Pervasive or Progressive? Part 2
How pervasive is technology in our lives today? Is it the answer to information’s storage, accessibility and visibility problem? How do we explore an unknown world without leaving home? How do we connect and share expertise through visual, immersive technology of the future, today? This is the second article of this three-part series on future technology and their potential issues and uses in the publishing industry and the wider commercial world.
Cross reality (or XR) refers to Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technologies. I shall be diving into the world of AR in my next article but this piece concerns the latter - VR
Virtual reality has the potential to better connect groups of people around the globe and provide a solution to a communication issue the world-over. Not only will we have the chance to see others across the planet in real time, but we will be able to interact with visual aspects of what and who we see like never before. Zapnito ourselves went “'virtual', for an experimental few months”, as CEO Charles Thiede discussed in a post from 2016. As the business was in it’s ‘start-up’ phase, Charles suggests that this was a great opportunity to “make best use of the tools and discipline we already [had] in place and assess what we - and our customers - really need from an office.” In a follow up post, Charles relates that the business “embraced it and made it that experiment.”
This form of day-to-day mobile or virtual work could become more and more common thanks to VR applications such as those in this list of business collaboration conference apps. This technology has the capacity to bring individuals within numerous company teams from different countries around the world together into one room without even leaving one's desk. As illustrated in the following image, meetings can now be achieved through visualisation and real-time interaction through technology such as VR. The implication of these advancements is not only micro: within a business (such as collaboration and even sales efficiencies), but also macro: for the environment. A decrease in the necessity for physical travel will result in a smaller carbon footprint and therefore fewer resources are required for international meetings that have previously cost businesses heavily and indeed, the global environment itself.
One case where this technology could be incredibly powerful is to be able to explore locations such as the Arctic for example without even needing to go there. This is a crucial element to the survival of fragile landscapes such as this, as Ciar Byrne refers to in her recent article on ‘VR: staying a ahead of the curve’. I do however feel that the commercial possibilities for this technology are receiving too much limelight however, as this article from Adweek exemplifies. As published here, Walmart want to
“develop new product exploration through immersive retail environments”
through virtual reality. I only wish this incredible tech was put to greater use, such as further environmental research work similar to the arctic exploration, as opposed to being used to sell more fishing equipment and deck chairs, as this retailer aims to do.
Additionally, this writer wonders whether extensive use of VR equipment affects individuals and our ability to understand what is real and what is not and what emotions we truly feel and what are effectively ‘virtual’. Kelley Eskridge, writer of 'OtherLife' and the novel 'Solitaire' asks the question,
“If the brain doesn’t really know the difference in a chemical sense between what we consider a real or an unreal experience, then if we seek fulfillment and satisfaction and comfort and engagement with that, then what are the implications?”
A valid question, considering there is such little research on health for long-term use or concrete evidence for permanent eye problems due to VR use. This would be attributed to the fact that the technology is still in its infancy.
One startup that Zapnito has partnered with in recent years in this field, The Film Yard delivered a talk on VR research, giving a broad overview of 360 and VR technology and what research and experiments has been done on the effects of these technologies on humans in the last decade. This research is crucially necessary for the industry to feel reassured that it is a safe technology and subsequently, for it to grow even faster than it is already. 360 video is similarly intriguing however without the functionality of being able to interact with what you as the audience sees, this technology does not have the broader application possibilities or scope to excite the user as virtual reality programs do.
“Would you plug in?”
Almost 35 years ago, Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick posed this question in an influential thought experiment, as more recently discussed by Wagner James Au. As suggested, Nozick did not believe that we would get into an ‘experience machine’ or ‘happiness tank’ yet
“the world’s most powerful companies—Facebook, Sony, and Google among them—are investing billions to mass-produce what are effectively experience machines, utterly convinced that we’re all eager to plug in.”
The pretext to this reference to Nozick’s theory is that
“Virtual reality can make it so anyone, anywhere can have these experiences,”
according to Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus Rift, and his chief technology officer, John Carmack. The experiences Luckey and Carmack refer to are those ‘previously only accessible to the super rich’ yet VR has the potential for anyone (who buys a headset etc) to ‘tour the Louvre or sail the sun-dappled coast of California’, for example. The question does however, need to be asked: Is this the experience we should be striving for? Seeing the wonders of the world would truly be an incredible experience and one that may bring great joy and emotion to those who can encounter it on any level, virtual or otherwise. But can we actually appreciate a landscape, a rock concert or an rollercoaster adventure without even leaving home? Shouldn't we aspire to get the chance to participate in and physically live these ourselves, in person?
If you are now wondering why this is such a well recognised and highly discussed issue and what good the technology can do for society, look no further than the valuable job VR has already done and is continuing to do to help the victims of cancer. Moira Vetter, Forbes lists 'five virtual reality-based applications in trials to improve care and treatment efficacy for cancer patients'. Technology like this offers the chance for anyone, no matter what they're going through to be able to escape to a better world - one without suffering or pain, a very welcome distraction from difficult circumstances.
The inspiring story of Dillon Hill who has brought the VR experience to 'sick kids and the elderly', shared by Chloe Spencer of Kotaku, draws on a number of lives that his charity has touched and enhanced as a result of using this hardware. This is the importance of technological advancements - to ultimately advance the lives and experiences we as people have and appreciate and to make the world a better place both now and for future generations.
You will find a conclusion to this article and the series as a whole following the final piece in this three-part series.
Here's a photo I took at the Design Museum in London of the Oculus VR headset alongside the Google Glass built for augmented reality. The final piece of this series will be regarding the latter technology.