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WILDEST DREAMS

FROM MUSEUMS TO HOLLYWOOD, visionary artists and filmmakers—Paul McCarthy, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Jeff Koons, and Marina Abramović, to name a few—are taking on ambitious virtual-reality projects. Writer and artist DOUGLAS COUPLAND—who has prognosticated some of the most critical generational shifts of our time—and curator DANIEL BIRNBAUM met to discuss these endeavors and the future of technology and desire.

Internal hardware of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset, 2017.

DANIEL BIRNBAUM: Have you seen anything memorable in VR?

DOUGLAS COUPLAND: Yes . . . it was a beautiful summer evening three years ago. I’d invited a few friends over, and one of them arrived with the most recent Oculus Rift headset. I had two VR experiences. First, I flew over a Cajun swamp in pursuit of purple lights in the distance. Then I collected asteroids in the rings of Saturn. No sound.

The twist was that when I removed the goggles, I looked at my favorite room in the world, filled with good friends on that beautiful summer evening, and I thought, Man, what a dump.

The thing about VR is that it’s so much better than the real world. Reality doesn’t even come close—and that shocks me. Assuming the screen quality is good, even a banal VR experience is better than real life.

It also turns out that my alienation is a common reaction: “post-VR sadness,” a sense of derealization

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