It seems like virtual reality goggles are the hottest tech gadget at the moment. I mean, they’ve been around for a while, but I guess they’re really coming into their own. But allow me to put on my grumpy-old-man hat for a second and say that what the world could really use in 2016 and beyond are some actual reality goggles. You know, so that wearers could see reality as it actually is, instead of as they imagine or wish it to be.
The value of such a tool would be incalculable. Of course, if you were wearing a pair and looking at another pair, then you would instantly know the true value of this invention, measured in dollars, or ounces of gold if you prefer, or even (leaving out the middleman altogether) in utils of happiness. But for now, I think we can safely assume that it would be worth a lot.
For instance, say you were reading an opinion piece arguing that the minimum wage should be bumped up to $15 an hour. A little display in the upper right corner of your actual reality goggles might pop up, with a tiny graph illustrating how, as long as they are allowed to fluctuate freely, prices are determined by supply and demand. Raise the price of labour artificially with a legislated price floor, though, and the amount supplied will become greater than the amount demanded. In other words, while some workers will benefit from higher wages, others will become unemployed. This illustration might be followed by suggestions of better ways to help the less fortunate.
Or say you were watching a certain Nobel Peace Prize winner condemn the politics of fear in his State of the Union address. Your goggles might remind you that politicians of all stripes use fear to manipulate you, whether it’s fear of immigrants or fear of markets, fear of recreational drugs or fear of guns (unless held by police, soldiers, or politicians’ bodyguards). They might give you a quick lesson on how realistic different fears are, how statistically likely or unlikely they are to come true, and whether you might be exaggerating the dangers posed by immigrants, markets, drugs, or guns, while underplaying their potential benefits.
Or again, imagine that you’re wearing these goggles while seeing an ad for a really big lottery. Your goggles might point out to you that your chances of winning are infinitesimal, that you’re more likely to get hit by a bus or a lightning bolt, and that a $10-million jackpot and a $1.6-billion jackpot would be almost identically life-changing. And if they caught you nodding your head when you saw that Internet meme proposing that $1.6 billion was enough to wipe out poverty in a nation of 300 million, it would administer a mild electrical shock to your temples and send you back to primary school.
Of course, the real question is whether anyone would want to buy such a useful gadget. Do we want to see the world as it really is, or are we content to misperceive it? Are we happier believing that we are already wise and well-intentioned, or do we want to learn what kinds of actions would actually be of benefit to ourselves, our loved ones, and the wider world? As I don’t have a pair of actual reality goggles on hand to tell me the answer, your guess is as good as mine.
Bradley Doucet is a writer living in Montreal. He has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also is QL’s English Editor.