The Problem with VR

One of the coolest things that’s come along in recent years in my field is virtual reality.

I’m lucky enough to have an Oculus Rift, touch controllers, and an HTC Vive sitting here in my office. If you haven’t had the chance to use one of these devices, you’re missing out. Exploring a completely synthetic environment in glorious¬† stereoscopic is initially mind-blowing. The first time I put on a DK2, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Now, Facebook (which owns Oculus) is starting to push the social aspects of VR. Watch a movie with friends, play a game together, etc.

To be clear: I think that’s really cool. I have friends in other parts of the country (and other parts of the world) with whom I’d like to communicate in a more immersive way than what we get from Skype calls. The current iteration of VR ecosystems has the potential to improve that experience.

But – and it’s a big “but” – VR is also inherently isolating. When I put on a Rift or a Vive, I become immersed in a virtual world. But, that necessitates an effective exit from the real world.

The built-in headphones on the Rift are amazing. They also keep me from hearing what’s going on in the real world. The optics are very convincing, but (duh) prevent awareness of what’s happening in front of me.

Walking is very entertaining, and potentially dangerous.

(Honestly, I’d just love to be able to see my feet!)

AR has the potential to address some of these concerns, by blending the synthetic environment with the real world. I feel that, for social applications to reach their full potential, we need a system that is not so isolating. We should not have to drop out of the real world to enjoy the virtual experience.

(Also, if you have small children, like I do, you probably know that leaving them to their own devices for extended periods of time rarely ends well. )

I’m impressed with the state of the art, and with the advances that are in development. But, what I want, more than anything, is the ability to utilize this technology without increasing the isolation that it requires.

I’m sure we’ll get there.