The recent expectation around new technology is “How will it save me time?” or “Make my life easier?” The push for convenience, mobility, and immediacy has been the focus of innovation. So where does VR come in? Does virtual reality save me time? Does it make my life easier? Can I use it on the go?… probably not. Virtual reality is about experience ‐ learning differently, connecting more fully, seeing more clearly. So is VR counter to today’s technical trends, something revolutionary, that will be slow to catch on or is it an evolution of technologies we already use every day?
To answer that question, perhaps it is best to look at two other technologies that did more than just make the world an easier place to live, but instead changed our experience: radio and television.
In the early twentieth century radio replaced newspapers as the main form of mass media and it was revolutionary. The ability to transmit audio across great distances revolutionized communications. Radio entertained and informed millions, yet this new technology still required a lot from a participant. To complete the experience a listener had to use their imagination to fill in the blanks. Now there is nothing wrong with using your imagination but it presents certain barriers to fully connecting with the world around you. Imagination requires one to draw on ones own life experiences and all the limitations and biases that comes with it. How could someone truly understand the horrors of war simply by listening to a description of it. How could someone understand and empathize with people of different cultures or races without witnessing the commonality between themselves and others. The early twentieth century, the time of radio, is often described as time of isolation and intolerance and it could be argued that the technical limitations of its dominant medium could be partially to blame.
With the emergence of television in the 1950’s suddenly and shockingly people no longer had to rely on their imaginations alone to fill-in the picture. The evolution of technology, the combination of visuals and audio, dramatically increased the impact of media. The world was there in gritty black and white and later living color, imposing itself on a viewer and it could not be shaped only by an individual’s perception of the world. Images of the brutality of the Vietnam war or the treatment of African Americans locked in a fight for equal rights broke through the comfort of isolation and the ignorance of intolerance. People connected, empathized and then took action. The impact of the protests against the war and the strength of the civil rights movement, could partially be contributed to the power of the new medium. But video still has its limitations, it is, for the most part, a passive experience and largely relies on the storyteller for its perspective. This meant that the limitations of ones imagination were replaced by the bias of the storyteller. Virtual Reality goes along way in removing the barriers to delivering a truly experiential and trans formative story.
For those of you who have not tried the latest virtual reality technology it is hard to explain the sense of immersion and connection it can create. Dropping a user in an environment and completely surrounding them with the sights and sounds of the experience forces a suspension of disbelief. Add in the ability to interact with the world around you, and the ability to communicate with others in the same setting and there are very few limitations or biases between the story or event you are witnessing and the feelings you experience. You become a participant. There is also not as much of an opportunity for the storyteller to shape your perspective. To be fair their influence is still present, but for the most part this is your story, your event, your experience.
So to get back to the original question. Is VR Revolutionary or Evolutionary? At ImmerGen Studios we think it is both. As amazing as VR is, if you look at it in the context of the mass media technology that preceded it, it is an evolutionary step. However, in an individual’s journey to experience the world around them, to connect and empathize with it, virtual reality has the potential to be revolutionary in its impact.