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Silver Threads: Virtual

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

My daughter and I had an interesting conversation about the birds and the bees in 2016 the other day. I told her I’d just read in a newspaper article that this country’s teens and early 20-somethings are having much less sex than their parents did at the same ages. And I can’t believe that, I said, citing society’s ever evolving permissiveness.

She said she thinks the story is probably accurate. “All they’re interested in anyhow is texting,” she said, reminding me of a picture that made the rounds of the internet: Two cute boys are walking on a beach, intently texting while stepping around voluptuous, bikini-wearing girls.
She wound up the discussion by telling her ignorant mom that computer technology offers many ways to satisfy oneself without finding a partner and doing the deed the old-fashioned way.
I’m not going to bore you with the details of sex online. You’d be on your iPads or laptops in a flash, searching out websites that specialize in porn and hookups. I did, and for one thing found out that Anthony Weiner isn’t the only one who’s sexting.
All of this also led me to wonder about the developmental status of virtual reality,
which — quoting from Wikipedia — “is a computer technology that uses software-generated realistic images, sounds and other sensations to replicate a real environment or an imaginary setting, and simulates a user's physical presence in this environment to enable the user to interact with this space …
“Virtual realities artificially create sensory experiences, which can include sight, touch, hearing, and, less commonly, smell,” which reminds me of some of the science-fiction stories I used to read so regularly. Ray Bradbury’s 1951 piece  “The Veldt” dealt with a pair of children and a virtual nursery; Frederik Pohl’s 1955 short story “The Tunnel Under the World” told the story of a man who relived the same day over and over, only to discover that he was trapped in a cruel marketing simulation.
 Some 2016-era virtual realities are displayed with a headset (called head-mounted display or HMD), which reminded me of another sci-fi story. It’s about a man who wore VR goggles under his Stetson to participate in a historic gunfight in the simulated Old West. I think he died of a heart attack.
And while these writers predicted virtual reality, had novelist Aldous Huxley already foreseen one of its consequences? In his Brave New World (1931)  natural reproduction is no more. Human embryos are raised artificially in "hatcheries and conditioning centers.”
I know, I know. I’m going way, way out here. But what if tomorrow’s youngsters discover they enjoy experiences in the virtual world much more than in the physical one? What if …
What if, at the very least, we seniors get new and exciting lives no matter how we look? What if nobody needs Viagra anymore?

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]