When I was young, I always got jealous when I saw that other kids had Gameboys and Nintendos. I wanted to play with all the latest gadgets and entertainment.
Fortunately, and probably as my parents predicted, learning to live without those things eventually made me more immune to technology envy—which is sometimes helpful in a modern world when you see the phones and laptops that other people have.
Recently, however, I had a bit of a slip up when I saw that there was a group that got to spend almost their whole day trying out virtual reality headsets—something I think I would enjoy. I’m not surprised at myself for once again coveting what the cool kids had.
What I didn’t expect, however, was that these cool kids were cows.
The importance of cow comfort to maximizing milk yield is nothing new to the industry. From playing music to erecting scratching posts inside the freestalls, farmers have long sought logical investments that increase production without extra labor. Russian scientists have taken it to a new level, however, designing over-sized virtual reality glasses shaped for a cow’s head.
Instead of standing inside the freestalls on a grey drab day, the cows are transplanted to a virtual open field under a summer sun. They enter, in effect, a cattle paradise.
The study didn’t say what happens when the cow tries to eat the virtual grass or has to deal with the shock of the glasses coming off for milking. The VR glasses, however, have already shown to reduce overall stress and anxiety for the animal (even if not entirely in a practical way).
After developing it for almost five decades, 2016 was predicted to be the breakout year for virtual reality. It was supposed to revolutionize not only gaming technology, but the way that we looked at the world. Some even thought it would eventually be part of our everyday lives.
However, to some extent it remained cost prohibitive for the average person, and never really gained the momentum expected. Early flaws, such as causing eye strain, turned some off. Before long, the buzz over VR started to die down. Four years later, many technology enthusiasts are scratching their heads and wondering what ever happened to it.
Still, VR has been put to some pretty interesting uses in the last few years.
Since the idea behind virtual reality is to transport us to new experiences, headsets have been used to promote empathy. This includes anything from showing children what it’s like to be bullied to walking around a refugee camp and witnessing the horrific living conditions firsthand. You can even have a migraine recreated, in the event you want to better understand what a migraine sufferer goes through.
It has also engaged in various types of therapy, from allowing those with chronic pain to enter a more pleasant atmosphere, to generating a simulated large audience to help people handle public speaking, to recreating combat scenarios to help soldiers that suffer from PTSD. There is even a VR app that allows you to encounter getting your head cut off during the French Revolution.
I tried a virtual headset once and admit to be taken aback with it. Suddenly, I was diving in the sea and ducking every time a shark swam by me, or sitting on the edge of a mountain cliff, talking to other people with headsets on that were both right next to me and at the same time somewhere else in the world. Instead of being in a living room that I hadn’t cleaned in weeks I was watching a movie in a Swiss villa with the mountains outside my window.
I knew it wasn’t “real,” but I was willing to let myself suspend my disbelief and be immersed in the new environment. I, like everyone else, thought VR was going to be the next big thing. I at least thought I would have a headset before the cows did.
Although virtual reality is increasingly used in areas such as education and various types of training, it isn’t part of most of our daily lives. For now, anyway, we’re largely stuck with the real world, in all its dirtiness, imperfections and dullness. In the least, that means there will always be a need for an imagination, which is probably a defining part of what makes us human.
As for the cows in Russia, I can only imagine the disappointment when green pastures are yanked off their heads and their dragged back to the milking parlor.
Unfortunately, farming is still something grounded in a distinct reality.