Column, The Movie Diary

Reality bites

By Dom Cioffi

My company had an in-office meeting last week that included the entire staff. I believe this was the first time since March of 2020 (pre-Covid) that we were all in the building at the same time.

Initially, I loved working from home. I found the solitude relaxing and noticed my workload increased, so it seemed to be a win-win for both me and my company.

But then, over time, I began to ache for human interaction. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible given my penchant for solitude, but I could tell the lack of human contact was having a negative effect on my demeanor. It was subtle, but noticeable, and it manifested as a low-level anxiety that wouldn’t dissipate.

To alleviate this, I started going back to the office once or twice a week. There would usually be a handful of like-minded coworkers around who were also in need of camaraderie. Interestingly, I noticed that most of the people who showed up were 40 and older; my younger colleagues didn’t seem to need the physical connections.

Eventually, I got used to the pattern of being home alone several days a week and then occasionally going back to the office with a few other people. Routine set in and the new normal officially took hold. And that’s the way it’s been for over two years.

I suppose I was excited for this recent meeting, knowing we would all be together having those classic water cooler conversations and lunchbreak laughs. However, the experience was not what I expected.
First of all, you could feel the anxiety. Folks didn’t shake hands much or stand close in the hallway, and when the occasional cough arose, you could see people physically back away. At first, I thought it was me, then a coworker pulled me aside and asked if I was getting a weird vibe.
The company brought in lunch around noon and we all gathered in our large meeting space. That helped put people back into the groove and alleviated some of the tension. We ended up having some good laughs and a lot of fun.

After lunch, we had several team meetings and by 3 o’clock everyone was visibly exhausted. The reality of being “on” all day had taken its toll.
That’s when the new guy mentioned that he had a set of virtual reality goggles in his car. He had piped up during a conversation about the metaverse and admitted he was addicted to playing games in virtual spaces. That lead to a bevy of questions (many of them from me) about what this new world was like.

After a little prodding, he went out to his car and came back with the goggles. He spent a few minutes setting things up, then turned to me and asked if I was ready.

The truth is, I’ve always been curious about virtual reality, but I have purposely stayed away because I didn’t want to open pandora’s box. I spend an inordinate amount of time on my computer for work. The last thing I need is a spare time hobby that keeps me even more connected.
I was immediately taken aback at the realism. I knew virtual reality had come a long way, but this was impressive. I walked around a city avoiding traffic for awhile and eventually took an elevator up 50 floors. When the doors opened, all that was visible was a wooden plank hanging over the side of the building.

I knew it was fake; I knew nothing bad could happen to me. And yet, my legs were shaking as I inched out onto the plank. I tried to look up at the birds flying by but I had intense vertigo. My coworker told me to step off the plank and my legs literally wouldn’t do it.

I finally stepped to the side and began falling to the earth. All I can tell you is that the fall was as realistic as anything I’ve ever experienced.
I took the goggles off and handed them to my coworker and then sat back in my chair with a queasy stomach. My experience with virtual reality was intense and interesting, but now I’m even more convinced that I’m fully content in the real world.

This week’s feature, “All Quiet on the Western Front,” is one of those films that will also give you a queasy stomach, but in this case, it’s due to the penetrating realism depicted in this WWI epic.

Based on the same book that was made into an Oscar winning film in 1930, this version uses modem technology to fully immerse the viewer in the horrors of war while critiquing the ideological wasteland of nationalism.

Check this one out if you appreciate the warfare genre, just be prepared for some harsh, deplorable realities.

An all-too-real “B” for “All Quiet on the Western Front,” now available for streaming on Netflix.

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]

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