Accept no substitute: get out in the real world

There is an apposite video clip doing the meme rounds at the moment which shows a guy standing on his hoverboard next to the open gull-wing door of a DeLorean car, wearing a VR headset, holding his phone out on a selfie stick, with his drone circling nearby. Unable to balance or see, he falls back into the car door and his world spins.

The average age of the nouns in that first sentence must be less than ten years, and their history says even more about where we are heading than the absurd predicament posed in the video.

A few minutes after watching that, with the morning rain past, I strode out into sunshine, for a short walk up the hill to the local farm. With the wind on my face and the sun just starting to sink behind the downs ahead of me, this was the start of the weekend. As the lane turned to give me a view over the village, it occurred to me that I had not seen another human since leaving the village. I counted five Hampshire Down rams, clustered together in their tense virility. There were plenty of birds, mainly crows pulling their way to dusk gatherings in the barren treetops.

But not another soul around.

Back in the grimy cities of the twentieth century, the weekend was the chance to get out, to escape the squalor of back-to-back housing, blocks of flats, and weekday graft, and head to the nearest open space. For those living in Manchester, that meant the Peak District, with the endless moorland on Kinder Scout; for London perhaps the East Coast with resorts like Southend and Clacton, or the rolling Downs to north and south.

Now with so much of our cities planned and remodelled with prize-winning building designs, the rush is to turn the TV on, get back into Minecraft, or engage the VR. The only impression of wind is its sound, and the synthetic sun brings no warmth to the skin. Legs flop purposeless below.

Virtual experiences have their role: one which I have recently enjoyed is the stunning tour of cave paintings in the Lascaux cave. But that is weirdly doubly removed from reality: it is a 3D computer model of a physical model of the original cave.

There is still a whole, real world out here. There are fields and cottages, buzzards and clouds. It is a world full of light, and colour, and sensations that are far more intense and lifelike than anything you will experience indoors.