Chronophobia

On this being the five-year anniversary of the world renowned SimStim phenomenon, our publication has reached out to Daniel Jacobsen, founder of SimStim, and asked him to personally write this headliner. In the wake of both recent awards and controversies, it seemed only fitting that the entrepreneur himself would elaborate on what makes him tick, as well as shed some light on the criticism which has recently been levered at the company.

Back when I started this company, all I really wanted was to save myself. While this may sound a little bizarre to some, SimStim was founded on a phobia of mine – the fear of the passing of time. Chronophobia is far more common than you’d think, most people experiencing this fear do not even recognize it as such. But growing up in a household where meditation and introspection were important, it was hard to overlook. 
When we are young, all of the world is new to us. The first day at school, the first soft-ice, the first kiss, the first time behind the wheel. We take in all the nuances and details, because the situations are unfamiliar. Over time, those experiences accumulate, become familiar. With age the newness fades into fatigue. This phenomenon is called hedonic adaptation, a feature of the human brain persisting since we left the caves. We have evolved to normalize, to protect ourselves from harsh conditions by getting used to them. This feature causes similar memories to be compressed into one, so that we can forget repeated pains. Unfortunately, our perception of time hinges on distinguishable memories; and this compression erases moments of our lives. That is why time goes faster as we age, because everything is becoming familiar.

To stay happy we must experience things that are fresh. To feel time we must remember. If we forget, we may experience things again, but the cost is to lose that time before we regain it, the sum unchanged. With all of our technological advances, this knot remained untangled. I could not accept this truth.

So I began in traditional game development, somewhere I could create new experiences. But the problem with traditional games – even virtual reality – was  their restricted access to our senses. Seeing and hearing is one thing, but each moment we experience so much more – and for a new memory to form as irrevocably as I desired, I needed access to more than just the eyes and ears. It was not until the advent of the Cradle that I could finally give people real experiences. By taking the computers out of our hands and planting them straight in our heads, we could do more than just sight and sound – we could do touch, smell, taste, even imply emotions to some degree. I jumped on this technology immediately, began telling stories both passive and interactive. I wasn’t the only one, far from it. But looking back today, I think it is safe to say that no one really understood the process like I did, the sacrifice that was necessary to succeed. Unlike game development where most of us came from, relying on outsiders for feedback on something so deeply personal and detailed, was not a good idea. Instead, I learned to forget – to judge my own work as I would experience it for the first time, every time.

Time is the most valuable commodity there is. Its subjective nature is something that should be tailored to each individual, so that the time we remember is positive. For those who understand this, there is a sense of duty in giving the gift of time to others. It is this understanding that has helped us accept the loss of memory we incur on ourselves, to experience our own work anew, make adjustments without others. 

At SimStim, only one person works on each narrative. And with the help of a Tabula Erasure-chip, at each milestone in that person’s work they will forget everything they have made so they can reapproach it with fresh eyes, see their own mistakes. Once their narrative is finished, all they remember from their time at work, is the one experience they have of playing their own story for the first time. That sacrifice is how we stay ahead of the competition.
But we don’t just make the stories. The second pillar of our success is our custom hardware. The SimStim chip not only allows the users to experience with all of their senses, but to do so in what we call “dreamtime.” Ever fallen asleep for a few minutes, yet dreamt for something that felt like hours? The untethered brain is capable of experiencing things so much faster than when bound by the body. Lucid dreamers have known this for ages, walking their dreamscapes as realities outside our own. Our chip is capable of inducing the NREM-sleep state required for coherent dreams, while simultaneously allowing the user to be fully aware and remember what happens. In this state, the chip provides the framework which the user interacts with, it tells the story as written by us. It gives moments of respite to even those who are too busy to relax. Although many have augmented themselves from the need to sleep, we beg to differ: With us, there is always time to dream.

The world has never been as competitive as it is today. Ever since the asteroids were pulled out of the sky, when New Europe traded democracy for economic stability, those who are not of the big corps must live by innovation. People work themselves to death looking for the next big thing, trading sleep for 12-14 hour workdays. Those that aren’t inclined to do so get left behind, trapped by the age old carrot-on-the-stick that we must become important to find true happiness. But the truth is that we have never been as free as we are today. With basic income we might not live in modern luxury, but the average living standards are historically good. Those without work are still paid enough to travel the world, eat whatever they want, even get basic quality-of-life improving augmentations. Reality is really what we make of it. Which is where SimStim comes into the picture.

We don’t just see our stories as an escape from reality, but rather a supplement to it. They are a place we can go to find both purpose and inspiration, whether we look for ideas or just a meaningful existence. Each narrative has many paths and outcomes, though there are still limits – randomly generating content outside the boundaries of our work, simply doesn’t measure up with our writers. But I believe one day there will be an algorithm to surpass us all. An intelligence capable of telling meaningful stories, stretching forever in all directions we choose to explore. If we want to be a little philosophical about it, it would almost be like the creation of a new universe, inside the mind of the user. A noble gift for those who are lost, don’t you think?

Which also brings me to the criticism of our work. We have been quite transparent about our motivations from the start. To create this algorithm is my ultimate purpose, to give the gift of time to anyone in need. Some people do not like this idea, they claim that we are playing god, throwing foundless accusations at us when we do not budge. They are having trouble adapting their ancient philosophies to such radical change, to whom I must I am sorry, I only want us all to be happy and my vision is not an eventuality – it will happen.

As for the claim about the health risks of our product, I do wish to put out a word of warning; the stories you have heard about nightmares on unlicensed chips are unfortunately true. We cannot guarantee the safety of anyone purchasing unlicensed content, and we can’t stop third-party bootlegs from happening. The lower prices are often an indicator that the chip’s content does not follow regulations – a scary thought considering that it plugs into your head. There are good writers outside of our company, we do not hold exclusivity on that. But do yourself a favor and buy from the licensed vendors, it is not worth the risk.

As for the people allegedly getting addicted to SimStim? The brain has a tendency of getting hooked on anything good. Sugar, alcohol, nicotine, even a good story. But unlike substance abuse, SimStim use has no ill effects on the body. Any physical detriments being reported, are from users that lie still for too long. This is comparable to how people sitting in chairs playing videogames all day, were getting back problems. Yet again, the games and stories are not at fault, it is simply the users who should be aware of their own physical limitations.

Wrapping up this article, we would love to hear about your experiences with SimStim, by telling us on our social media platforms. We certainly love their storytelling formats, and the company has a refreshingly personal take on what drives them forward. In the age of PR bullshit and buzzwords, we’ll keep our fingers crossed that SimStim continues to succeed.