QUAY: Big Tech Wants To Crush Your Entire World And Trap You In Virtual Hell

Grayson Quay News & Opinion Editor
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Apple’s recent ad for a new, thinner iPad featured a hydraulic press smashing everything the new gadget could supposedly replace: paints, musical instruments, a clay bust, arcade cabinets, record players, books. 

The new iPad promises a future in which humanity has forgotten the whisper of the brush over the canvas, the vibration of a guitar string, the joy of finding a note tucked into an old used book, and the easy camaraderie of children cheering each other on as they take turns at a challenging arcade game. The craftsmanship that went into these objects is now obsolete. You don’t have to go anywhere, touch anything. 

“All the things you do/give me a reason to build my world around you,” the cheery song that accompanies the ad declares. The dark mirror of the iPad has swallowed up the entire realm of human endeavor and reflects a simulacrum of it back at you whenever and wherever you want. You’re invited to forsake real people, places and things and build your world around it. Simply gaze into the screen and everything is yours.

Steven Pinker described this trend as “dematerialization,” which he sees as a win for the environment. “Progress in technology allows us to do more with less,” he wrote in his 2018 book Enlightenment Now. “The digital revolution, by replacing atoms with bits, is dematerializing the world in front of our eyes.”

And if the physical world doesn’t matter, then neither do the physical bodies we use to interact with it. 

Having the option of virtual existence, whether on a Discord server or in the pseudo-embodiment of a video game avatar, makes regular embodied existence feel restrictive. Even image- and video-based platforms like Instagram and TikTok offer the ability to select angles, apply filters and review content before posting. This level of control provides a sense of comfort. You can be seen exactly as you want to be seen. As the writer Forrest Robinson puts it, “Virtual existence is entirely private and immersive. We are safe scrolling through our phones … It’s only in public that we have to focus on the ‘other’ and how they see us.” 

The opportunities for self-fashioning that virtual reality presents offer a taste of transhumanism. You can carefully curate the presentation of your actual face and body or jettison them altogether. Be whatever age, race, or species you want. Identify as another gender, even a goofy made-up one like “graygender” or “xenogender.” In virtual reality, all identity is reduced to role-play. The embodied you still exists outside virtual reality. But as time goes on you identify with it less and less. Real freedom awaits on the other side of the screen, where you are whatever you choose to be and can conjure up whatever you desire.

Digital devices have their benefits, of course. Doctors could use augmented reality glasses to see patients’ charts and X-rays floating in the air next to their hospital beds, which could save precious time and prevent errors. In an article for Mere Orthodoxy, political science professor Jon Askonas suggested using “augmented reality tutorials” to revive “traditional handicrafts.” Such a program would cut down on the cost of training by allowing novices to practice their technique without wasting costly materials.

Naturally, it would be possible to sculpt a purely digital block of marble into a classical nude and then sell it on the blockchain. And our hypothetical doctor could keep his AR glasses on when he gets home and play Tetris by waving his arms in the air in front of him. To ensure that these technologies remain a tool we use rather than a shadowland that envelops us, we should restrict their use to practical applications that are limited in scope and timespan. If they become a ubiquitous, all-purpose consumer gadget like the iPhone has, we’re in for a full-on dystopia.

The purpose should not be to enhance or replace physical reality but to guide us toward a more refined form of engagement with it. Samsung responded to Apple’s hydraulic press video with its own ad, in which a woman picks up a crushed guitar and uses her tablet to display sheet music as she plays along. “Creativity cannot be crushed,” the on-screen text reads. Instead of hollowing out the real world and replacing it with digital simulacra like Apple, Samsung promises devices that facilitate deeper interactions with the physical world.

Whether Samsung is being honest about this is irrelevant. The dichotomy their ad establishes should serve as a litmus test for individuals, families, tech companies and governments as they make decisions about how to use, design and regulate digital devices.

Grayson Quay is an editor at the Daily Caller.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.