One of the criticisms leveled at virtual reality is that it can be isolating. Rather than being with other people, the argument goes, VR users are spending their time in a made-up world.
As Applin and Fischer and others have noted, this criticism contains within it a very misleading view of the human condition. In fact, we all live in a made-up world. With our extensive use of clothing, medicine, housing, utensils, written language and more, even the most “back to the earth” among us are living a highly virtualized existence.
So I don’t feel that I am betraying some key principle of “authenticity” as I let my mind wander over the possibilities that have occurred to me after experiencing the Valve VR demo — possibilities that would never have occurred to me after trying on “almost good enough” technologies, such as the Oculus Rift or the various CAVE environments I have visited through the years.
And I find that all of the experiences that occur to me are ones that actually draw me closer to other people. For example, I would love to be a dolphin for the day, going on a mini-vacation with a friend — who is also being a dolphin — as we explore the great barrier reef.
Unlike human scuba divers, my friend and I will be free to chat away as we visit one fantastical undersea wonder after another. And of course we will be able to swim a lot farther and faster.
Or perhaps my friend and I can be flying dragons swooping and gliding through the floating islands of James Cameron’s Pandora. Thinking of this last possibility, I am struck by the difference between a mere stereo iMax movie and the experience of true sensory immersion.
In point of fact, I remember thinking, when I first saw the beautiful and intricate visualizations of Middle Earth in Peter Jackson’s Ring trilogy, that one day even this will seem primitive, in the way most people now think of black and white silent films as primitive.
Now, for the first time, it is clear to me what kind of future alternative experience is coming along to make that happen.