GOOD

Virtual Reality Is a Technology, Not a ‘Social Platform’

Mark Zuckerberg wants to make VR synonymous with the Facebook experience.

Image via Facebook user Mark Zuckerberg

When Mark Zuckerberg strode onto the floor at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this past Sunday during Samsung’s Galaxy S7 press event, it made for the perfect photo opportunity. In the resulting image, Zuckerberg strolls past a sea of people wearing Samsung Gear virtual reality (VR) headsets. They are plugged in, blind, closed within the VR experience, as he, the ringmaster and the only one who can see, gleefully surveys the rapt crowd. As expected, the internet erupted with satirical commentary and memes.


Forget that photo. Disregard the comically dark interpretations bandied about in tweets and memes, which framed the image as analogous to The Matrix, or the iconic Ridley Scott-directed Apple Super Bowl commercial from 1984. It’s all distraction. The real dark portents could be found in Zuckerberg’s words that day, not in that viral image.

He described VR as “the most social platform” at the Mobile World Congress, a troubling framing for a broad technology that is only now beginning to come of age. This description is alarming because at this early stage of public adoption, the Facebook chief wants us to think of VR as a “social platform,” an extension of his empire, rather than a technology or a general tool that can be used in a million different ways.

Given Facebook’s investment in Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift, the headset that kickstarted the modern VR movement, it’s fairly clear that Zuckerberg was engaging in a subtle branding and marketing campaign. Instead of users associating VR with an experimental spirit, where people create and inhabit their choice of new worlds and experiences, Zuckerberg made it clear that he wants VR—via the Oculus Rift—to be about the Facebook-branded social media experience, only now in 360 degrees.

It’s no coincidence that Zuckerberg spoke during Samsung’s press event. The Samsung Gear VR is built on Oculus Rift’s technology. He paid $2 billion for Oculus Rift, and it’s in Facebook’s interest to promote the Rift hardware and eventual ecosystem over others. It gives Facebook something it has never had—hardware around which it could potentially, like Apple, create a sandboxed software ecosystem. It could allow Facebook to become market dominant in the virtual reality space, and that is a less-than-ideal outcome for what could be a world-changing (and even therapeutic) tool.

Via Twitter

Think of it this way: Because of Apple’s market supremacy, many developers feel that they have to create apps for Apple’s iOS over Android or other mobile platforms. Assuming that virtual reality matures in the next few years, this situation could be mirrored in the VR space, where an ecosystem (hardware, software, and app store) becomes dominant, pulling developers into its vortex. Zuckerberg observed how Apple and Google became dominant in mobile. So it would be foolish to think Facebook isn’t plotting something similar in the VR space with the Oculus Rift. But don’t take my word for it—pay close attention to Zuckerberg’s own choice of words.

“Imagine being able to sit in front of a campfire and hang out with friends anytime you want. Or being able to watch a movie in a private theater with your friends anytime you want. Imagine holding a group meeting or event anywhere in the world that you want. All these things are going to be possible. And that’s why Facebook is investing so much early on in virtual reality. So we can hope to deliver these types of social experiences.”

In other words, new, mind-blowing VR experiences are just another gateway for social media—a device to capture revenue not only from VR apps but from social-media-generated data. By calling VR “the most social platform”, Zuckerberg is normalizing people to that concept. When people finally get a VR headset, he hopes they will get the Oculus Rift and remain inside Facebook’s social media world.

If Facebook can integrate the Oculus Rift with the artificial intelligence it is developing to better understand users, alongside its efforts to connect 4 billion people to the internet with Free Basics (formerly Internet.org), then the world will be presented with a corporation that has far, far too much power. So forget that viral photo of Zuckerberg and the sea of Mobile World Congress attendees wired with VR headsets. We aren’t entering The Matrix. But if Oculus Rift wins the VR space, we may be entering a virtual reality landscape controlled by Facebook. And a Facebook-dominant VR space wouldn’t only be limiting to a powerful new tech—it would be just plain boring.

Articles
Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less
Health