Why Donald Trump Will Make US All Wear Virtual Reality Headsets

Ever since Aerosmith’s music video for “Amazing” featured virtual reality, I’ve been excited for the technology to become, well, a consumer reality. After Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2-billion in March of 2014, the hype behind VR caught a major tailwind, and the technology was deemed the next innovation that would revolution daily life. It only seemed like a matter of time before I was rocking an Oculus Rift and hanging out in digital space with virtual Elon Musk.

But now that virtual reality headsets have been on the market, it’s shocking to see that VR sales are actually expected to lag behind the holiday sales of virtual assistants like Amazon’s Echo. In fact, according to Reuters, “brokerage Piper Jaffray will cut its 2016 estimate for sales of VR headsets by 65 percent to 2.2 million units in an as yet unpublished report.” So why is virtual reality having a slower start in the marketplace than expected?
Christopher Mims, a technology columnist at the Wall Street Journal, raised doubts on virtual reality in March, saying the technology isn’t ready for prime time. “As new, highly touted headsets arrive this year, how much content will be available, and how deep will these experiences be? The short answers: not much, and fairly shallow.” Mims is suggesting that the lack of content has contributed to VR’s slow start.
While software could be a reason to delay the emergence of VR in America’s living room, I think it’s a bit overstated. For example, I remember saving my allowance for an entire year as a 10-year old to buy Nintendo 64. When the console was finally released, there were only two games, Mario and Pilot Wings, and I played them more than I would like to admit. However, to get a sense of why VR’s having a tough time barging into the prime time, it’s important to look again to science fiction, the medium that perpetuated its rise in the first place.

I recently finished “Ready Player One,” a science fiction novel by Ernest Cline, which is being made into a movie by Steven Spielberg, and it’s set in an American future where a virtual reality utopia can be accessed through a technology similar to Oculus Rift. In the novel, the popularity of the virtual world (called the Oasis) can be explained by technological innovation and a need to escape bitter realities of an American dystopia. For years, science fiction writers have discussed a similar moment where virtual reality would become so appealing that it will overtake the allure of the physical world—or provide a better option. “Ready Player One” suggests that virtual reality became popular not just because of technology but because their planet and social lives were in tatters.

I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Cline’s America and the direction of our country today. The reason that virtual reality is lagging behind in sales is not that we’re lacking technology or even that the hardware is too expensive; its simply that we’re lacking a catalyst, a reason to lose the appeal of the physical world and jump blindly into a virtual one.

Unfortunately, the catalyst that will push virtual reality into the American living room is not technological but political. The election of Donald Trump will be the spark that creates an exodus from the physical world into the virtual. Donald Trump has tweeted that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese, and his cabinet picks perpetuate the idea that his administration will dismantle Obama regulations that were deemed important to curb global warming. Trump’s pick for the head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA countless times in his career and was a main opponent against the Clean Power Plan. Pruitt will be in charge of protecting the environment after serving as the “key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies,” as pointed out by the New York Times. During the Trump administration, there is little doubt our environment will be at war with its inhabitants and policy makers.

Sunset at Half Dome

Many Americans will crave an escape from the decay of our physical world in addition to our decaying sense of equality. If Trump moves forward with a Muslim ban, his deportation of millions of illegal immigrants, and his continued onslaught of the media, then Americans will need an escape from the images of America losing its democracy. It will be too tough to watch. For instance, see the quote from “Ready Player One” below.

America will need a model, a “Real Player One” virtual utopia, where cities, economies, ways of life, inclusive communities, and imitations of our national parks can exist in a virtual space that feels so real we can almost taste it. America will need a place where empathy and truth can flourish. America will need an alternate reality, an almost mirror to itself. Children will grow up saving their allowance not to buy a Nintendo 64 like me to play Mario; they will save their money to buy an entrance into an old America where the dream still existed.

Virtual reality sales simply need a push, and Donald Trump is just the bully to do it.

My Essay is Included in the All-Time Best Narratively Memoirs

This morning, I woke up to some solid news. An essay I wrote in 2015 that appeared in Narratively was selected as one of their all-time best in their five-year history. Narratively has such incredible writers publishing work, and I’m honored to be included.

Looking back on the piece was strange. It was certainly a hard essay to write, and I often wonder, years later, should I have written it? It’s very personable, it’s intimate, and I probably share too much information on a subject that most people consider private.

Screenshot 2017-09-29 10.01.16

But when I wrote it many years ago, my intention was to shed light on an issue that is extremely important: Mental health. I still think that one of the biggest problems in our country is how we treat mental illness. From the stigma still associated with people who are struggling to the quiet conversations we have hidden away in small corners of isolated rooms about illness to the trauma it takes on families, we are nowhere near where we should be as a society when tackling these challenges.

