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Tweeters riled by CEOs 'experiencing' homelessness via VR

Commentary: A video of business people donning VR headsets posted to Twitter by a homelessness charity in Australia makes many think of a painful dystopian future.

 Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


The modern way to experience suffering.

screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

We are defined, too often, by the images we put out.

What, then, to think of a video that appeared on Twitter and riled just one or two remaining sentient humans?

The video was posted by CEOSleepout, a charity event organized by the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Australia. Its aim is to get business leaders to sleep out like homeless people for just one night, in order to (begin to) understand their plight.

Yet here was a video that showed CEOs in Sydney sitting on comfortable chairs in what was likely a warm room, experiencing the homeless experience via VR.

It was accompanied by these words: "Our Sydney CEOs using virtual reality to get a glimpse of the realities faced by the people who experience this everyday."

There's nothing like a glimpse of reality that doesn't require you to touch it, smell it or communicate with it. 

This was an even more painfully dystopian image than the now-legendary sight of Mark Zuckerberg walking down a conference center aisle, with every attendee wearing a virtual reality mask.

The reaction to CEOs experiencing living on the streets while sitting comfortably wasn't universally positive. Game developer David Goldfarb, for example, tweeted: "Or you could, I dunno, walk down to where poor people live?"

David Scott Aubrey assaulted the very modernity of experiencing the suffering of others virtually: "Yes! Dealing with the virtual cold, the virtual violence, the virtual hunger, the virtual untreated illnesses, the virtual despair ..."

Another Twitterer, Kale, offered an idea: "Only valid if we get to actually strip them naked and throw them outside with no id and no resources while they have the headsets on."

Those of excessively positive disposition might say that at least these CEOs are showing an interest, while so many others simply cross the street. Tech entrepreneur Justin Keller last year wrote an open letter to the mayor of San Francisco, which included these words: "I don't want to see homeless riff-raff."

Still, many on Twitter wondered whether the money spent on the VR sets might have been better spent on, say, feeding the homeless.

CEOSleepout didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Its own website explains that 2.5 million Australians live in poverty. 105,000 Australians are homeless. (Around 23.8 million people live in Australia.) This compares with a reported 500,000 people or more who are homeless in the US.

CEOSleepout says its organization "is about building stronger, more compassionate communities." How much strength, compassion and community is being built in this video?

And how much is it an exercise in, well, what? (Bad) PR?

Last year, the CEOSleepout in Adelaide experienced problems. It was reportedly gatecrashed by homeless people. They said these privileged types had no idea what being homeless was really like. 

After all, the organizers had put up marquees and fences around the sleeping CEOs. Now why would they have done that? 

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.

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