I just read Tripping Down a Virtual Reality Rabbit Hole,- a very interesting NY Times column by technology journalist Farhad Manjoo. Manjoo recently spent a few weeks testing the Occulus Rift and the HTC Vive, two of the most powerful VR devices on the market.
“The whole point of virtual reality is to create a fantasy divorced from the physical world,” he wrote. “You’re escaping the dreary mortal coil for a completely simulated experience: There you are, climbing the side of a mountain, exploring a faraway museum, flying through space or getting in bed with someone way out of your league… There are some great games on these systems… There are also several useful experiences, like designing your Ikea kitchen in V.R.”
“But if you’re not a gamer and you’re not looking for a new kitchen, V.R. is, at this point, just too immersive for most media. A few minutes after donning my goggles, I came to regard my virtual surroundings as a kind of prison… I suspect that V.R. will be used by the masses one day, but not anytime soon. I’m not sure we’re ready to fit virtual reality into our lives, no matter how excited Silicon Valley is about it.”
Manjoo’s reaction brought to mind the work of Karen Sobel-Lojeski, who’s long been studying technology-mediated interactions. She’s in the faculty at Stony Brook University as well as the founder of the workplace consulting firm Virtual Distance International. To be effective, she argues, our technology-based interactions must take place within the proper context, defined as “everything around us that helps us to understand who we are, where we are, and what our role is.” The way VR works, - at least for now, - is by cutting off all real-world context to better immerse us in its simulations, - an experience that as Farhad Manjoo discovered, can be very unsettling.