I understand all that. However, when you reveal details about someone you love for a bigger ideal, it’s so easy to tear yourself up for trying to make a point, to share an experience.

But even though I still question whether or not it’s a good idea to share intimate details of family for the sake of art, for stories, for a bigger idea, I do believe there are a couple points from the essay that still really resonate with me, and two years later, it still strikes me in a way that felt honest, good, and true. This one stands out: We will always have breakdowns to remind us we are family.

 

When Dogs Run Away, New Essay in the Los Angeles Review

When I opened the door to our office in Ocean Beach, San Diego, one of our office dogs ran out into the street, and I started sprinting after it, yelling and trying to get it to stop from running into traffic. It’s a bizarre feeling, attempting to convince a dog who is on a dash to consider their safety. It’s an almost impossible task. Words fail. So, this incident got me thinking about how many times I have found myself trying to help when dogs run away. Then it got me thinking about language and how challenging it is to communicate with not only animals but people when they are running toward disaster. The result is my essay at the LA Review. Find out what happened when I opened the door to our office and began chasing after a beloved dog loose in the streets of San Diego. Read the article here: When Dogs Run Away.

10 Things to Do in Jackson Hole with Your Wife

Over the last few years, my wife and I have been interested in vacations that combined stress-destroying nature set in culturally rich places where adventure and great food were as common as the wide-open spaces, and Jackson Hole (we recently discovered) is clearly one of those places. I’ve been interested in visiting Jackson Hole since I saw a photo of the Grand Tetons, and every day we had in the Hole was an absolute pleasure. Below, you will see 10 things to do in Jackson Hole with Your Wife.

1. Be Beary Aware

bear

All throughout Grand Teton National Park, Teton Village, and Jackson Hole, it’s impossible to ignore the signs that read: “Be Bear Aware.” The signs are pretty self explanatory, but they want you to be on the look-out for bears. Well, Heron and I were terrified of bears yet incredibly intrigued by the prospect of seeing one. (We actually preferred the slogan “Be Beary Aware.”) So, when we were hiking to Amphitheater Lake, we actually saw a bear as we were coming around the corner of a switchback. He was young and ravaging through the huckleberry patches. It’s quite a sight to see, especially if they’re not about to eat you.

2. Buy Bear Spray

IMG_0816.PNG

When I was hiking and we approached switchbacks, I always reached down for my bear spray, just in case some hungry Grizzly wanted to have a French and Irish snack. I really recommend buying the bear spray at the supermarket — or asking your hotel to borrow some — but it does feel essential, considering I talked to a couple that needed to use it.

Ask people in the hotel you’re staying at if they have a good bear spray story. The best one I heard is that some people commonly interpret bear spray as a bug spray. One of the hotel employees told me the story of a father lining his entire family up against a wall, the bear spray in his hand, and dousing his entire family. From what I hear, the pain of mace to bear spray is like comparing the heat of a campfire to the sun. This poor family must have lost all faith in their father.

3. Huckleberries

Thistle bison

Huckleberries are a treat for bears…and humans. (Not pictured above.) It’s not right to let all the bears get all the good stuff. I recommend finding a huckleberry patch and searching for the delectable berry. Make sure that the plant has alternating leaves on the stem. If you have time, then try and find some huckleberry dessert at a local restaurant. I recommend Westbank Grill or Gather.

4. Morning Sunset on the Grand Teton

Grand Teton 2

Get up early in the morning and try and find the alpenglow.

5. Take a Safari

Pronghorn

For some reason, I never imagined I could take a legitimate safari in America, but in The Grand Teton National Park, you certainly can hop in an SUV and see incredible wildlife that truly make you understand “where the buffalo roam.” Heron and I took Eco Tours, and we were lucky enough to have Laura “the Legend” as our tour guide. I call her the legend because every other tour guide that met her along the way had a story about her. Here are two of my favorite:

  • Stalked a bison for 20 days
  • Killed a deer in the middle of winter with a bow and arrow and carried out the carcass on her back

Overall, EcoTours was fantastic. We drove around in an SUV, drank fresh coffee, and saw incredible wildlife and parts of the park we would never have found on our own. For instance, we saw bison, elk, a coyote, a badger, pronghorn, and more.

