How Are Our Screens Changing Us Now? Host Guy Raz raises the curtain on a special two-part TED Radio Hour episode, exploring an uneasy moment in our evolution when we are becoming more and more dependent on our screens.

How Are Our Screens Changing Us Now?

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It's the TED RADIO HOUR from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. Over the past few years, corporations wanting to stage manage an announcement....


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Thank you, good afternoon and welcome to the call.

RAZ: ...Have turned to the corporate conference call. This is where reporters can dial in, grab some quotes and write a story. And normally, they are pretty boring. But anyone listening to this call - this is a call convened by Facebook in 2014.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Joining me on the call today are Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook...

RAZ: Anyone listening heard a pretty pretty amazing prediction.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: Thanks Deborah, and thanks everyone for joining us today.

RAZ: A prediction about the future of screens.


ZUCKERBERG: I'm excited to announce that Facebook has reached an agreement to acquire Oculus VR, the leader in virtual reality technology.

RAZ: So this is Mark Zuckerberg on this conference call with reporters, announcing that Facebook had bought for $2 billion a company that makes virtual reality headsets. Now, at this point, a lot of Facebook investors were questioning that acquisition. They were asking questions like isn't virtual reality that thing that was supposed to happen back in the '80s that never took off? And so Zuckerberg, on this call, was trying to justify to those investors why his company just spent $2 billion on a technology most people have never seen. And this is what he said.


ZUCKERBERG: The history of our industry is that every 10 or 15 years, there's a new major computing platform, whether it's the PC, the web or now mobile. History suggests that there will be more platforms to come, and that whoever builds and defines these will not only shape all the experiences that our industry built, but also benefit financially and strategically.

RAZ: OK, just a pause and translate that. In the past, he's saying, anyone able to get in on the ground floor of new technology platforms like the PC, or the Internet or mobile devices changed the way we live and made their investors a boat-load of money. OK, let's keep listening.


ZUCKERBERG: Mobile is the platform of today. And now we're starting to also get ready for the platforms of tomorrow. To me, by far the most exciting future platform is our own vision or modifying what you see to create augmented and immersive experiences. I believe Oculus can be one of the platforms of the future.

RAZ: So basically, this is Mark Zuckerberg in March, 2014 predicting that virtual reality goggles are the next smartphone, the next Internet, the next thing that's going to transform our lives. And quietly over the past few years, a lot of other tech companies - Microsoft, Google, Sony - they've also been betting a lot of money on that same idea.

CHRIS MILK: People are looking at this technology, I think, as some people think it's a novelty. Some people think it's a videogame. People are beginning to see it as a possible next step to cinema. I think what we're ultimately talking about is an alternate version of human consciousness.

RAZ: This is Chris Milk. He's a filmmaker, whose new company Verse makes virtual reality films. These are films designed to be watched using those virtual reality goggles. Chris has already put out a few early visions of those films which you can watch....

MILK: Turn.


MILK: Turn your body.


RAZ: On a simple smartphone app.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Oh, look at that.

RAZ: We showed some of those films....

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Oh that's pretty [expletive] cool.

RAZ: To people around the NPR office.

MILK: Look up, look up. Tilt it up.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: This is neat


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Whoa, where did you guys get this?

RAZ: Now, it's not what they're looking at that's important, it's....

MILK: How....

RAZ: How they're seeing it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: What is this?

RAZ: Because the image you see changes....

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: This is so cool.

RAZ: Depending on the direction you point the phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: It's totally convincing.

RAZ: And it starts to feel as if you're not just watching the screen....


RAZ: You're actually inside it.


ZUCKERBERG: The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you're actually present in another place with other people. It's different from anything I've ever experienced in my life, and many people who try it also say the same thing.

RAZ: As we're going to hear on this episode, the technology behind our screens is moving really fast. So fast, in fact, that we sometimes spend more time imagining how our screens will change in the future, than really understanding how our screens are changing us right now.

MILK: You are always there.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: And it keeps us there.

MILK: Even if you're not actually there.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: Because it's so good at distracting us.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: You can click a button and get a dopamine hit and get some information.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: Something is blinking, pay attention.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #7: But it's not satisfying information, most of the time.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: Yeah, I try to be healthy about it - I don't want it to dictate my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: But I think if things continue to go the way that they're going, it's just going to get too much for people.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: You know, I spend a lot of time in airports and I look around and everybody, literally - to a person is glued to their....

RAZ: There's your phone, right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: There it is even....

RAZ: Right now...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: You can hear it...

RAZ: I can hear it - I can hear it buzzing right now.

Today on the show, Screen Time - part one of a two-part TED RADIO HOUR looking at this moment in history when we're starting to interact with our screens almost as much or sometimes even more than we do with other humans. Next week, we're going to go inside the screen, a place where a whole other version of you lives like a digital doppelganger which may be more real than the real you. But this week, we're staying mainly outside the screen, and we're going to start to ask what all this screen interaction is doing to us and how we're living more and more of our lives through it.


ZUCKERBERG: Imagine enjoying a courtside seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world, consulting with a doctor face-to-face or going shopping in a virtual store where you can touch and explore the product you're interested in, just by putting on goggles your own home. This is really a new social platform.

MILK: Often we talk about - are we creating our eventual dystopian future? And if that is the case, and you are listening to this in the future I....

RAZ: We're really sorry.

MILK: I'm really sorry about that.

RAZ: We'll hear more from Chris Milk later on about how virtual reality technology could change how we experience the world around us. But first - what everyday screen technology is changing about us right now.

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