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A few weeks ago, the topic of virtual reality came up in conversation on my weekly radio show. I explained that I have been anticipating the advent of virtual reality since the early 90s and that in my early 20s I would have given nearly anything to strap on the VR goggles (the vision was GLOVES and goggles back then) and step into a 3D computer simulation in which anything was possible. Now, nearly 40 years later, I just don't care. I have no interest in virtual reality. Or at least I HAD no interest before I played a few minutes of Star Wars Battlefront VR.

The experience made me sweat, turned my stomach and had me gasping for air as I took off the headset. Why would I want to do it again?

Well, I DON'T want to play VR fighter pilot again. But I would love to explore the moons of Jupiter in VR or stand atop a Mayan pyramid at the height of that civilization or see Hannibal taking his elephants over the Alps. I've traveled more than most people ever get the opportunity to do, and I hope my travels are not over, but I know there are more places I want to see than I will ever get the opportunity to visit in the flesh, and what's more, famous places can be truly unpleasant to visit in person because of all the other people who have the same idea.

I remember taking my kids to Washington DC to see the famous cherry blossoms one spring. The crowds were so dense that just keeping track of my kids took all of my attention. There was no sense of leisure or quiescence, just the anxiety of staying together in that pulsing throng of human bodies. Never again. Not in the flesh anyway. But if a VR simulation was sufficiently nuanced, it might be worthwhile to see what it's like to have Potomac Park to myself and to sip sake while sitting on a picnic blanket and looking up at the sunlight filtering down through the pink sakura blossoms.

Also, I can well imagine clever people using 3D spaces to organize information. This actually doesn't require technology. People have been using imaginary spaces to help them remember large quantities of information since classical antiquity, but I'm hoping that VR could be put to a use that is more like an abacus than like a digital calculator. Using a digital calculator for multiplication or division does not make us better at those tasks. In fact, our ability to perform those mathematical operations in our heads can degrade from lack of use if we always use a calculator. Not so with an abacus. People who use an abacus to perform calculations can get to the point where they can just imagine having an abacus at hand and perform the same sorts of calculations with the imaginary abacus.

I don't know how to use VR to improve memory rather than replace it, but I'm hopeful. I think of GPS navigation and driving. I got my first GPS device at Wal*Mart in December of 2009. I was amazed by it, but what I noticed is that on long road trips I had trouble remembering what roads and highways I had traveled. I had offloaded that to the device and didn't keep it in my head. I noticed that I learned the local geography of new places more slowly than I had in the past. When I had to rely on maps, written directions, and trial and error to navigate by car, I committed the geography to memory much more quickly than I do now that I take my robotic navigator with me everywhere I go.

Again, I don't know how to use the technology to enhance my ability to remember, imagine, and get around in the word rather than replacing and thereby degrading my native capacities, but I'm hopeful that it can be done, and I'd like to propagate that vision and the desire to make it a reality.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 10th, 2017 05:00 am (UTC)
I know the feeling. In the 90s and early 2000s, I looked with longing at the demonstrations of vr that would occasionally come to me via my family's small CRT television set. The idea of stepping into a cartoon world like doom 3d, diablo, or StarCraft was enticing. When games like worlds and second life hit the scene, I really wanted to get immersed in them with a pair of gloves and goggles. Now that vris a consumer product, I'm disappointed by what's on offer. The games I like to play aren't moneymakers, so they won't have vr equivalents. No one is rushing to make the next second life, despite the incredible possibilities presented by a massively multiplayer open world simulation game. Even if they did, how long before the whole thing gets coopted by the deep state hands of marketing and advertising, turning the whole fantasy world into a 24/7 targeted ad and forcing everyone to use their real name?

Vr so far has been a big letdown. I feel like a kid who just found out Santa's name is Rick, and that he's actually a security guard doing the red suit thing part time. My inner child is pretty bummed out.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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