6. Dance Like a Cowboy at the Silver Dollar Saloon at the Wort Hotel

Buffalo Two Trip

I grew up in Massachusetts, and I wish I could actually say that I was close to being a real-life cowboy. I can’t, however….mostly because I tend to glamp instead of camp. But I can claim to dance like one. I recommend heading over to the Silver Dollar Saloon in Jackson when the live band is playing and figuring out how to cut a rug like you know how to herd cattle.

7. Peresphone Bakery

Bison with birds

When I first decided to book a vacation in Jackson, I never expected to find such incredible food. We ate at several great restaurants, but my favorite spot was Persephone bakery. They had great coffee, a peaceful outdoor patio, and spoons on the wall. Go there for great breakfast and Intelligentsia Coffee.

8. Hike to Amphitheater Lake and see the Elephant eye

Elephant Eye Amphitheater Lake

Heron and I love to hike, and before you die, you need to make sure you get as close to the Grand Teton as possible. I recommend hiking to Amphitheater Lake. It’s a difficult hike, but the views are intense, and the sense of accomplishment is even better. When you get to the top, you can wade in glacier water so refreshing, cool, and clean, you’ll almost want to go swimming. But then you’ll remember the cold part. Plus, you’ll get to see the rock that looks like an elephant eye. (At least that’s how I see it.)

9. Walk with the wildflowers

Hiking in the Wyoming Flowers

In Wyoming, the state flag is a bison, but I would argue that it should be the wildflower patch. Take some time to walk through a meadow and appreciate these colorful planets buzzing around your feet.

10. Fly Fish Down the Snake River

Snake River Jackson Hole

With all of the above said, it’s easy to say what our favorite part of the trip was in Jackson Hole: Fly fishing down the Snake River. I don’t claim to be a master fisherman, and neither does my wife. In fact, I have never been fly fishing before in my life, but we couldn’t miss the opportunity to try something new. We booked “Fish the Fly” with Tristan, our guide, and he took us down the Snake River in his boat, prepared all the rods, and hosted us down a river that was as large and glorious as the West. My wife was the only one to catch a fish, but it was worth it just to float down the river and catch site of the Grand Teton Mountains behind us and watch bald eagles and osprey zoom over head. Plus, we saw two golden eagles that stood taller than I could ever imagine. Being able to float down the Snake River in Wyoming, well, it gave us a reason to always return.

Seinfeld in 2016: What I Learned from Watching all Nine Seasons for my First Time

I’m going to admit something embarrassing: Up until this year, I have never watched Seinfeld. Every time Seinfeld came on television in the 90s, I would change the channel as quickly as if I had just accidentally stumbled upon a network that consistently showed dentists drilling into teeth without putting their patients on novocaine. For whatever reason, I hated the show, and I would much rather watch reruns of The Simpsons or anything on Nickelodeon (Doug, Rugrats, All That) or reruns of Nick at Nite shows. Perhaps I was too young; perhaps I didn’t understand the jokes; perhaps Jerry’s voice just annoyed the crap out of me. Whatever it was, I never really watched an entire episode of Seinfeld.

Years later, I fell in love with Curb Your Enthusiasm, and through that show, I began to grow an superficial interest in Seinfeld. (Larry David is hilarious and awkward and brilliant.) Plus, I had a neighbor in Miami who just loved Seinfeld. He used to quote lines to me all the time, and they would float over my head. For instance, we were out to lunch one day, and I pulled out my wallet. Back then–this was when I was in graduate school–I had a gigantic, over-stuffed wallet. It was packed with papers, cards, business cards–pretty much everything but money– and I began to think it was hurting my back. When I put the wallet on the table to ask him what he thought, he burst out laughing and called it the Constanza wallet. Of course, I didn’t catch the reference.

The George Wallet
The Constanza Wallet

Perhaps it was an interest in Larry David, perhaps it was a frustration with not being able to catch cultural references, but whatever it was, I knew I had to watch all nine seasons of Seinfeld in 2016. Over the last several months, I have embarked on a mission to watch every episode in chronological order. I have vowed to begin to understand references, and I have sworn that no matter how annoyed I became with Jerry’s voice, I would get through the series. Strangely, as an adult, I found that I loved the show–how can you not?–and I wanted to share with you some of the aspects I had been missing out on. Some of this might be a recap for you; some of it might be new. But this is what I learned from watching all nine seasons of Seinfeld.

