Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Why I’ve Never Mixed Weed With Virtual Reality

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Why I’ve Never Mixed Weed With Virtual Reality

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

VR and cannabis might seem like natural complements, but to combine them strips both of their transformative power.

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When I was 17 years old, two things held particular sway over my imagination. One of them was virtual reality. Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and the movie Lawnmower Man both came out that year, and while I had never heard of the technology that was bubbling through labs and startups thousands of miles from my Midwestern home, the idea of entering and truly existing inside a digital world became a source of endless fascination.

The other thing was—well, the other thing was weed.

First off, yes, obviously. It’s one of the great vice-based rites of passage. But smoking unlocked something transformative in my brain. It wasn’t necessarily that it rendered aesthetic experiences more vivid (which it did), or that the euphoria that came along with that beat the hell out of most of the other emotions that otherwise define adolescence (which it did). It was that creativity and communication seemed to happen on a different frequency, a range uncluttered by self-consciousness and second guessing.

More than 25 years later, in news that would probably thrill 17-year-old me, both of those things are still part of my life. I’ve written about VR since it first reemerged in the early part of this decade. I’ve used it to meditate, to spend time with friends, to travel through space, and sometimes just to watch Netflix in a place that isn’t my living room. I have no idea how much time I’ve spent inside a headset, but between the exotic and the pedestrian it’s likely enough to qualify for dual citizenship with the metaverse.

As for cannabis: hell, it’s California. In New York, I had a delivery guy who kept his inventory in a fake tennis-ball can. Here, I can walk into a store, browse a laminated menu, and walk out with any one of dozens of strains, optimized for whatever mood or medium I prefer. You have a glass of wine with dinner, I have a little Gelato with some added terpenes. (Operative term here being “a little.” I’m not 17 anymore.) I’ve used it to meditate, to spend time with friends, to travel through—you get it.

So it’s with great trepidation that on this, the holiest most annoying of days, that I unburden myself: I have never used VR while high. Never even considered it, despite their seemingly synergistic natures. And even though this pattern established itself organically, I’ve come to realize that it distills everything I think (and fear) about immersive technologies, and about the age of simulated experience that they herald.

As our screens and speakers and computers got better and better over the last 50 years, each new wrinkle brought with it an unspoken cultural dare: That high-def TV is cool, but did you ever watch it … on weed? Surround Sound, IMAX screens as tall as your apartment building, Pixar and ILM wizardry that made the impossible real. The draw wasn’t in a bigger, louder, sharper experience—it was how much more mind-blowing it would be in conjunction with tetrahydrocannabinol. Then flat screens gave way to something much, much realer, and the calculation changed considerably.

Had VR come along when I was in high school or college, rolling blunts or trying to achieve orbit via three-foot bong, I definitely would have crossed the streams. Alteration wasn’t just intrinsic to the experience, it was the very thing that I chased. As time passed, though, I sought just the opposite. Cannabis became a conduit into myself, a way to better notice my reactions and patterns, to look at my life and relationships from a different perspective. The immediate effects would fade, but I would retain an emotional memory of the experience—a memory that added to those that came before and after it, gradually coalescing into a clearer sense of self.

VR initiates a similar progression of alteration to awareness. Presence, the phenomenon by which your brain buys in to your virtual surroundings, brings with it a rush of novelty, an existential whoa-man that leaves you immediately wanting to turn up the intensity. Over time, though, you settle into presence and learn that it unlocks something much more replicable and sustainable than killer adrenaline-rush experiences—it deepens the time you spend with people, and with yourself.

I don’t know that I’d articulated any of that to myself when VR became a part of my life. What I sensed was that what I was doing and seeing and hearing and most of all feeling in virtual reality needed no embellishment. VR was, by its very nature, as still and centering as the perspective I’d come to relish from cannabis.

I’m not alone in my abstinence. Jaron Lanier, the father of modern virtual reality, famously eschews all drugs, but in his 2017 memoir, Dawn of the New Everything, he spends a bit of time exploring the parallels between VR and a famous psychedelic:

VR is sometimes compared to LSD, but VR users can share a world objectively, even if it is fantastical, while LSD users cannot. VR worlds will require design and engineering effort, and will be best when you are willing to make the effort to create and share your own experiences. It will be like riding a bike, not a roller-coaster ride.

Could you chomp an edible and head into a trippy celestial adventure? Go for it. For me, doing so would reduce VR to a spectacle, when in truth it’s more of a substrate—for exploration both internal and external. No need to overwhelm your senses when you’re redefining them altogether.

