Midnight Lunch Meeting in Beijing

You haven’t caught on to the new headset quickly enough. I’m sorry Jimmy, we’re going to have to let you go. Could you imagine? I’d be devastated.

josan gonzalez
Image: Josan Gonzalez

Patrick Caughill at Futurism put together a list of Ray Kurzweil’s predictions, one of which relates to virtual reality (VR) and the future of work. Basically, brain-computer interfaces could precipitate a more ubiquitous “telepresent” workplace where we jack in whenever, from wherever—similar to how we use our phones now, but worlds more immersive. That said, I’m not sure how this would play out in line at Starbucks.

“[Kurzweil] predicts VR will advance so much that physical workplaces will become a thing of the past. Within a few decades, our commutes could just become a matter of strapping on a headset.” I don’t know about 20 years, but at some point remote jacking will be a thing, even on Mondays.

There are benefits. Barring health concerns, VR could up productivity while downgrading the effects of isolation. Jacking in for a meeting every few is better than wasting away on a train. On Wall Street, my Queens commute vaporized an hour plus each way. More with bad weather. Talk about stress.

More than a third of the US workforce freelances in some form. That’s 55 million people. Research suggests that people who suffer from loneliness are prone to serious health problems. VR could bring reluctant loners into the fold, inspiring creativity and infusing a sense of community into the daily routine. Because we all need love.

With VR and venti latte in hand, Jimmy slayed work without sacrificing a single rep of gym time, and he’d never be late for Ramen again. Amen.

Much better. But there’s something about meeting in person that beckons VR back to the corporeal. Here’s the thing about humans. We need face time. Facial and behavioral cues, however subtle, are the currency we use to navigate social contexts, especially in professional settings. Even now, leading a three-way from my cell isn’t half as good as Skype or Gchat—the limitations of which I can strongly affirm.

Space drives behavior, so this virtual gig better deliver. How and at what cost VR will cut through the noise is anyone’s guess. Will dropped calls be the same? Will the VR itself be a distraction? Either way, we’ll learn to live with the static until the interface improves. With any luck, we’ll get some work done, too. And that’s not all.

As Caughill points out, VR could even shift the urban landscape. “Without the need for people to live close to work, we could see unprecedented levels of de-urbanization. People will no longer need to flock to large cities for work or be tethered to a specific location.” I say wanderlust is more of a threat, but that’s just me.

With at least 6 billion people living urban by 2050, regardless of VR, the global economy will have its due. Hopefully, there will always be reasons for people to stay in cities. I don’t think the VR itself will make them come or go. I do believe, at least on a snowy day, it will make them happier.

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