Into the Abyss

Into the Abyss

As the world plunges in to the spiritually entropic abyss of technology, it is sometimes of value to pause and consider where we’re heading. On the S

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As the world plunges in to the spiritually entropic abyss of technology, it is sometimes of value to pause and consider where we’re heading.

On the Sabbath, observant Jews are not permitted to use a motorized vehicle, among other things. To attend synagogue services, we are bidden to walk.

Usually, my walk on Sabbath mornings to prayer is less than one mile, but when I visit Los Angeles, I have a hefty two and a half mile trek to the synagogue. The morning perambulation takes me through the heart of Beverly Hills, as I pass by a myriad of outdoor cafes.

Last week, as I made my way through the heat, I finally took note of something my father had been inveighing against for several years: the umbilical iPhone’s control of humanity. Almost without exception, the patrons of these cafes, diverse in almost every American metric, seemed to be engaged in the same activity – using their smart phones.

Table after table, people sat across from each other, completely engulfed in their devices, ignoring their human companions. I made a point to count how many diners were conversing with each other without the aid of the device. It was an easy calculation, as I needed the fingers on only one hand.

After a few blocks, I wondered why these folks even bothered to sit at the cafes, as they could have been texting/facebooking/instagraming/etc. from a park bench or at the beach. Of course, their technological brethren at the parks and beaches were undoubtedly doing the same.

Until my walk, I was unbothered by the ubiquitous presence of the cell phone at the table. I have not yet joined the Luddite camp, and I am in my own way a technology-controlled droog, but the sight of so many otherwise sapient citizens in the thrall of their handhelds was unsettling.

Are we really so vacuous that we are incapable of interesting conversation? I realize that the smart phone brings us the internet and the internet is infinite – and who can compete with infinite? But have we so lost the ability to relate to each other that our only inter-human needs are proximity and the occasional visual affirmation?

Hold on your answer, because things are about to get a lot worse. If you think the smartphone, the computer and video games have done much to cripple our interpersonal skills, a new system looms on the horizon that will render those devices as quill pens.

Our national megalith, Facebook, is introducing Oculus Rift next year. And Oculus Rift will change everything.

A lifelong friend is an executive with one of Hollywood’s major entertainment companies. He was given a demonstration of the powerful device just before we dined last week. He was stunned by the presentation – and this man has literally seen it all.

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality machine, consisting of a headgear that completely envelops the user into the world as recreated by Oculus Rift. While the product has not yet reached the apex of high definition, it is not far from that singular moment. Once perfected, the all-encompassing Oculus Rift was transport users to another dimension. These are no mere 3D glasses. This system is the technology version of crack cocaine, as my friend so aptly put it.

He had just returned from a family vacation at a posh exotic resort. I was dumbfounded to hear him admit that, had he access to the Oculus Rift, he could have stayed in his living room, and still experienced the vacation in the virtual world. He told me that he could easily see consumers remaining in the Oculus Rift for days and days. Our current obsession with smart devices will seem quaint once millions of our young are inducted into the Oculus Rift world.

The dictionary defines oculus as a circular opening, especially at the apex of a dome. Rift is a splitting or a cleaving. It is also a fissure and a break in friendly relations. It is an appropriate description of what is in store when Oculus Rift becomes the new smart device in America. Technology can enhance interpersonal relationships, but often the user is transformed into an anti-social loner. Once the Oculus Rift device immerses the user into its virtual world, meaningful social interaction will come to a virtual end.

If you feel that the millennial generation in America are prone to wasting most of their lives on video games and smart devices, you ain’t seen nothing yet. How can parents, schools, friends, churches or anything compare with a perfect virtual world, where the user is king and a cornucopia of pleasure is there for the taking? As the real world and virtual world merge, what will our future be?

As our children fade into the shadows of subservience, will they be capable of competing in the global economy or fighting the surge of terror? To quote the great George Bernard Shaw, “not bloody likely.”