The other day I was waiting for a friend of mine — let’s call him David — who was arriving from a quick trip overseas to ping me on WhatsApp (as we had agreed in our last conversation) as soon as he fired up his mobile phone at the airport. Aba, it was already two hours after the scheduled arrival of his flight and there was no ping. I opened WhatsApp and found that the “Last Seen” time on our message thread showed that he was online the previous night — presumably before he boarded his flight. Ok then. Maybe he just hadn’t turned on his phone yet.
Then I checked my Facebook newsfeed a few minutes later. Another friend of mine, Gigi, posted a photo of her cat pawing what looked like an iPad that happened to be displaying a manga-styled image of a mouse. The post was time stamped “12 minutes ago”. Cute. Then I scrolled down a bit and I find this other bit of information “David likes this”.
Breath deeply and count from one to ten slowly…
It’s cases like these that makes us see the sense in Facebook’s purchase of Whatsapp, for 19 billion dollars. You get hooked on one digital stream, while the other feeds the addiction. Pretty clever, Zuck.
So I suppose we should be worried that Zuck has also recently bought virtual reality gear maker Oculus for $2bn. Oculus makes Oculus Rift, headgear that provides an “immersive” virtual reality experience for gamers. According to Zuck, Facebook see the product as “a new communication platform”. Zuck further writes…
After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home.
I just got to thinking after taking all of this in… if knowing about people’s goings on, whereabouts, and even their random thoughts through a touch screen phone already causes all of this pointless anxiety, I wonder what sorts of new stresses this enhanced online experience will introduce to the species?
I recall back in high school reading about this amusing experiment (or, shall we say, publicity stunt) where some geek spent months at home without going outdoors to prove that everything one could possibly need can be ordered/managed through the Internet. This was in the late 90s to the early 00s when online retailing represented the cutting-edge of Silicon Valley’s insidious efforts to hook the average consumer onto the Matrix. There was no social media yet at the time, only a lot of hubris built around the notion this geek was trying to pitch.
Back then, there were a lot of experts pontificating about the demise of “bricks-and-mortar” business as all these “new economy” businesses parachuted in to rescue us from our humdrum analog lives. A decade and a half later we are seeing that all that lofty talk was just another example of the “Thunderbirds syndrome”. Back in the 60’s the guys who created the Thunderbirds are Go series thought that the future lay in rocketry. Boy were they wrong. The world’s space program is now but a shell of its former self. Go figure. Hopefully someday, people will figure out that there is no substitute for a good face-to-face conversation, not to mention all the other primitive forms of human interaction that can be performed without a set of VR goggles or a touch screen getting in the way.
Thank heavens some of us still apply thinking that is five steps ahead of Zuck’s.
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