eva-hoerth2Eva Hoerth is a VR design researcher & community organizer, and she enjoys recording videos of people as they’re immersed within a VR experience. She shot a video of of her co-worker in VR trying out the latest Leap Motion Orion update, and tweeted it out saying “This is the future.” It went viral with over 5000 retweets, 5 million views on Imgur, it hit the front-page of Reddit, and amassed nearly half a million views on YouTube.

It struck a chord and tapped into the public’s perception of VR, and some of the fears of social isolation that is a common perception of where VR technology is going. Eva wrote up an essay of these reactions on Medium titled “I love VR but hundreds of thousands of people think I hate it.”

I had a chance to catch up with Eva at the VR Hackathon before GDC to talk about some of these reactions, being a woman in VR, and some of her community organizing efforts to bring women in VR together.

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Here’s the video that Eva shot, as well as her original tweet:

Eva does love VR, loves people watching, and is highly amused with “how hilarious today’s headsets look.” She says, “Today, we are literally this guy. Except imagine that chunky phone strapped to our eyeballs”

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I think that there are a couple of other things that Eva’s viral video taps into. One is the fear that VR will transform our society into an anti-social dystopia, and the other one is that it’s weird and awkward to block out eye contact while you’re around other people in a social situation. Robert Scoble told me that part of the negative reactions to the Google Glass was that it broke eye contact while talking to people, and that this violated our social contracts and cultural norms.

I think that this breaking of eye contact can help explain why some of these other images of people using VR in public received such a strong reaction.

This image of man in VR outside of a restaurant was shared to reddit’s /r/pics on January 28, 2015, just a month after the Gear VR Innovator Edition was first released.

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Then on June 11, 2015, Zach Lieberman posted a picture of game developer Dimitri Lozovoy playing a VR game on the NYC subway.

Here’s a video of Dimitri playing VR in public:

This was written up by Gothamist and Gizmodo, with comments about how absurd VR looks and marveling at how “the person we were gawking at couldn’t even see or hear us. So we all had complete license to stare, and boy did we ever.”

On February 21, 2016, just a couple of days after Eva’s video went viral, Mark Zuckerberg attended Samsung’s Unpacked event and entered the room while the entire audience was immersed within a VR experience. Here’s the image that Mark posted to his Facebook account:

This image generated a lot of visceral reactions ranging from the Washington Post calling it “creepy” to the Verge saying,

The picture trips all of our “horrible cyberpunk future” alarms, carefully put in place by everything from The Matrix to Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. The former uses evil squid-bodied robots, the latter privileged human elites, but both works see humanity too distracted and preoccupied — by a full-scale replica of late-90s reality, or just sports on TV — to even be aware of the actions of those in charge. Zuckerberg’s picture acts this out: MWC attendees plugged into Samsung’s Gear VR headset literally can’t see the Facebook boss as he breezes past them.

I think Robert Scoble is right. The Google Glass violates the unspoken social contract of eye contact, and wearing VR in public triggers a similar social taboo of not being aware of the other people around you. This image of billionaire Zuckerberg evokes even more connections to a dystopian sci-fi visions where the masses are unwittingly being controlled, but overall I think that part of what makes this image feel “creepy” is that the people aren’t fully aware of what’s happening “outside of the matrix” in the real world. Having a powerful celebrity walk by you can be a memorable event, and these people in the photo are completely unaware of it.

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I do think that VR, and especially mobile VR, will face some cultural barriers in being used in social situations. Samsung attempts to normalize the use of VR in public with this ad showing a woman using VR on a bus:

Will people start to use VR more in public situations? Or will the chilling effects of public shaming or the feeling of vulnerability be too great? Or will people be more likely to use AR in public since they’ll have more situational awareness of their environment.

I think it’s worth reflecting on these viral images and videos of people using VR in social situations, listening to the public’s reaction, and being aware of how these reactions continue to change and evolve as more and more people have their own personal experiences with VR.


