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Achieving mindfulness through Virtual Reality

How spending more time with technology may help cure cellphone addiction

How many times did you check your phone during the last movie or TV series you watched? If you’re like me, you probably had one eye on the TV and another on your phone – mechanically scrolling through one app after the next to see what is going on in the world. And this doesn’t only happen when sitting on the couch in-front of the TV, I have a compulsion, an itch, to check my phone while watching a movie at the cinema as well. 90 minutes is just too long not to get any kind of email or social media fix in.

But, ladies and gentlemen, I have some breaking news. I recently watched a feature-length movie, from start to finish, without any Instagram breaks in between. And I never even realized it until I was speaking to someone about it afterwards. You see, I may have been sitting on my couch, but I wasn’t watching the movie on TV or on my phone- I was watching it in Virtual Reality.  It was 90 minute of me and the movie – I couldn’t see or hear anything else and was fully immersed in the experience.

Virtual Reality is on the brink of becoming more mainstream. After a bit of a false start brought upon by expensive hardware and the lack of a mainstream ecosystem, Oculus Go has arrived and it’s taking the category to a whole new level. Starting at $200, the Oculus Go is the most affordable standalone VR solution to date. It doesn’t require a cellphone or a computer – you just put on the headset, connect it to your WiFi, you’re good to go. Plus Oculus has amassed an app store with over 1,000 apps and games and tons of other content as well. You can play games, you can hang out with friends, you can immerse yourself in 360 degree photos. And, you can watch movies and series through the native Netflix, Hulu, and now Oculus TV apps.

When you watch TV or movies in Virtual Reality, what you see is a virtual screen which is as big as a real-life 180 inch TV screen. It’s probably the best viewing experience you can get. Plus you can listen to the sound from the Oculus Go’s built in speakers or, as I suggest, plug in your own headphones to really ensure you get lost in the action. Although the battery life isn’t great on the Oculus Go (you get around 2.5 hours of active use), it should have enough juice to get you through a single movie. Another very cool feature is that different apps have different viewing options and some allow you to change the ‘environment’ you watch the movie in – so you can be watching in a cinema, in a home theater, or even in space.

Watching Silicon Valley in Plex Player (while sitting in a ‘luxury apartment’)

 

Researchers have started investigating how VR can be used for good and can assist people in ways that technology couldn’t before.  New studies have found it to help address some phobias with people who suffer from fear of heights being able to somewhat overcome their anxiety by donning a VR headset and being transported to the top of a building, hundreds of feet in the air. I have no doubt that there will be tons of other benefits of VR uncovered over the next few years and look forward to see VR being used in education, in the medical industry, and to even be used for workplace productivity (imagine sitting back and having the equivalent of 10 computer screens in front of you for you to ‘work on’ throughout the day).

But the immediate uses of VR which has just become clear to me, is to use it to overcome cellphone addiction. Cellphone addiction is a real problem which is becoming increasingly prevalent at epidemic rates, and although it may sound counter-intuitive, maybe an increase in technology is the solution. And virtual reality may be just what the doctor ordered to be able to resist the compulsion to autonomously reach for your phone, and to rather focus on what is in-front of you. It is therapeutic to be able to immerse yourself in a different world and to be able to concentrate on one task at a time, rather than having your mind pulled in millions of directions at once. It is a focused mediation in a way, except you are being mindful while watching TV rather than reciting a mantra (in fact, there are even meditation apps available in the Oculus Store which could specifically help with that task).

The one question that remains though is, will people even want to be detached from the rest of the world? We really have a love-hate relationships with our phones. We admit to being addicted but in fact, we love the rush of finding something juicy online and relish the distraction that social media provides. Our brains have become so conditioned to being constantly entertained that it becomes difficult, sometimes too difficult, to switch off all the background noise and focus on the present. In fact, some of my friends specifically don’t enjoy watching movies in Virtual Reality for that exact reason. It’s just too immersive and after a few minutes switched off from the outside world, they can’t ignore the sweet seductive sounds of the iPhone beckoning for their attention.

I, for one, am a fan though and look forward to binge-watching the next Netflix series distraction-free in front of my 180-inch personal TV.


Also published on Medium.

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