On Monday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promoted the social media giant’s new Facebook Spaces app, which allows users to remotely cast cartoon avatars of themselves walking around locations in the real world, by taking a “magical” tour of Puerto Rico.
Specifically, Zuckerberg toured parts of the commonwealth still devastated from Hurricane Maria—which has left the vast majority of the island with destroyed infrastructure, no electricity and massive storm damage—via an Oculus Rift headset. While Zuckerberg was attempting to explain how Spaces related to the company’s relief efforts after major disasters, the whole thing is a tonal mess resembling nothing more than rubbernecking and disaster tourism.
“There’s a lot of people who are using Spaces ... to do interviews and Q&As in VR, and to go places that it wouldn’t be possible to necessarily go or definitely would be a lot harder to go in real life,” Zuckerberg told Rachel Franklin, Facebook’s head of social VR, from a VR meeting on the roof of the company’s headquarters.
After Franklin brought up the “really cool stuff that people are doing to go different places,” Zuckerberg said their next stop would be an“interesting 360 video that NPR took of what’s going on down there” before teleporting to a rubble-lined bridge.
Image: Screengrab via Facebook
“Now we’re in a 360 video in Puerto Rico, and you can kind of get a sense of what is... we’re on a bridge here, it’s flooded,” Zuckerberg said. “You can get a sense of some of the damage here that the hurricanes have done, and one of the things that’s really magical about virtual reality is you can get the feeling that you’re really in a place.”
“We’re looking around and it it feels like we’re really here in Puerto Rico, where it’s obviously a tough place to get to now and a lot of people are really suffering with the aftermath of the hurricanes,” he added as the background shifted to shots of flooded streets and people clearing debris.
Image: Screengrab via Facebook
Zuckerberg explained that Facebook is “very focused on trying to help out in the recovery effort,” adding the site launched its safety check and community assistance features, as well as promoted fundraisers and dispatched employees to help re-establish connectivity. He added it was also partnering with the Red Cross to build population maps with satellite imagery to help direct rescuers and aid workers to areas where resources were most needed.
But while it’s perhaps easy to imagine how realtime VR could aid rescue and relief efforts, Zuckerberg never really addressed the connection between charity and his cartoon avatar’s trip to Puerto Rico before going back to gawking.
“Yeah, this street is just completely flooded,” Zuckerberg marvelled as he looked at what was recently peoples’ homes. “I mean can you guys, can you see this behind me, I mean this is what it looks like down here.”
“It’s crazy to feel like you’re in the middle of it,” Franklin responded.
After an awkward pause, Zuckerberg said, “Yeah, um, oh right! You wanna go teleport to somewhere else?”
After a quick jaunt back to the presentation floor, the duo projected themselves on the surface of the moon—a luxury not available to the millions of Puerto Ricans still struggling amid one of the worst crises in the island’s history.
While this whole ordeal is perhaps not on the level of throwing paper towels to hurricane victims like they’re pets instead of humans, something tells me that Zuckerberg has not completely figured out the troubling concepts of human interaction or self awareness.