Overreality – How Tech Is Betting on Your Discontent with Reality

Tech companies know that for many of us reality now sucks: that's how they hope you'll slap a pair of giant goggles on your face.

Mindfulness apps are popular because, for many people, reality now sucks: their day is loud, smelly, cluttered, and full of jerks.

Tech companies know that.

That's precisely how they bet that you'll slap a pair of giant goggles on your face at the end of your day: to get away from it.

A Shadow Watching Reality. Chicago, 2024.

During the first iterations of the Vision Pro, iPhone designer Jony Ive fought1 Apple's Technology team: He was worried that a hyperrealistic Virtual Reality device would disconnect people from their lives.

I agree with him that Augmented Reality (or “Spatial Computing” as Apple's Marketing department nicknames it) could be a more humane way to do things than VR. But right now, it can't because of the ecosystem that powers it.

VR and AR are both built by and for the same corporate geniuses who trick people into buying 800k2 of solitaire power-ups (and their App Store landlords who take a 30% cut.) Only now they can leverage tech that is “basically mind reading.” according to a Vision Pro team researcher:

“One of the coolest results involved predicting a user was going to click on something before they actually did.”
“AI models are trying to predict if you are feeling curious, mind wandering, scared, paying attention, remembering a past experience, or some other cognitive state. And these may be inferred through measurements like eye tracking, electrical activity in the brain, heart beats and rhythms, muscle activity, blood density in the brain, blood pressure, skin conductance etc.”
“Basically, mind reading.”

Can't wait for a device that knows what I'm thinking before even I do to serve TikTok and Facebook Ads straight onto my kid's eyeballs.

Fast-forward a couple of decades:

  • Ridiculous skiing googles like Vision Pro are now contacts or implants.
  • Predictive bio-feedback models reach 99.99% accuracy.
  • UX and UI morph live via 20th generation LLMs based on what you see, feel, and perceive.

Advertising already makes up fantasy worlds, so it's a perfect fit for VR, AR, and LLMs.

With AR, you won't need to bring the phone to the toilet: pop-ups sprout on toilet paper sheets, “Rip here to upgrade to our premium tissues. Only 5 left.” Or next to your hook-up's shoulder, “Enjoyed this? Get 25% off my OF in the next 5 min.

To be clear, tech companies have no fault: Nobody's holding a gun to your head, forcing you to plug into this technology. You are free to not use any of those platforms, just like you're free to not use a smartphone, banking apps, messaging apps, cars, electricity, and just send pigeons carrying cursive letters to your girlfriend's house to say hello.

However.

As long as you perceive reality to somewhat suck, you may be begging voluntarily to step into The Matrix pod. After all, it has a great meditation app that helps you focus to be in-the-moment!

Or even just augment your reality a little, make it more fun, more colorful, more engaging, more real. It's not even that expensive: a $3,500 entry ticket for the ability to overwrite reality is a bargain.

So you won't have to, but if you decide to take a stroll deeper into Plato's cave3, tech is happy to hand you a picnic basket.


  1. (Robertson, A., 2022, May, The full saga of Apple's troubled mixed reality headset has been revealed, Ars Technica.)
  2. Marketers nickname those people “whales” for how much spend on in-app purchases.
  3. (Allegory of the Cave, Wikipedia.)

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