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  • Mike

    I think VR is best enjoyed at home alone where nobody can see you.

  • Graham J ⭐️

    Eva, I don’t think this video is helping VR. If you like it, show it in a positive light.

    • Bob

      By the way this article isn’t written by her so you aren’t actually addressing her.

      • Graham J ⭐️

        The article doesn’t need to be written by her for me to address her directly. Hopefully she would read the article and its comments.

        • Bob

          Sorry but the way your comment has been worded has given the impression that you are. Whether or not she reads it is not the point.

          • Graham J ⭐️

            Know who I wasn’t addressing? You.

    • You obviously don’t Eva and her sense of humor. She is huge advocate of VR and is ranked #11 out of the top 50 VR influencers. She is a positive light of VR.

      • Graham J ⭐️

        I guess I don’t. If I, as a VR developer, don’t then I’m sure I’m not the only one. I don’t hold much stock in marketing schemes like influencer lists.

        • Cool story bro. Let me know where I can check out your work. I tried to find you but you know…

        • Graham J ⭐️

          When we have something to release you’ll know.

          Anyway the topic isn’t me, it’s Eva. Maybe she’s more of an advocate than this video would suggest but you have to admit, this particular clip doesn’t portray VR very positively. A lot of people would laugh at the guy and what he’s doing. Maybe as part of a body of art it makes a statement but in isolation it’s hard to imagine.

  • Anyone else feel a bit upset about that poor old fat guy getting singled out? He is not in a crowd of people, there is not a single soul sitting with him. is his life not likely miserable enough on it’s own that he need some (likely) scrawny hipster ***hole with a camera phone to be snapping photos of him??

    In an era where people *claim* to be open minded and accepting of others, why are the overweight still under attack? The shame of that photo should clearly be aimed at the scumbag who took it. Leave the overweight and elderly alone.

    • I was just reading through some of the forum posts on Reddit about this image, and I have to say, there were alot of people defending him. Those who did make jokes usually didn’t make them about his weight, but about the tech in general. Only about 50% were evil.

      Bravo Internet, you aren’t all scumbags!

    • Charles

      Obesity is a serious illness which is becoming more and more common. While people with the affliction should be treated with compassion, the illness should not be considered acceptable. People with the illness should be given help and encouragement – not enablement.

      • Obesity is a GENETIC CONDITION and shouldn’t be treated any differently then race and sexuality, which I might add, have both been treated in the past as illnesses to be overcome and shamed.

        That stance you push is bigotry, plain and simple. It’s a sold and endorsed prejudice by Hollywood and corporations that profit off negative body images. It’s HATE and it needs to STOP.

  • Jon

    Thats the first time I’ve seen the Samsung Gear VR bus advert… What a stunning video beautifully filmed, CG, nice writing… all the way up to…. ‘put a phone on your face’…. that line made me question the whole authenticity of the video. It seemed like it was tacked on, having had some marketing heads say how they need to re- enforce the marketing message so say it as simply as possible.. something a little more etherial would have made it so much cooler….

    *Also queue the disappointment as people buy the GearVr for their new S7 only to realise they can’t access their dreams but instead sit and watch Netflix in 2D in a Norwegian VR cabin. (*I jest a little… the Gear VR still impresses everyone who sees it…)

    • Doctor Bambi

      Strange side note, that Norwegian cabin is a really great place to watch the X-Files.

  • Charles

    “efforts to bring women in VR together”
    Why not efforts to bring PEOPLE together in VR, regardless of gender? Why not efforts to encourage more ladies to become interested in VR and come together with everyone else regardless of gender? Every time I see something like this I shake my head, because I know it’s coming from an ideological place that divides while claiming to be against division, and is almost certainly trying to spread beliefs that divide rather than unite.

  • Guy Sunderland

    Re: The Zuckerberg/Gear VR photo…you could say that, to the ‘audience’ , Zuckerberg has disappeared like a ghost (and therefore largely irrelevant) the people are simply enjoying themselves (“enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think “). No ?

