You might think it's annoying when people stare at their smartphones, but just wait until they have screens strapped to their faces.
If Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg is to be believed -- and hey, he's been right about this stuff before -- virtual reality may be the next major evolution in consumer technology. Many of the biggest players in computing are working on their own products that will allow people to explore foreign lands, both real and imagined, from the comfort of home. Facebook, which acquired headset maker Oculus VR in 2014, is one of those companies.
For everything you need to know about that merger, turn to Vanity Fair's new feature about how the two companies are working together. It's worth reading, particularly if you're not already onboard the VR train. But the most startling and insightful bit within the article comes neither from Zuckerberg nor Oculus lead Palmer Luckey: It comes from Jaron Lanier, a dinosaur at 55 years old compared to the mavericks celebrated in today's Silicon Valley.
Lanier, author of books like You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future?, helped pioneer virtual reality as a concept in the 1980s. But unlike Zuckerberg, Luckey and others who suggest that escaping into virtual worlds is the path into the future, Lanier takes a different approach. His quote in the Vanity Fair piece is a masterstroke of sensible forward-thinking:
The most amazing moment of virtual reality is when you leave it, not when you’re in it. ... You have really never seen reality until you’ve just come out of virtual reality.
Technology is a way to better appreciate our real, breathing world -- not a way to avoid it. You can spend as many hours as you want behind an Oculus Rift (or in front of your smartphone or traditional video game system), but when you step outside, planet Earth is waiting for you.