What will be absolutely terrible about virtual life: the absence of touch

Japan has sent every virtual reality freak into spasms of anticipation with the idea to project a holographic version of the 2022 World Cup onto soccer fields around the globe.

Yes, we are talking Star Wars communication console version of World Cup 2022.

Give me a moment. Eyes are widening. Mind reeling in disbelief. Pondering life, reality, doom, navel, etc.

Okay, all good.

First, let’s clarify: The holographic version is going to happen if the technology exists by then. If it doesn’t, I don’t care. I never thought 3-d projections on screens were very exciting for anyone except movie execs thrilled to forcibly remove another $5 to $10 from my pocket. Everything looks a little rounder? The vines in Avatar are going to poke my eye out? Yippee.

But digital ghosts running around a field while I’m blowing my black market vuvuzela?

Well now, that is something to send one’s mind into a future full of everything except one crucial element: touch.

As amazing as it would be to see shimmering light creatures chasing after a glowball, this experience is always going to fall short until I can somehow get on that field and start slide tackling some fútbol fools. Same goes for any holographic projection of an event occurring far away. Oh, I’ll still shell out my entire 401k to watch this thing, but my inner reptilian brain will always be asking, No touch? No play play soccer?

A life without touch is a life inside a Matrix body tube. Of what purpose is the flesh if it does not feel?

It’s easy enough to think of all kinds of events and, um, activities being absorbed by this technology. And once they are, we will see a huge drop in the messy, risky, costly, resource-intensive, face-to-face interactions that have slowly been replaced by devices that eliminate the barriers created by distance.

As everyone (right?) knows, a chat over a beer with your best friend is a whole lot different than a phone call or even a Skype session. It’s not that you’re sitting there slapping each other in the face and saying, “Man, I feel you! Hit me harder!” It’s bigger than that. It’s about you taking the time, energy and money to get somewhere. It’s about being in a space that might be too loud, might be too hot. It’s about being uncomfortable, and reacting to that discomfort, and trying to manage it.

Real life is about everything not being in your control, and all of the freedom and terrifying implications of that. If you walk into a knife, it’s going to make you bleed.

Virtual reality is about everything being under your control. You can dance with helicopter blades and not feel a thing. No risk, no pain, no consequences.

Until I can pull off a Zidane on the virtual field, real life will suit me just fine. Electric ghosts will be good for watching. Nothing more.

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