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Will Virtual Reality ‘Jolting’ Be the Digital Drug of Choice?

BitTorrent's new sci-fi series 'Children of the Machine' depicts a future society where the drug of choice is intense virtual reality trips, dubbed “jolting.”
July 29, 2014, 6:59pm
Image: Screenshot from BitTorrent/Vimeo

Earlier this month we wrote that the peer-to-peer file-sharing company BitTorrent is producing an original sci-fi series that depicts a world transformed—for better or worse—by artificial intelligence and technical progress.

The drug of choice in  Children of the Machine's future society is intense virtual reality trips, dubbed "jolting." Today, BitTorrent released a short clip teasing the upcoming TV show, which explores the darker side of plugging into an alternate universe and leaving this one behind.

The faux documentary clip is a bit campy, and a bit reminiscent of an old school anti-addiction PSA. A young woman addicted to VR describes the experience of having intense visuals beamed into her eyeballs, "like a visual orgasm."

But it's also eerily close to reality in some ways.  When I spoke to the producer of Children of the Machine, Marco Weber, he stressed that the series will be incorporating technology that is close to home, rather than far future gizmos that are hard to relate to.

"'The PC is the LSD of the '90s,' stated Timothy Leary in his last book, Chaos and Cyber Culture. Your first-ever desktop was acid. Think about your iPhone. Think about Oculus Rift. These are the 21st century's digital super-strains," wrote BitTorrent in a blog post introducing the video. "In doing research for the upcoming series … set in the not-so-distant future, the filmmakers trailed the pioneers of today's virtual psychedelic movement. They documented psychological dependency in the post-internet age. And they interviewed some of its first casualties: the kids lost to digital addiction."

Indeed, in a strangely prophetic report from last week, a Motherboard writer dived into a digital universe via Oculus Rift, drawing comparisons with psychedelia and chemically induced visions. The technology is here, but the risks associated with digital drugs are just starting to be explored.

Children of the Machine intends to explore them. Weber said the series will be tackling how emerging technology has changed human social interaction. "You just loose all notions of time, of space, and it feels like your own universe," the woman in the video clip says, trying to keep her excitement bottled up. "And it's just you, and that state of being, and nothing else matters."

Whether or not this series will be a success remains to be seen. In fact, the rest of the episodes may not even be produced unless BitTorrent's crowdfunding campaign and paywall business model are a success. For the project to be fully funded, 250,000 users need to pay a subscription fee, a request that could prove to be a tall order for BitTorrent users accustomed to getting digital content for free, legally or otherwise.