Originally posted on onezero.medium
How do I know? Because I’ve seen 3D movies.
Asa 50-year-old man, I am rooting for the transition to the metaverse, where my hair will always be thick, my Cialis prescription unfilled, and my history cleared.
I wrote a 2015 Time magazine cover story on virtual reality titled “The Surprising Joy of Virtual Reality — And Why It’s About to Change the World.” I did not actually believe it was going to change the world other than in the broadest sense, much like how this Medium column will change the world in that the world now has one more Medium column. But my editors figured “Virtual Reality… Meh” wouldn’t sell subscriptions.
Virtual reality is, however, indeed joyful. It’s really fun for gaming. It’s a huge step forward from lava lamps for marijuana enthusiasts. But that’s not why Mark Zuckerberg paid a 21-year-old kid named Palmer Luckey, who wears Hawaiian shirts and sandals and majored in journalism before dropping out of California State University at Long Beach, $2.3 billion for his VR company.
Zuckerberg believes VR is the final platform, the end of an evolution from cave painting to the printing press to photography to radio to video. It’s where we’ll shop, socialize, play poker on a space station with a robot friend, hold meetings, and — if I can guess the way a guy like Zuckerberg dreams — have sex with a second Mark Zuckerberg.
I know none of this will happen. Because I’ve seen 3D movies.
In 1952, when my father was a tween — which was a term they didn’t use back then, preferring “workers” — movie theaters embraced an exciting new platform: three dimensions. House of Wax was 1953’s fourth highest-grossing film, beating Shane and Gentleman Prefer Blondes. People put on half-green, half-red cardboard glasses, reached out to grab things that weren’t there, laughed in embarrassment, pulled their arms back over their dates’s shoulders, and started “necking.”
People quickly got bored and 3D movies went away for 30 years, when the tech improved and Jaws 3-D was the 15th highest-grossing film in 1983. Everyone got bored again until 2009, when every big budget film came out in RealD 3D, an option people paid extra for. Which is why, even though no one remembers anything besides intertwining-ponytail sex, Avatar is the highest grossing movie of all time. My father, who apparently either never learns a lesson or misses necking, bought a 3D-enabled television, which he has only ever used to watch Avatar.
No matter how good 3D gets, it will always be a fad. Because we just want stories. We like stories better if you read them to us, because reading is hard. If the stories come with pictures, that’s even better. If we can first-person shoot those pictures that’s more exciting, as Elvis taught us. But if being told that story is going to require any effort, like putting on glasses or going to a theater, we’re out.
Despite being exposed to enormous 4K OLED TV sets, we gobble lo-fi amateur YouTube, TikTok and Pornhub videos on our tiny phone screens. We no longer set up our Ring lights when we are forced to Zoom. We listen to unedited podcast interviews. Despite the perfection of FaceTime, the most popular innovation in communication is texting emoticons. The distraction we choose isn’t immersion. It’s the dopamine pulse of being notified every minute about something new.
If you think about growth linearly, it might seem like people want to continue to make their entire lives virtual. But that’s not how growth works. There’s a limit to how much we’re willing to interact in pixels. People love to text, but they still long to physically gather so much that you can’t legislate them from doing it during a pandemic.
In 2006, I spent a few days in the virtual space Second Life, which is like Roblox or World of Warcraft if there was nothing to do. So, like the Metaverse. I quickly discovered all that people wanted was virtual sex, often with squirrels. Which seemed really weird to me since it’s so easy to go outside and fuck a squirrel.
The metaverse is solving a problem that doesn’t exist. In 2017, Walmart demonstrated what food shopping would look like in VR, in which you navigate through aisles and grab items with virtual hands. Which would be great technology if you couldn’t already shop by pressing buttons on your phone.
To put it more simply, the metaverse is doomed because no matter how much bitcoin you spend to make your sweet-looking, space-poker-playing NFT avatar look boss, it will never elicit the jealousy of posting a selfie from Venice.
Which is what the virtual world is for.