to our smartphones, and rendered on top of a video stream from our smartphone camera, so they look like they are part of the real world. Cool stuff!

AR has many beneficial uses, and in the future, it will probably have even more uses we cannot imagine today. But when I see dozens of people on the street walking around while looking only at their smartphone screen and calling that “Reality,” I can’t help thinking we might be moving too fast. But let’s put a pin on this one and examine a more extreme concept.

If the goal of Augmented Reality is to enhance reality and how we experience it, Virtual Reality (VR) is aiming to provide us with an alternate reality altogether. With VR you practically disconnect from the real world and hook almost all your senses to a world made of binary data. What you see 360 degrees, what you hear, and in some cases, what you feel, is entirely computer generated. The experience can be overwhelming, but for an external observer, it is no less profound. Seeing someone replacing the real world with a digital experience, even if only for a few minutes, is something to reflect upon.

When was the last time you enjoyed Pure Reality? Without artificial ingredients, without preservatives, without flavor enhancers. Just pure reality.Click To Tweet

Both AR and VR in their implementations for the masses are designed for harmless fun. And they are fun. The potential problem lies in the big picture and the trend we are all part of. Consider how much time we are spending online, in most cases staring at a fixed point in space where the nearest screen is. Add to that the fact that our attention span is continually getting smaller. We seek immediate stimuli. We need to get to the point (any point) as fast as possible. We want to arrive at the destination, and we don’t care what we are missing along on the way. And if this is not bad enough, here comes AR and VR and suggest that whatever we might be still seeing around us is either not attractive enough, or should be replaced altogether.

Are we really ready for this? Are we using these technologies in the right balance? When was the last time you enjoyed Pure Reality? Without artificial ingredients, without preservatives, without flavor enhancers. Just pure reality.

We cannot allow ourselves to give up on pure reality. We still haven't made the most of it.Click To Tweet

Most chances you are reading this article on your smartphone or tablet. I wrote it on my laptop. Without a thriving online community, this magazine would probably not exist. So I’m not suggesting we should throw away all the new cool stuff which does help us be more productive, be more efficient, and yes, engage some fantastic new activities we could have only dreamt of just a few years ago. But as the case is in every area of our lives: balance is the key. Just like we know our nutrition should be well balanced, we need to make sure we are giving different kinds of mental food to our senses, to our mind, and to our soul.

We cannot allow ourselves to give up on pure reality. We still haven’t made the most of it.

It’s autumn, and it’s probably too cold to go to the beach, but we are going anyway. It’s the middle of the week, so we’re practically alone here. I watch the movement of the water and the stillness of the sand. I see the clouds changing their shape like in a time-lapse video. My son is holding hands with my wife. They are standing exactly where the ocean meets the sand, looking at the horizon, or maybe at the waves, or at a distant ship I cannot see. The sound of the waves masks their voices, so I can’t hear what they are saying. I don’t see their faces, but I see the water gently touching their bare feet. And I know they are smiling.