  • Guy Sunderland

    P.S. Having said that, I do think AR is better in terms of general social inclusion.

    • DiGiCT Ltd

      Correct, we already seen the difference in out internal test with VR compared to AR.
      It is depending on what kind of app in AR you using though, but there is more interaction in AR if the other people can see what you see.
      We are using pads for AR atm, which does fine.
      We also make VR which only can have networked way of socializing.

  • Seerak

    Fascinating. Where you wrote the line “fear of social isolation”, my brain swapped in “fear of individuals opting out”. Someone using VR in public is physically sitting there, taking up space – but is otherwise not part of whatever groups are nearby.

    In our increasingly tribalized society, individuals who prefer to remain apart from any collective are increasingly “other”, the subject of fear and derision. Where identity is expected to come from membership in any number of various tribes, the oddball becomes the dread unknown.

  • It is sad you don’t understand how prejudice you sound. You might as well have said, “Nobody taught you to find gay people gross”.

    For YEARS homosexuality and transgender were treated as mental illness by the “Medical Community”, and was “cured” by such therapies as Electroshock and Lobotomy. It was claimed to be HORRIBLE for your health because it was said to spread venereal diseases and lead to drug abuse. It does NOT.

    And the only reason the gay community was treated even that well was because it was assumed they could be “cured”. For those who it was known they couldn’t be, such as race or handicap, they just stripped them of their rights and treated them as less then human.

    These poor large people have been butchering their digestive systems with surgery and engaging in diets well know to cause injury and even DEATH, all trying to get a body type that isn’t healthy for their genetics. In fact the current Hollywood body type has been medically proven to be unhealthy for anyone! Abusive body building, radical diets, and anorexia cause serious damage to the body.

    Prejudice like yours drives large people out of society, often isolating them like lepers, worsening their condition through lack of exercise and social contact. You assault their humanity for no other reason then your shallow aesthetics! Don’t hide behind false concern for their health, this is clearly bigotry. You hate the large people of the world simply because they are large.

    They are not “Spiders” and they are not ill. What is clearly a disease is the mindset of bigotry perpetuated against the large people of the world by a culture that sells sickly as healthy.

  • Doctor Bambi

    It will be interesting to see how this pans out. There’s such an interesting paradox between the alienating nature of VR in the real world, juxtaposed against the incredibly social communication that can occur through VR. I rerecently used my gear vr to watch a movie (in the empty Oculus movie theater) on a plane, and I got a lot of weird stares, but I could tell people were genuinely curious about it. I even ended up showing the guy next to me and he thought it was really cool. If VR doesn’t reach mass adoption, it could remain a smaller niche market. If it does reach mass adoption, as I think it will, I can imagine the day when that empty oculus movie theater is populated by the other passengers of the flight, watching a movie together in VR. It could even make socializing easier by putting people with similar interests next to each other. The potential of VR is so vast, it never ceases to amaze me, but time will tell if I’m a soothsayer or just a crazy kook.

  • DiGiCT Ltd

    The not being social part in VR is not the issue as that is already in our daily life.
    As the article says the only difference is that you put your phone in your face instead of walking around and holding it in your hand.
    Most people are always busy on their phone, looks to me they are even scared that they missed a message on it, as soon as it makes noise they immediately swipe the device in most cases.
    It is not the biggest issue as this issue already exists for years.
    Lucky enough i did not join that behavior and still prefer sitting with people to have a talk in person.
    For me a phone is just a phone, a pad is just a limited notebook and a notebook is a limited computer.
    I have all those devices as a developer but they dont make the point for me to replace my drinking coffee or a beer with a real person.
    Reality offer much more and that will always stay.
    Those machines/devices are just trying to fake reality with the purpose to entertain yourself or living a dream.
    I think the real word here is not socializing but addiction instead you need to worry about.