VR…I wonder where we will go with this? This Virtual Reality thing. After all, it is just a thing,… or is it? Currently Virtual Reality is an adjective-noun combo, but it appears that someday, this ‘thing’ will become a verb that will replace it’s current grammatical identification. Or worse yet, it may become a Personal Pronoun. I, we, you, he, she, it, they,… vir?
I remember my first glance into VR was on the Star Tours ‘ride’ at Disneyland. I was a kid and everyone thought it was amazing, because it was. The word ride is a verb and in every sense anything that is a ‘ride’ at an amusement park is something that moves. An amusement park ride is something that takes you on a journey and stimulates your senses. The best rides are ones that super-charge your senses to provide the adrenaline rush along with an organic brain discharge of dopamine. These rides may scare us, but they are exciting, they energize us, and they make us feel ‘good’.
Star Tours however didn’t ‘go’ anywhere but it led you to believe that you were, by incorporating captivating video and seat movements made to match the action. While sitting in your seat, one would get bounced around somewhat, shifted forward and or back to simulate speed, and any angle changes. This new experience was the general public’s first experience with virtual reality, including mine.
It is absolutely incredible the sensations that our bodies ‘feel’ when we believe that we are truly seeing and interacting with three-dimensional space around us. If virtual reality is executed well, we see things that aren’t even there. The things we see may not even exist. We feel a sense of movement that has not actually occurred. We can be in a place that we have never been before, and we can pick-up objects that are not in our current physical state of being.
Like many things in life if used for proper and good intention then the product becomes a useful tool. Computational power doubles approximately every 18 months. Think about that exponential growth, that is astonishing! Modern technology has afforded us an entry point into a realm of possibility that was, from our not-too-distant past, literally science fiction. As such, general public accessibility into the VR world is increasingly being used as a means for escapism through video games. Many of these video games incorporate a heavy degree of violence. This is where the problem germinates as there is no way escapism and violence can be good for anyone.
So what do we do? Where is this advancement in technology heading? Where will we, as a society, go with it?
Responsible use of this technology is necessary for positive growth. Our youth marvels in screen delight. They are captivated with the online anything. The paradigm of online usage and technology will need a strong shift in a direction that suits individuals in a realistic and functional manner.
In 1983 the movie Brainstorm was released. At the time, there was no VR, however the movie’s storyline was prophetic. In the film, brain activity transfer became possible by recording an experience while wearing special headgear. The experience was recorded on a type of thin metal film that could be replayed at anytime, thus allowing the experience to be transferred to someone else. The experience recipient would ‘see’ and ‘feel’ everything that the original individual experienced when first recorded. There was no such thing as computer graphics (CG) so at this time, VR was a transfer of real memories not computer generated made-up memories. Scary enough on it’s own.
With CG however, virtual worlds are becoming more and more realistic and it is becoming increasingly difficult to decipher between a true-life-real-image, and a computer generated one. Even scarier. One view on this level of advancement could be that what we have created is absolutely incredible with all of it’s untapped potential, while the flip-side to this advancement could be as equally frightening.
Remember The Matrix? Released in 1999, this movie took virtual experiences to a new level. Not only were the characters able to experience a virtual world, they were able to interact with it. As we learn later, the virtual world was a fabricated Construct created by the Architect. Now we’re really getting into frightening here because being in a virtual world means that for some, there is possibly no reason to stay in the physical world. After all, if one cannot tell the difference between real and virtual worlds, then there IS no difference. Does this mean we simply surrender our lives as we know it, and leave everything up to an imagined world that is created and constructed by someone else?
Yes, this DOES sound scary, because it is scary. Ok, it seems we may be far off from the Matrix, but who’s to say? If computational processing power continues to grow exponentially as it has, then how far are we really from unplugging our world of physical reality so that we can live in a life solely housed in the virtual world? To some degree, this is what we are doing now.
We marvel with the latest technology. We can’t wait to see ‘what’s next’, and we are continually growing hungry for more. This is where we need to take a step back. Just because processing power doubles exponentially doesn’t mean the public needs to keep up with it’s inherent demands.
I will sometimes use Virtual Reality in my classroom, but I am using it as a learning tool. I am able to take my students to places in the world that we could not otherwise go. We learn about content by experiencing the world in which the content originated. My students love their virtual experiences, as do I. But in the classroom, we end our virtual experience after the lesson. There is no need or purpose to ‘stay there’, in the virtual world. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. At least, I hope it isn’t for the foreseeable technological dark side that is waiting to unfold.