At a project meeting this week, we were discussing the future of mixed reality. At one point somebody wondered whether at some point we would no longer know the difference between real and virtual.

I replied that humans started blurring the distinction between real and virtual when we developed the instinct for language. “For example,” I said, “If I say the word ‘elephant’, you all picture an elephant in your heads. We need only words to slip into a virtual space. No computers required.”

One of the grad students said “Wow, mind blown. I am going to spend the whole weekend wrapping my head around that.”

But for me, this is not profound — it’s simply the basis of all communication technologies since the dawn of time. We develop successive technologies — written language, books, movie, radio, the internet, VR, and whatever comes next — as natural outgrowths of our instinctive capability of abstract language.

Whether it’s prose on papyrus or VR on a Vive, the details are not what’s important. What is important is that we are the species that embraces the virtual. And we do it so easily that we don’t quite notice that this is just exactly what we have always done.

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