I spent hundreds of hours working in VR. Here’s what I learned

From the various environments in which I could broadcast, I remain biased in orbit around the globe. On the left, the Milky Way; above in the distance, the moon reflects the pale fire it steals from the sun; right, the city lights of Southeast Asia burn only for me; and directly in front of me, an email telling me that I need to change the billing codes on my time card and resend as soon as possible. The slowly spinning globe shows all the places I could explore and experience if I weren’t here in complete isolation.

I’m starting to wonder, am I going to go crazy on this spaceship? I asked Monideep Tarafdar, a professor at the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts, about the stress of using technology, starting with working from home in general. “You are somehow isolated, and technology is the only object you interact with. And it’s getting bigger. All the technical problems are getting bigger than they really are,” she says. “And now you want to put virtual reality on it.”

U research work, Tarafdar takes care to distinguish distress, which is the stress that makes us worse, from eustress, the stress that drives us to be better. “Lose positive stressors”, among which other people are key. “Family life, I think, is a good thing.”

The personality of the Immersed app is “tech bro.” From the introductory tutorial, which suggests that “Go crush today!” to a weekly email comparing my time in VR to the time spent by alleged “advanced users,” it’s all about maximizing productivity. The truth is: I’m so focused on work, so deep in the zone, that I don’t notice that my forehead is numb. Signs like the sunset the next day are invisible to me, and without looking at the mess in the meat room, I don’t bother getting up to clean something every 20 minutes.

The house becomes a mess.

But I want to use headphones in a way that less “breaks imaginary opponents” and more “corpse poses”. About six months after I got these VR headphones, in the back of the closet, I found one of those inflatable pool rafts where people float to enjoy the cold water and the warmth of the sun. I put it on the floor of this room, where I now lie on it with all my muscles relaxed. The virtual screen hovers a meter and a half above my head in a way that would be possible with a real-world screen only after a lot of carpentry. My hands rest on my hips, with my right on the laptop keyboard, and my left on the external keyboard attached to the laptop. I have a hood pulled over my head, not because I am an “elite hacker”, but because it allows me to get rid of the heat. For the same reason, I covered myself with a blanket, leaving only my chin open and muffling the sound of my typing these words to you.

This is the promise of working from VR: complete silence, but for an active mind. The world doesn’t bother me, and I don’t bother it in return.

I’ve finally reached the cyberpunk future I’ve always dreamed of, hooked up to the Matrix, now rebranded into Metaverse. But in all my excitement to get there, I didn’t realize that, choosing to be there, I chose to get out of here myself.

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