Ok it may be an over-statement, but i am pretty annoyed.

On Tuesday July 4th I purchased a Google Daydream headset. The cashier informed me at checkout it was unreturnable if the box was opened. No worries: it only cost 100$ and I intended to keep it, to bring it to University of Bergen in Norway for a VR seminar and use it as a cheap comfortable untethered VR viewing device for some demos I had made.

Daydream is designed specifically for the Google Pixel phone. I had bought the Pixel because I like vanilla stock Android (I like it so much I previously owned a Nexus and a Nexus 6P). An OS apparently without any corporate cruft. Yet I was about to learn how the internet of things circumvents apparent transparency. Daydream would become a nightmare.

That afternoon I slotted my phone into the Daydream device with a demo I’d made using Mozilla’s A-Frame, a lightweight webvr toolkit (based on the JavaScript library for 3D manipulation called Three.js). A-Frame allows for quick deployment of VR in a browser.

Sweet. Wonderful. It worked. I spent the afternoon developing and that evening cycled over to a friend who works as a knowledge broker at Concordia University. Sitting in his backyard under the trees, he experienced 3 of my webvr demos using the Daydream headset. I was pleased. Situation normal. The headset was easy to open and close, the head strap comfortable, the viewing quality reasonable. I was happy with my purchase.

On Tuesday July 5th, I decided to test out a VR work made specifically for the Daydream headset (made by folks I know, Samantha Gorman and Danny Cannizzaro from Tender Claws) called Virtual Virtual Reality.

Virtual Virtual Reality proved to be exquisitely interesting, clever, professional, well-written and engaging. A joy to experience. Intimidatingly proficient. Ironically subversive.

I was enthralled. On June 29th, A-Frame announced link traversals that included support for the Daydream controller. I was looking forward to playing around, creating some quick demos.

But that’s when the trouble began. Pairing the controller and installing the dedicated Daydream app eradicated the capacity to use webvr demos I had hosted on my site, even the ones I had previously viewed in the headset. When I loaded my browser demos and put my Pixel into the headset, it now auto launched a pairing process, then switched to the Daydream app.

No biggie. I figured I just had to reset it somehow. Check app settings. Nothing. Enable flags for webvr and gamepad api in Chrome. Restart. Unsolved. Hmm. Uninstall Daydream. Restart. Put phone in headset, Android now prompted me to install Daydream. Uh-to.

The Origins Trail

Now I began to sweat. Search for a solution led to the PlayCanvas website, a platform tool for creating VR (initiated by Google, it costs $15 per month to have any export capacity). And the Origins Trails process where Google sanctioned select key developers to use this experimental webvr functionality inside their headset (“Implement a framework for exposing experimental features in the browser, but only to specific/registered origins, for limited duration and subject to global usage caps”). The rationale for this from a dev perspective is presented here.

Bottom line (as i understand it): only webvr projects sanctioned by Google work within the Daydream headset. It’s as if you bought a radio or a TV set that would only play channels approved by the manufacturer. What’s happened to the freedom of the web? Is content equivalent to an app? The headset is just a set of lens.

The Internet of Silos.

So I made a painful decision, I reset my Pixel phone to factory defaults. I was hoping to return to that evening in my friend’s backyard under the trees, using Daydream as a comfortable untethered lightweight webvr viewing utility, forget about the controller. The purity of Android could not fail me. Yet it did. Placing the reset-to-factory-default phone in the headset, immediately triggered the same irreversible context switch: “Daydream install required. In order to play… Please update.”

There are two levels of resetting Android. I had done the soft reset. So I tried to do the hard reset. It failed. Brainless brick.

Corporate Curated Consciousness

Result: I slowly realized that if I enable the webvr flags in chrome, it cannot view webvr stereoscopically hosted on my site: thus even Cardboard is worthless for demos. With webvr flags enabled, the stereoscopic launch button no longer works unless I visit google-approved webvr. Nightly Firefox does not function in stereoscopic any more: why? Who knows.

I am stranded with a corporate headset that curates content, jealously guarding its portal. Radical infantilism. Reality reloaded with a subset of Reality controlled by geeks and brand marketers. Ironically it echoes the storyline of the Virtual Virtual Reality project where VR headsets defined by corporate ideology define reality.

How? My suspicion is the headset after the first launch of the Daydream app passively inserted the Bluetooth ID of my phone into an on-device storage array. The headset now knows my phone. It does not care about its OS or factory reset.

Android bypassed. Lock initialized. Object to object. Thing to thing silo.

Unremovable solitude. Implacable logos.

Google famous motto is “Don’t be Evil”. Hannah Arendt famously noted the banality of evil. In a future where information/ideologies/culture become branded battlefields, constraints on consciousness will arise. A decision made to increase brand loyalty today can sprout future tyranny. The world is not without auspicious examples: from the Great Firewall of China to the bunkered intelligence services of all great nations, control proliferates to apparently protect. Insidious bureaucracies slide into authoritarianism.

Jealousy is one of the deepest instincts of the psyche. The song of Solomon speaks of the bitter fire that burns thereof as worse than the taste of death. Ownership‘s primordial glandular fury flexes it’s muscles. Sculpting opportunities within commodities into contemporary shackles.

Banal evil arises when interface design succumbs to corporate imperatives.

Brand chastity.

Interoperability issues, incompatible formats, silos. It’s not new.

Instagram, Snapchat, Uber, Maps: gated. Share something from Evernote on a phone, and it’s impossible to leave the silo. Load a webpage or video through Facebook and it’s lovingly wrapped in their very own branding, links and data mining sauce. All brands do it. The larger the corporation, the more likely you can never leave it’s boundaries and that the border will be guarded and exact a fee of time. The banality of evil.

It has become a truism to recognize that corporations grasp at usage data. It’s normative tedium, cages masquerading as loyalty bonus.

My favorite company to critique in this regard is Apple. I have a MacBook Air,. I love it. It is a wonderful rugged piece of technology, an agile jeep sliding over code surfaces. But the Apple urge to encapsulate consumer self often feels manipulative, click bait designed to prevent miscegenation with other devices. iTunes is border control. Back at headquarters they want you to live and die within the Apple ecosystem.

Unfortunately I use 5 computers with 4 operating systems: OSX, Windows, Linux, and Android. My life is a field of numb juggling. Squabbling kids. My suspicion is that when a corporation combines software and hardware, the silo grows a wormhole into brand gravity.

VR as PR

This is a story of how I prepared for a VR seminar and how a single hardware purchase resulted in a mild yet annoying software blockade. And how this blockade implies something latent deeper and more pernicious: the potential for corporate decisions to influence self through VR MR AR.

In an ecosystem of informational overlays, when interfaces reflect decisions made for profit, and brand loyalty triumphs over transparency, then culture-silos imply ownership of people. Mind-control is imminent. Google Daydream represents a dangerous precedent for propaganda

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