We humans are social beings; we need to be around others, share our time and stories and gossip, the warmth of physical contact, and the display and feeling of love. It's in our nature. Since the internet's appearance, we've tried to fulfill this need with virtual calls, meetings, and gatherings—which render extremely useful in professional settings but don't suffice in our personal lives. We communicate in shallow ways via social media and instant messaging and connect more deeply through audio and video calls. Yet, all of this is insufficient for our well-being, and we often get a false sense of connection.
The big tech companies are working on immersive virtual and augmented realities to shorten the gap between the experience of in-person meetings and their virtual equivalents. Facebook Horizon lets you 'explore and create' collaboratively with virtual avatars. Apple—reportedly engineering a pair of augmented reality glasses, a headset along the lines of Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens—is preparing to release augmented reality from the limitations of smartphones and tablets. In these environments, astonishing visuals would make participants believe they're in the same room, haptic feedback would fool their bodies into thinking they're touching objects, and brain waves could help them hallucinate the rest, ala Black Mirror.
If it were to reduce the risk of infecting ourselves and our loved ones during this (and future) pandemics while meeting our psychological and social needs, this scenario doesn't sound bad at all.
For now, nothing beats sitting together and holding each others' hands, even if wearing a face mask. But, of course, this isn't always a possibility.
As these immersive technologies improve, we'll rely on them more and more, replacing long-distance travel, hazardous physical interactions, and face masks with virtual gatherings and wearables.
Meanwhile, here's a reminder to myself: Protect what you have by being mindful and patient; better times lie ahead.
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