The future of travel

In response to yesterday’s post, J. Peterson raised the interesting question of whether we will all start to travel to other places via Virtual Reality, rather than with our physical bodies.

Speaking as somebody who just flew back from the West Coast (and had my flight unexpectedly delayed till the next day due to weather), I can certainly sympathize with anyone who would like to figure out how to avoid air travel.

As it happens, on my flight out to Seattle I was sitting next to someone who had never tried VR. So I took out my GearVR and gave her a brief virtual tour of Venice. Sitting there in her airplane seat, she started looking all around as she traveled on a virtual gondola, at the beautiful buildings, the Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal, and all the other wondrous sites of old Venezia.

It was kind of funny when you think about it: I was watching someone go on a virtual journey in the middle of a real one.

We then got into a discussion about whether VR will lead to more physical travel or less. I argued that it will lead to more travel, based on the following observation: If you think back to the 1960s, before our modern information revolution, there was significantly less air travel (per capita) than there is now. Travel on an jet plane was sort of a special thing.

Now it is part of everyday life for millions of people. I think the argument can be made that this change was at least partly caused by the information revolution. People are now much more connected to each other across great distances, and know far more about other places, and so we all have much greater reason to travel.

One thought on “The future of travel”

  1. To substitute travel, virtual reality needs to be real. I mean really real! The virtual Venice is really amazing, but I’m still breathing the stuffy airplane air, worried I’d whack somebody’s face if I turn around. To replace the need to physically be somewhere, it needs to be virtual reality for all the senses.

    That said, “travel” casts a wide net. There are many reasons to travel: sight seeing, apartment hunting, business. And different reasons require different types of realism for VR to replace physically being somewhere.

    For example, take going to see classical concerts. For me, classical music’s “virtual reality” (a good sound system) can replace actual reality (Lincoln Center). Some people will say that the acoustics of the hall can’t be replicated by headphones. But I don’t care much about those differences. And let’s face it, some concert halls have pretty crappy acoustics anyway. On the other hand (literally!), I have 10 different musicians playing the same program on my phone.

    Likewise, maybe all the nuanced social cues I value in face to face meetings won’t matter as much for Future People, so the need to travel diminishes. I think it’s easier to imagine what Future Tech will be like than to imagine what Future People will be like. It’s much easier to imagine *us* using Future Tech. But we don’t use Future Tech. Future People use Future Tech. And alas, we are not (yet) Future People.

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