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Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers In ‘Never Too Late,’ Finally, A Guide For Adults Going To College

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers In ‘Never Too Late,’ Finally, A Guide For Adults Going To College

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There are hundreds of books about picking the best college. But let’s face it: Most of them are written for high schoolers. In reality, 40 percent of college students are 25 or older — well out of high school — and many have kids, full-time jobs or both. (We’ve written about this before.)

Now, a new book by Rebecca Klein-Collins offers advice and guidance for the adult student looking to go to college.

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“There are hundreds if not thousands of colleges out there that are really not designed for the adult learner,” Klein-Collins says. “So someone who is a busy working person shouldn’t really waste a moment looking at those kinds of colleges.”

But there are schools that do a great job educating older adults, she explains in Never Too Late. The book offers answers to persistent questions, like, “What do I do if it’s been ages since I took algebra?” or “I have a few college classes under my belt — how do I get those credits to count?”

Klein-Collins spoke to NPR about the logistical hurdles adults face in college, and how to overcome anxieties around going back to school. The following interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.

Who are these adults looking to go to college?

They’re people who might have started college right after high school, but never finished. They might have had a lot of really great work experience and can’t afford to quit their jobs in order to go back to school. They might have military service. Maybe they’ve received some technical training and leadership experience. Maybe they are raising a family.

These are all people who are really good candidates for going back to school. And these are the kinds of people you see in classrooms these days. It’s not that unusual.

What are some of the logistical hurdles these folks face?

If you’re a working adult, you’re not going to quit your job to go back to school. Of course, some people can and that’s great, but a lot of people can’t. So you need to find a college that has flexible programs that offer classes after hours or on weekends; or a school that offers blended learning — online and face-to-face — that you can fit into your busy work life. There are other colleges that have shorter terms or terms that start at different points of the traditional school year, so it allows a lot more flexibility for taking on courses when they fit into your life.

Where can adults turn for advice on going back to college?

Adults are really on their own in trying to figure this whole thing out because there isn’t a system in place that’s helping them make these decisions. They can’t go back to their high school and get advice from their old guidance counselor or their kids’ guidance counselor. So even though there’s a lot of lip service paid to the importance of lifelong learning and it’s a no-brainer to go back to school and to get a degree, the real amazing thing is that we don’t have a system that’s set up to help people make good decisions about going back to school.

In an ideal world, we would have a whole network of career and education advisors available to every American. And that’s something that’s really needed, but we don’t have that right now. The more ways we can provide adults with guides or tips or resources to help with their decision-making, the better — because it’s so important to avoid costly mistakes.

What do adults starting this process need to know?

First thing I want them to know: Even though a family member might have gone to a certain college or university, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be the right choice for them. Certainly ask people you know for their guidance, but keep in mind that you need to do your own research.

No. 2: Find a place that acknowledges who you are at this stage in your life. And that can manifest itself in a number of different ways. It can mean that a school is not expecting you to drop everything and go to school full-time; they understand that you have work and family obligations and they help design a program that’s going to fit into your busy lifestyle. It could also mean a program that really acknowledges the diverse experiences that students are bringing to the classroom — so instructors are not just assuming that you’re coming right out of high school, but that you have learned from your own life — and they see that experience has relevance in the classroom that can contribute to the class in a very unique way.

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Third, look for places that have something called a “prior learning assessment.” This is a method for evaluating a student’s [knowledge] that they’ve acquired from work or life or military experience. Some colleges use tests, like the CLEP, to award college credit; others have faculty members create a special exam based on a course; while other schools have a student put together a portfolio of their learning with documentation, and have that evaluated by a faculty member for college credit. It’s really important for somebody who has had a lot of work experience or has had a lot of military training; it can really help you finish your degree a whole lot faster and a whole lot cheaper.

What are your tips for helping adults overcoming their anxieties around going back to school?

A lot of people are nervous about it and are envisioning being the oldest person in the class. This is a totally normal thing to be feeling, but it’s OK, you’re gonna be fine, and there are colleges that will help you succeed.

The book offers some tips for how to build support at home for what you’re trying to do. It includes some exercises to help you recognize all the skills that you already have — this includes time management, attention to detail, things like that.

The other important thing to do is to help adults identify why they want to go back to school. If you can identify what it is that’s motivating you, then that can be your rallying cry when you’re starting to feel discouraged or anxious about starting school.

So in addition to really helping adults ask the right questions about what kind of college is going to support me and be a good fit for me, it’s also helping them really understand why it is they are doing this.

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