In the past few years I've noticed an increasing trend of techno-pessimism in the West, whether it's the (perhaps legitimate) fear of Social Media corrupting our youth, critique of billionaires going to space instead of feeding the poor, AI-infused murder bots, or a dystopian VR Metaverse run by Mark Zuckerberg. Out of these I think VR is perhaps the most misunderstood.
It's been interesting to have witnessed the very rapid shift in public sentiment in the last few years. When I bought my Oculus Devkit 2 back in 2014, VR was still mainly a curiousity. The reaction from friends and family at that time was mainly "neat!". By the time they tried the HTC Vive I think they could see a bit more clearly what potential VR has, and there was still not much of a negative sentiment. But when Meta, then Facebook, started pushing the idea of a Metaverse, the sentiment pushed firmly into "dystopian" territory. I think it was at this point that people seriously started considering what a future with this technology would look like, and it's just too alien for most people. But in my view, VR is not dystopian, it's probably a necessity for the survival of the planet.
We live in a finite world, with finite resources. VR essentially creates an infinite world for us to live in. We can meet in VR instead of polluting our way across the globe. We can "own" and use virtual objects instead of objects made out of finite atoms mined in Australia, reshaped in China and finally sent on a huge boat across the Pacific. We can have deep experiences that rival anything the world of atoms can provide. We can actually be more social in VR, because the cost of meeting and hanging out is approximately zero. I don't see it as dystopian at all. What's dystopian is 7 billion people all trying to live the American dream while the planet dies.
I don't think we'll completely stop living in the real world, nor should we, but I think moving some activities to VR can alleviate many of the problems we're facing. At the same time we should definitely invest in transitioning to renewable energy, electrification of transportation and industry and other environmental technologies. As a self-proclaimed techno-optimist, I also think that technology can enable us to consume less resources while maintaining our standard of living. One such example is self-driving cars: they would allow us to have overall fewer cars on the road while maintaining the same transportation capacity, while also reducing the need for garages and parking lots. However, the phenomenon of induced demand means that in the end there will probably not be any fewer cars on the road. Living more virtually however, would reduce our need for transportation, our need for stuff. It's not the whole solution, but I think it's an important part of it.
(Note: some of the benefits of VR are also true of AR, but to a lower degree since it's always anchored to the real world)