Virtual Reality – A one way ticket?

Virtual Reality is considered one of the most exciting technologies
today, constantly evolving and improving. According to Eric Drexler, a
world known pioneer in this field, VR is “A combination of computer and
interface devices (goggles, gloves, etc.) that present a user with the
illusion of being in a three dimensional world of computer generated
objects.” The term ^virtual reality,^ is not finite in its meaning,
but generally includes desktop VR, immersion VR, where the goggles and
gloves are used, and projection VR.

The virtual reality technology is noot yet perfect and still too
expensive for the common man. The use of high-end VR is mainly
restricted to larger companies, and to special areas such as medical
surgery and pilot training. Home users are limited to desktop virtual
reality programs, which lets them navigate in three-dimensional worlds,
but seldom gives the feeling of actually being there. The entertainment
industry has yet to embrace the technology in full scale, but in his
book ^Virtual Reality^ Howard Rheingold states ^Used today in
architecture, engineering and design, tomorrow in maass-market
entertainment, surrogate travel, virtual surgery and cybersex, by the
next century ^VR^ will have transformed our lives.^

Will VR cause people to lose their grip on the real world, or is it
just a continuation of previous developments that took people to
imaginary places?

People se

eem to always have escaped to ^imaginary worlds^, to get a way
from the stress of real life and to relax. We have all experienced
Greek theatre, read novels and been to the cinema, and lived ourselves
into fiction stories that we identify with. Our imagination creates a
fiction world, which leads us away from real life for a moment of time.
In our own utopia, we forget contemporary problems of reality.

Even though the virtual reality technology creates a utopia for us to
explore, it is in a lot of ways different from other developments we
know so well today. June Deery, from the Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute in Troy says ^whereas in fiction we imagine and empathize, in
cyberspace we are supposed to ^actually^ step into the other world.^
This meeans that the other world is not created in our minds, but is
already there. We have to move in that world and take part in it, not
only with our mind, but by using our senses, such as seeing, hearing
and touching. These are our navigation tools. This world is imaginary
in the way that it is not of something real, but a result of the
programmer of that worlds imagination. It is ^virtual.^

In previous developments, such as theatre, novels and cinema we
passively follow a

linear storyline, with a start and an end. The
author of it predetermines all the happenings in a particular story. We
have no participation in the play, but identify with it and our
imagination creates a generic feeling that we are a part of the story.
In virtual reality however, we do participate actively in a non-linear
story, we are a part of the plot. How the story evolves, depends on
what we do, and when we do it. What we get to see of the story, depends
on where in the virtual world we are. We are able to see, hear and
touch the elements in the story and interact with them. We have become
one of the actors, with the freedom to rewrite the play along the way!

Human beings are social creatures that like to communicate. ^Because
computers make networks, VR seems a natural candidate for a new
communications medium^ (Heim, Michael 1993). Just as the Internet has
become our time^s biggest communication network, virtual reality could
have a great impact on how we share information. Imagine a meeting with
people from all parts of the world in a virtual room, or playing
cricket with people from Pakistan.

As mentioned above, we identify with stories, and also the characters
within them. We often think ^if I

were him,^ or ^if I looked like
that,^ then ^I would.^ We imagine and wish for a moment that we were
something else or lived another life. In time, as virtual reality
improves, maybe we will get the chance to do just that by strapping on
a set of goggles and a sensory suit. Using this technology we could be
able to choose a desired identity and act it out as our imagination
wants us to. But what if that virtual world is better than the real

John Suler, with a PhD in psychology, at Department of Psychology at
Ryder University states in the website ^ Computer and Cyberspace
Addiction^ that ^People become “addicted” to the Internet, or act out
pathologically in cyberspace, when they have dissociated it from their
f2f life. Their cyberspace activity becomes a world unto itself. They
don’t talk about it with the people in their f2f life. It becomes a
walled-off substitute or escape from their life.^

It seems like the virtual reality technology is inevitable. ^People
initially use technology to do what they do now-but faster. Then they
gradually begin to use technology to do new things. The new things
change life-styles and work ^styles. The new life-styles and
work-styles change society^.and eventually technology.^(Fubini^s law)

Before we know it, virtual reality might be

e as usual in contemporary
life, as television has been for decades. We will be presented with a
new way to escape from reality, which seems to be ten times as powerful
as previous developments. We will open doors to fascinating mazes, that
some of us may never come out of. Worlds that we don^t even want to
come out of because it appears better than the chaos we daily are
surrounded with, the real world. It might even be another addiction. Or
as Jerry Garcia put it ^they made LSD illegal. I wonder what they^re
going to do with this stuff.^

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