Talking Points

Facebook's VR conference room is the most boring possible future

If the great science-fiction writers of yesteryear were to see us now, they'd be horrified. Not just because the future turned out to be exactly as apocalyptic as they imagined — mankind faces war, fire, and disease, while the elites eye fleeing the planet — but because it's honestly so boring

Case in point: Mark Zuckerberg's big, much-hyped reveal about "the future of Facebook" on Thursday turned out to be the invention of … a conference room. While the room admittedly exists in virtual reality — accessed by wearing one of those dorky Oculus Quest 2 headsets, and intended to disrupt the workspace by bringing together physically disparate employees in the form of legless digital avatars — it's also illustrative of the imaginative bankruptcy of today's tech giants. Facebook literally had the time and money and manpower to create anything it wanted, but it chose to replicate a drab, soul-sucking office space? 

My complaint isn't just that the conference room VR concept lacks imagination — although come on, at the very least it should have allowed coworkers to meet in an environment designed to look like the African savanna, or the surface of Mars, or the Hyrule Castle Super Smash Bros. stage. But Horizon Workroom, as Facebook's immersive experience is called, also shows how the grind to maximize productivity — why waste precious time commuting to a physical office when you can be beamed into one from bed! — supplants any genuine awe for the technological tools we have at our disposal. 

The great potential of virtual reality, after all, was never that it could bring the splendor of midtown Manhattan conference rooms to the rest of America. The hope of VR was that it could train new surgeons in underserved parts of the world, or raise empathy in people who've never had to live in a refugee camp, or inspire new forms of art and storytelling. The problems facing our planet right now are far more urgent than how to go about recreating office small talk.

As a current citizen of my ancestors' future, I too am disappointed we don't yet have flying cars. But I'm even more let down that Facebook has used the word "future" to sell a virtual conference room. Zuckerberg and his team fundamentally misunderstand the grounds for human connection, innovation, and inspiration — none of which are born from staring into the #0000FF-colored eyes of your boss' avatar. They come from working together to imagine a world greater — for everyone — than the one we already have.