Should Have Seen it Coming a Mile Away

Here’s a question for you

Did any futurologists from last century predict online harassment? All I remember is VR, full-body haptic interfaces, video-telephones that would translate as you talked

I think with some future predictions, like flying cars, nobody would be surprised that some drivers would still be dicks, if we ever got flying cars. But as to the point that there are few/no predictions that easier communication would lead to online behavior like we see, I think there are a couple of reasons.

One is that it would be too dark to write about, unless the point of the article/story was a dystopian future, and then it would be filed under that heading. Another is that if the authors were ones who weren’t already on the receiving end of such behavior, they simply wouldn’t project it to the future. I’m guessing that the people who are least surprised by people being (pardon my use of the vernacular) assholes online are the people who tend to already experience it regularly in real life. The internet just made it easier to behave that way, and to find a community of like-minded individuals to insulate one’s self from social feedback.

On a tangent to this, it reminded me of an incident from the days of my second post-doc (a lower-paid version of my current job). We were talking about VR, and fresh in my mind was an incident from my first post-doc at TRIUMF. A colleague needed to do some work in a high-radiation environment, so it had to happen in a short amount of time, lest he exceed the allowable exposure limit. A proper mock-up for practice didn’t exist, but that’s exactly the kind of thing VR would be great at doing. Practice makes perfect, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. That, and other dangerous situations, where you could train for many contingencies. You could use VR for all sorts of training that can’t be done for real, or could do it cheaper than a mechanical system. I posited that such simulation would be an important use for VR.

At that point the others in the conversation smirked a little, and said, “Tom, face it. The primary use of VR will end up being porn.” The (im)moral of the story: the basest behavior will prevail.