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What happened when I tried out vTime, the world’s first virtual reality social media network

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I’m sitting on a large rock in a camping area, next to a fire, talking to two people I’ve never met before. One is American and the other is English. It’s evening and the sky is a beautiful milky blue, dotted with stars. Suddenly a snake appears by my feet. I stay calm and watch it slither away.

I’m new here, I say, resisting the temptation to add “come here often?” The American fellow welcomes me (“goo-day!”) and I accept his offer to show me around. But instead of exploring the camping grounds, the next thing I know the four of us are in outer space. Ahead of me is a space station. Below us is Earth and around us a vast, black, infinite panorama.

After a few minutes the American man excuses himself from the conversation, disappearing from his white seat just as a space ship flies past him. Gary, the English guy, says he’ll continue the tour and Bam! — there we are, on a Parisian balcony, when the sun is setting. To my left is the Eiffel Tower. On the coffee table between us is a bottle of champagne on ice. “This is where you take your date,” he says. “You know, that special someone”.

We’re using vTime, the world’s first virtual reality social media network (available on Galaxy Gear and Google Cardboard headsets). The people who use it are real — Microsoft haven’t got their mitts on it yet, and thank God for that — but you look at a VR representation of their bodies, customised by the user.

The backgrounds are animated 360 environments designed by the program’s creators, Starship Group. Not photorealistic by any means but quite pretty nonetheless.

You can use vTime to talk to friends or, like I have on a handful of occasions, to mingle with complete strangers. If you get bored of the conversation you can look around, understanding that where your face is pointing in real-life is reflected in the virtual environment. The company claims users of the software include colleagues on business meetings and couples in long distance relationships.

It’s an interesting application of VR technology during a time when Silicon Valley must surely be awash with proposals about how to put the format to use. Addictive might be too strong a word to describe vTime, but it certainly has a return-factor allure. There is something oddly appealing about meeting people without moving a muscle (perhaps some facial ones) and looking at people who aren’t really there, while listening to their actual voices. You’re sort of hidden in plain sight.

Comparisons have been made to Second Life, the online virtual world once touted as the next big thing in…online virtual worlds. But vTime is much simpler. Pushing aside the nice visuals, it is essentially just talking. Conversations are limited, at this point in time, to a maximum of four people per session.

At this stage of its evolution vTime is very much a sausage fest. Any woman using the software will probably be in a full chat session and are likely to be swamped with invitations to join others. One time I was talking to a Scottish man, Eddie, who reminisced about a time when he was chatting to not one but (gasp!) two women.

Starship Group have said vTime will remain free but haven’t ruled out putting advertising on it. Thinking about what kind of form that might take leads to some fascinating hypotheticals.

If the software catches on, perhaps KFC might take out an ad (after all, Pizza Hut and Domino’s “built” restaurants in Second Life). Maybe that ad assumes the form of Colonel Sanders himself. Look to your right and hey — there’s old Harland himself in an apron, frying up some chicken. Perhaps you can talk to him. Perhaps he answers back.

The quality of conversations naturally varies depending on who’s talking. During one session I argued with a Colorado-based man — one of those “by my cold dead hands” types — about gun control in America.

On other, discussion drifted to Donald Trump. One guy, Phil, said as an American he felt deeply embarrassed by how the Trump Show was playing out on an international stage. I cheered him up by telling him one time our former Prime Minister ate a raw onion.

And on another I asked a Jamaican man, Billy, where he thought this was all heading. What’s in the future for vTime? “People are gonna fall in love man,” he said. “That’s gonna happen. People are gonna fall in love here.”

After that, a strange thought entered my head. I couldn’t shake the idea that the future of loneliness might in some way be communal. Everybody around and no-one together. In vTime the people next to you aren’t really there, but they sort of are. It’s not actually them, but it kind of is. Love, as they say, is complicated.

4 responses to “What happened when I tried out vTime, the world’s first virtual reality social media network

  1. “If the software catches on, perhaps KFC might take out an ad (after all, Pizza Hut and Domino’s “built” restaurants in Second Life). Maybe that ad assumes the form of Colonel Sanders himself. Look to your right and, hey — there’s old Harland himself in an apron, frying up some chicken. Perhaps you can talk to him. Perhaps he answers back.”

    *Screams Internally*

  2. Nice review. Interestingly, your final paragraph reminds me of when I lived in Manhattan in the 90’s. You could get the same sensation of communal loneliness riding on the M5. So many lonely people refusing to engage with the other lonely people.

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