In our world, human space is all messed up.
In the physical world, we live in enormously over-crowded cities. We're jammed in crowded trains and roads to get to work. Our classrooms are stuffed. Our offices are open and bloody noisy.
Online, we're forced into enormous, sprawling social networks where we're exposed to literally billions of people. So we can't help but have our values and desires stretched to ridiculous extremes.
Our intrapersonal digital spaces are fragmented across 100s of different services. This makes it difficult for us to make any real use of it.
As we speak, there are a series of megatrends in information technology flexing their muscles, getting ready to unleash huge change on personal spaces – both physical and digital, interpersonal and intrapersonal.
As humans, I believe we are innately-driven to seek new experiences with our friends and family. What are some of the things we enjoy to do with them?
These experiences are all fundamentally about putting yourself, with your friends and family or alone, in a different place/physical situation.
This is one of the main reasons people have migrated from the countryside to the cities over the past 150 years. Our perception is that there's "more to do" in cities.
There was a time when I was moving to London where I would regularly hear people talk about how great it will be that I can "visit all the museums and go to the theatre".1
We're sufficiently motivated to physically put ourselves in novel environments that we gladly plop ourselves in noisy, polluted, expensive cities.
Despite that ludicrous sacrifice, these kinds of activities still require fairly significant cost to acquire and coordinate.
Take an innocuous visit to the museum, for example. What does such a trip cost in the broadest sense? Here's what it costs in London.
...and I bet there are more hidden costs that I'm not seeing.
In my opinion, these costs are ludicrously high. To you they may not seem high, but that might be because you're not aware of the alternative.
For me, VR's remit is to significantly reduce the cost of this kind of immersive experience.
Our mission is to enable people to have meaningful interactions regardless of physical distance. —Oculus
Let's take a look at the same scenario through the eyes of a VR experience.
The cost difference here is already fairly significant.
However, apply this across all such 'social, environmental' experiences and the cost reductions multiply. What happens when you can go shopping for clothes with friends like this? When you can catch a film in the cinema together with somebody across the world without leaving your sofa?
This aspect – engaging with people across the world – is one of the most illustrative aspects of this collapse in social distance.
So much of who we are and what we aspire to is shaped by the people we physically interact with everyday.
I've noticed it myself – most people I know are only really activated and 'in' my world when we're in reasonable physical distance. I have plenty of close friends who I only talk to when we're simultaneously in Hong Kong.
What happens when that distance is completely collapsed?
Admittedly, I've trivialised the costs inherent to VR a bit. You will still need to buy a standalone headset, which looks like it's going to set you back ~£400 for the foreseeable future.
Also, VR is simply not going to have the bandwidth and quality of experience of the real world for a very long time. Resolution is still not great, it still feels like you're looking through a pair of binoculars a bit, the headsets get a little hot and heavy so you can't wear them for that long.
Despite all that, you can still have incredible new experiences. I spent 5 or 6 hours in there with a friend who lived on the other side of London. We were playing VRChat and my sense of time was completely changed – I was deep in flow. The feeling was like being at a multi-day music festival. People were coming up, talking crap and I was feeling great. I would never have had that experience outside of VR because it just isn't worth it to me to go through the pains of getting to a festival. And that's all despite the current limitations of the hardware.
So I am 80% confident that VR will be good enough within 5 years to cross the chasm and begin to drive mainstream adoption.
I consider knowledge work and study to fall into the same category of Be Anywhere, With Anyone.
Footnotes 1 To be clear, this isn't about intimate physical proximity. It's not about being able to shag someone across the planet through your computer. Alas there doesn't seem to be a solution to that problem anywhere on the horizon. 2 I said this myself quite a few times. The reality was that I lived in London for 8 years and visited a museum a grand total of 9 times.
The likes of blockchain, deep learning and mixed reality are fascinating to explore in themselves. For me, they're even more interesting to consider in combination.
How might the world be fundamentally different when each of these technologies are fully deployed?
I believe that world will look different to today's in many ways, but the most salient way to me is in theits most abstract, in what they cumulatively do to social distance.