Virtual Reality is a tricky thing to pin down. But rather than attempting a specific definition, we're going in the complete opposite direction -- using "virtual reality" as a catch-all term for various augmented, mixed, hybrid, and simulated realities. In this broad sense, it could even include things like immersive video, telepresence, hyperrealistic CGI, the revenge of Second Life, and gestural commands as weird pseudo-magical interruptions of digital communication into the physical world.
It's an admittedly fuzzy use of "virtual reality," but virtual reality has always been fuzzy. When the term first came into vogue in the 80s, experiencing life though a personal screen was an amazing novelty, the realization of golden age sci-fi dreams. Today, it's the curse of modern life, and dealing with the onslaught of our digital lives is as awe-inspiring as being stuck in traffic.
Nevertheless, the dream of VR lives on as a quest to get beyond the clumsiness of our interfaces and screens and experience entire worlds without any perceived gap between them and our senses. It is quite literally techno-utopian. But now that powerful computers and high-definition displays have shrunk to pocket-sized ubiquity, that old VR dream is finally taking shape as actual consumer products. No one is sure how that will turn out in the near term -- a radically new paradigm for interacting with technology? Or the next Power Glove?
One thing we can be sure of is that more tools will try to blend the digital and physical, making physical interfaces to digital information and the experience of digitally simulated reality feel more natural. In that sense, this is one of the sneakiest topics, since it might feel like frivolous gadget hype repeated decade after decade... right up until some clever implementation takes over our lives.
Maybe the real virtual reality was the friends we made along the way.
Resources and News:
- Brian May: 'All sorts of stuff happens in my workshop' - The Guardian, 29 May 2016
- The Best VR (Virtual Reality) Headsets of 2017 - PCMac, 10 Mar 2017