1. George Constanza Gets Extremely Dark

In the episode “The Invitations,” George Constanza’s fiance dies after licking a bunch of envelopes from cheap wedding invitations that George, of course, buys. The death was shocking, and it was amazing how dark George became in the episode. We saw himself as a man who was heading into a marriage that he didn’t want to partake in but couldn’t stop from happening, and when his fiance died, he almost rejoiced–or at least remained completely indifferent–to the death of a woman he was about to spend the rest of his life with until the end of eternity. This episode didn’t seem like it came from a mainstream television show; it seemed like it originated from the mind of a brilliant French short-story writer who wanted to pursue the themes of love and existentialism. What was most shocking was the reaction that all of the actors had when they heard she died. They all just went and had some coffee.

Perhaps this statement from Jason Alexander will shed some light into the decision to kill off his fiance:

“I couldn’t figure out how to play off of her,” [Jason Alexander] said in a “Howard Stern Show” interview Thursday. “Her instincts for doing a scene, where the comedy was, and mine, were always misfiring. She would do something, and I would go, ‘OK, I see what she’s going to do, I’ll adjust to her.’ And then it would change.”

2. Elaine Benes Was Sex in the City

For a mainstream show on a national network, Elaine Benes’ character was truly a progressive woman. Of course, she was famously a part of the masterbation game–where the four friends wanted to see who would crack first–but she was also unashamed about her life that wasn’t traditional in terms of marriage, monogamy, or career. She was clearly ahead of her time–or perhaps our world was too far behind–for mainstream television. Elaine contrasted to many of the other female characters at the time, and Brigit Katz at the New York Times wrote the following:

“While Elaine’s TV contemporaries—say, for example, Rachel from Friends—were getting bogged down in humdrum will-they/won’t-they romance narratives, Elaine was cycling through partners almost as often and usually as dispassionately as her BFF Jerry.”

I never really thought much about Elaine before watching the show, but after learning about who she was, how independent she was, how real she was, I couldn’t help but find her to be, perhaps, my favorite character on the show. I also started watching Veep before Seinfeld, and I have come to think of Julia Louis Dreyfus as one of the funniest comedians–and skilled actors–out today.

3. These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty

If you said that line (“These Pretzels are Making me Thirsty”) before I started watching Seinfeld, then I would have stared at you and waited for context, for reasoning, for logic. The entire gag would have flown over my head like a humming bird moving onto the next flower. But now I understand. In one of the funniest moments on the show (at least for me), Kramer reveals that he has a line in a Woody Allen movie, and it’s “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” Each one of the crew give their take on how to say the line. Of course, George is in the midst of car-parking fiasco, and he turns the bit of dialogue into a moment that reveals his frustrations with life, love, and success, simply by the way he says the line.

From a perspective as an aspiring novelist, this scene spoke to me clearly about writing dialogue. It was all about inflection; it’s all about the way the character moves around the room; it’s all about how he runs toward the window at the cars below who are honking for him to get back to work and confront his failing and miserable life that translates into meaning. It’s a moment of brilliance, but it’s also a moment about meaning and language. What we say can change so drastically by the way we say it.

4. The Last Episode was Horrible

Seinfeld last episode
Seinfeld last episode

Out of all the seasons, I loved seven and eight the most, and I did think that season nine took a step back. It was still a good season, however, but the finale, well, was pretty terrible. I expected a great show like Seinfeld to end in a way that was spectacular. I expected there to be something incredibly hilarious, some twist of fate that brought two worlds together in a way that no one could have seen coming, but instead, the final episode was a recap, a walk-down-memory-lane as all the characters came back to serve as expert witnesses to testify how terrible Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine are as people.

Of course, everyone must have been wanting Jerry and Elaine to admit finally how in love they were with each other. (We almost had it on the plane.) The television audience must have been craving for them to embrace each other, look each other in their eyes deeply, and say our existence is better now that we’re together. Well, it didn’t happen, and the show ends with them all in prison. (Sorry for the spoiler alert.) While the last episode was pretty lame, I admire them for not giving into the pressure, to the idea, that life should only be seen as a epic voyage to love and marriage. Of course, my life has taken that route, and I’m grateful for it, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s lives have to be that way. There are other narratives to a personal journey, and there are other ways to live.

5. A World of References Have Been Opened

In the end, if I was going to write about all the different things that I learned from watching all nine seasons of Seinfeld, then this post would be so incredibly long, and I would be forced to spend more than a couple days writing this thing. But if I had to sum up what I learned in one final point, it’s that a world of culture almost opened up to me overnight. I now understand the puffy shirt and what my friend means when he makes fun of my overstuffed wallet. I understand what it really means when someone has an incredible desire for a calzone, and I, yes, finally understand the larger appeal of “No soup for you.” But ultimately, I was able to watch a series of actors so attuned with their characters, and that feels like it only comes once in a decade on t. I just feel bad it took me this long to realize how much I was missing.