I had to laugh when I saw an article entitled ‘What if We’re Wrong About Virtual Reality?’ My snarky Gawker media-brain kicked in: Don’t worry honey, you are. VR and AR have been hot topics since the 80s. Now that Oculus and Playstation VR are here, we’re forced to contemplate what they mean. Is virtual reality going to take the place of real reality?
I’m throwing my hat into the ring of bonafide experts (which means I know as much as everyone else does: nothing) by saying “no.” In fact, most scifi gets virtual reality wrong, and for some very basic reasons. Let’s discuss why:
First and foremost, virtual and augmented reality are information apprehension and manipulation tools. They make it possible for us to look at, and work with, information in a different way. Think of them as the next generation monitor and keyboard if it helps. When it comes down to it, VR does the same job. I’m using my monitor so that my eyes can see the data, and my keyboard to manipulate the data. Have my keyboard and mouse taken over my life? Of course not. They’re platforms to consume and manipulate data. That’s all.
When people talk about being ‘addicted to your phone’ or ‘addicted to your keyboard,’ the device isn’t the issue. The real issue is that you’ve allowed yourself to become addicted to that specific form of information consumption. It’s unhealthy, to be sure, but the phone isn’t the issue. The problem is between keyboard and chair (PBKAC, if you want to be nerdy about it).
We need a way to consume and manipulate information. Virtual reality breaks the current metaphors and analogues of that process, potentially giving us more meaningful, efficient ways to do that.
That’s not to say that this disruption isn’t without risk or cost. New technology disruption often butterflies off into dark, unintended consequences. That’s why scifi is ripe with cautionary tales like Hyper-Reality: