One tone-deaf VR cartoon tour of the Puerto Rico devastation has proven that virtual reality and social networking do not mix. There’s only so much social media based over-complication that we humans can take.
For those who missed it, Zuckerberg used Facebook’s new VR app Spaces to take people on an NPR-produced 360 video tour of Puerto Rico - starring the Zuck’s cartoon avatar directing the viewers’ attention towards the scenes of destruction.
This already-cringeworthy presentation was peppered with more awkward comments from Facebook execs like “it’s crazy to feel like you’re in the middle of it.” As it wrapped up, Mark’s avatar asked: “do you want to teleport somewhere else?” Saying this, another executive piped up with a swift “Yeah, maybe back to California.”
While the idea of it wasn’t necessarily reviled by the public, the content and execution of it was hated across the board - from the tone-deaf focus of Facebook’s video away from what was actually happening, blindly focussing on the positive work the company was doing instead. Pop in the two cartoon executives talking throughout too, and the whole thing felt extremely out of touch.
Of course, the Zuck apologised for this:
"One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy. My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world. I also wanted to share the news of our partnership with the Red Cross to help with the recovery. Reading some of the comments, I realise this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended."
Look, I get it. We’re all looking for a future technology, and some companies have bet big on VR. But time and time again, we keep trying to make Virtual Reality a thing in social media, and it’s really not going to happen - not for a long while at least.
And I’m not saying this for the obvious reasons on the surface - trivialising the world around us by converting it into a virtual space for cartoon avatars to explore is a clear issue that Facebook needs to resolve in Spaces. But the problem runs deeper into the purpose of virtual reality.
Social media is perfect as an augmented layer onto our current reality - as tweets provide a real-life commentary on everyday events, and Facebook’s expanding feature set allows you to pretty much plan your entire life through the network.
To withhold all of this in a virtual space destroys that social element, relying on digital connection entirely rather than supplementing physical connections with a digital layer that social media provides.
People want virtual reality. But not in this way. Stick to games.
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.