Let’s walk over here

If you and I are having a conversation in virtual reality, with the sensation that we are chatting face to face (or at least face to face with each other’s avatar), then the room itself can become part of the conversation.

If we want to focus on a particular kind of information search, we can wander over to the place in the room where search happens. As soon as we arrive there, data options start to assemble around us, and we can sift through them together to get what we need.

Another part of the room can be our science lab. Objects that we pick up and manipulate there become molecules, beakers, models of planets, ecosystems, neural pathways. We can change the properties of simulated experiments simply by picking up objects and gesturing.

Other parts of the room can serve other specialized roles, perhaps as a launchpad for shared travel to distant places or historical eras, or a place for creating and performing music, or a zen-like “quiet zone” for shared contemplation. Let’s walk over here, you might say, knowing that this short walk will imbue both you and your collaborator with new powers, suitable for the task at hand.

Of course there is no inherent technical reason for such geographic distinctions — after all, any part of the Holodeck is as powerful as any other — but these sorts of spatial conventions might be a nice way for people to organize their work together, just as we now organize some kinds of ideas on our desktop calendar, and others in our documents folder.

The difference is that we will be able to use our entire bodies — our hands, our eyes, a shift in our shoulders or torso to indicate a change in focus from one task to another — harnessing ways of communicating subtleties to each other that humans are particularly good at, which are not accessible to us when we are stuck in front of a computer screen.

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