The tech world wants us to believe that virtual reality will unlock human understanding on a global scale. But it’s also a business strategy

The other week, Mark Zuckerberg visited Puerto Rico without leaving California. He stood on the roof of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park with a virtual reality (VR) headset strapped to his face, and immersed himself in a flooded street 3,000 miles away.

Zuckerberg was livestreaming the event to promote Facebook Spaces, a “social” VR app. But it backfired, badly. Using a humanitarian crisis for a marketing stunt made many people angry. So did the tasteless incongruity of Zuckerberg’s grinning cartoon avatar set against a landscape of profound human suffering.

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