More wordle, less metaverse
and way more Joshua Trees
Est. Read Time: 6 minutes. Read Time brought to you once again by the Ashburton Energy + Hair Logistics Group, in association with the Bradley Hills Bureau of Corrections.
Hello, Sternal Journalists!
Today, I’m reporting from Joshua Tree, California. It looks like this:
Yes. Otherworldly, vast, mind-boggling in all the best ways.
But I visited another otherworldly, vast, mind-boggling locale this week and that one was called the metaverse.
That’s right. Kristen got a new Oculus and I have two takeaways:
It’s cool as hell.
Have we learned nothing?!
Addressing point 1, it is cool as hell. I played a rock climbing game that lets you climb, jump, and zipline through an active cityscape. You’re moving your real hands and having to remember to chalk them so you don’t slip off and pay attention to your stamina and the whole time, you can look around see traffic and birds and even an occasional Succession-style rooftop helicopter landing.
It looked like this:
But moving on to point two, HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING?!
Because what you are seeing when you look at those two pictures is two images. What I see when I look at them is two memories.
The former is obviously a real memory of the real world. But the latter is a video game, and something I saw on a screen. But when I look back on other screen-based memories—television, Instagram, video games—there’s always a frame. My brain tags it as something that I saw in a medium separate from the real world.
When I look back on VR-based memories in the Oculus, the memory is the same shape as one I got from being out in the world. And this isn’t such an issue now. I’m not worried that I’m going to disassociate and think I’m a good enough rock climber to climb buildings, or worse—talk to people like I’m a good enough rock climber to climb buildings (climbers can be obnoxious, folks).
But the more people who dabble in VR, and the more it becomes a part of our lives, the less we’ll be practiced at knowing the difference.
And for some people, I think it already is becoming difficult! While clicking around and seeing what the Oculus could do, I tried this other silly thing called Multiverse. It looks like this:
So each one of those little upside down exclamation points is being controlled by a real person. And we could all move them around, and when our hands moved in the real world, those little scary-ass disembodied hands moved in the fake world.
When you get close to someone, you can talk to them and when you move away, they can’t hear you anymore. It was creepy as hell, but kinda cool. I shook hands with a guy and he said “Are you buying property?” [YOU CAN BUY REAL CONDOS HERE]. And I said “Uh-uh,” and he said “Me neither. This is crazy.” And then we shrugged and looked around and parted ways.
But another person I ran into was lying on the ground—which I could see because the virtual body tracks your headset and the virtual hands track the controls—and muttering “Life can’t be this simple. This can’t be it. But it is. It really is, man.”
I asked if he was okay—I ASKED IF A FLOATING AVATAR WAS OKAY WITH ACTUAL CONCERN BECAUSE I WAS ACTUALLY CONCERNED—and he didn’t respond. His avatar eventually just evaporated because I assume he took off the headset.
This worries me because, at a time when we’re picking up the pieces of how Twitter, Facebook, and other internet institutions have supremely fucked us up, one of the common refrains in defense of the people who made them is “They couldn’t have known how this was going to change us.”
And being as generous as possible, maybe they couldn’t have known. But they know now! And still, the exact same people (Oculus is part of Meta née Facebook) are forging ahead into brand new very shiny and cool and, yes, impressive technology without doing nearly enough to figure out how this will hurt us.
I told the story of the guy lying on the floor of the metaverse having a breakdown to a trusted Sternal Journalist an hour ago and he said, “Maybe that guy was just having a bad day outside and he transferred it inside.” To which I say:
EXACTLY! WHAT DO YOU THINK THE PROBLEMS WITH TWITTER COME FROM?!
And while I don’t have an answer for all these techno-existential grenades I’m lobbing, I do have a counterpoint:
If you haven’t heard of Wordle, it’s a new crossword-adjacent wordgame that nerds like to talk about to feel cool and cool people like to talk about to feel nerdy. I am one of those; you decide which.
Much of the press around Wordle focuses on the very sweet fact that it was started by a programmer as a gift for his partner who loved word games. That is indeed very sweet and very nice.
But the truly great thing about it is its scarcity, its anti-scroll, its barrier to addiction. Because a World puzzle takes ten minutes tops to solve. You can sail through it in a minute if you’d like. And once you’ve done it for the day, it’s done. You can share your results with friends, but even that aspect of it is incredibly lo-fi and link-free.
Wordle, in short, goes out of its way to not monopolize your attention, so that you are forced to go out and have real memories in the real world. And that’s what anyone trying to build something should aspire to.
Wordle. Game. I told you about it and that it’s not evil! So play it!
Wordle Is a Love Story. Article. In case you wanna read about it first.
Euphoria Season 2. Television show. It’s back and better than ever.
That’s all for now!
P.S. I spend anywhere between two and twelve hours a week on the Sternal Journal. If you enjoy receiving it (and are RICH) consider becoming a paying subscriber. For just a few bucks a month, you can provide me with a bit more time to come up with fun topics, poems, and interviews; and you with probably fewer typos.