You find yourself moving forward in Google Street View on an avenue that cuts east to west across downtown Chicago. Your presence is silent and swift. The application requires you to move through traffic incrementally, an apparition in this faux reality of your choosing.
You’re here because you just read an article in Rolling Stone about exposure therapy, in which military veterans used virtual reality to safely experience and process PTSD triggers from combat zones. Under the supervision of a therapist, they talk through the feelings that come up—in order to create new neural pathways and ease future distress caused by their traumatic memories.
But you are not a soldier and this is not Afghanistan. You are a thirty-five-year-old woman sitting in front of a computer monitor. Because you can see your city’s skyline through a few leafless trees outside your window, you feel safe enough to run your eyes along a two-dimensional map of the city you used to live in. On a whim, you enter Street View, and your pulse quickens. Your body doesn’t seem to know that over a decade has passed.