Thursday, March 27, 2014

Virtual reality is coming!! (by CCM)

I just pre-paid for the Oculus VR Rift, an immersive virtual reality headset!  You put the headset on and you really feel like you are in the virtual reality space – not just a two-dimensional screen that mimics three dimensions, but a real three-dimensional environment.

The headset is compatible with Second Life and could usher in a whole new meaning to online education.  I already teach my Intro to Philosophy course in Second Life, but imagine going to class in this kind of immersive environment!  We could have class in Athens, Greece when talking about Plato, in Birkenau when talking about the problem of evil, or in deep space when talking about the nature of spacetime.  History classes could take immersive virtual fieldtrips to different historical time periods, Spanish classes could visit virtual Mexico and talk to native speakers who meet you in the virtual space…the possibilities seem almost endless.

Mark Zuckerberg just bought the Oculus company and is dumping billions of dollars into the tech.  He is betting that this kind of virtual reality is the wave of the future.  Since he is Facebook, I see his intentions in social media, but it has far reaching implications for education and all sorts of things.  Nonetheless, Zuckerberg’s interest in virtual reality just made the likelihood of a big boom in virtual reality that much greater.  It’s coming!

Of course, there are downsides.  What if the virtual reality becomes a lot more interesting than “actual” reality?  With everyone pretty much addicted to their smartphones these days, would this become a worse addiction?  Have you seen the movie Surrogates?

So I see the benefits with education, but I see the potential pitfalls…care to weigh in and let us know your thoughts on this??


  1. People are already being immersed in what I consider a type of "virtual reality" through television, movies, video games, Facebook, etc. For this crowd, I can't see much being changed by the new gadget you're talking about. Instead of skyping, people might join their long distance friends in a virtual coffee shop. Fundamentally, people will be doing the same things, just on a different platform.

    With that said, I do think a device like this is introducing a new level of virtual reality which could be more appealing to more people. However, I don't think we need to worry that "leveling up" our access to virtual reality is going to increase/worsen people's technological addictions from the current addictions to tablet and smartphone applications, Facebook accounts, various websites, movies, television shows, and video games.

    All media tends to replace and draw people away from their physical surroundings one way or another, just like the virtual reality headset would. Of course the media can be used for a variety of purposes (not just entertainment/pleasure), and naturally some uses will be considered "better" than others. For instance, using your headset to enhance online education would probably be considered better than using it to spend large amounts of time submersed in a personal fantasy land, abstracted from the real world of people and things.

    Overall, people will adapt to the new technology and it will be used in all kinds of ways. Those who are prone to "forgetting the world" through media platforms will do so in three dimensions or not, while the rest will keep doing whatever they're doing, despite the "more interesting" virtual reality that might await them.

    1. I like what you're saying. But might there be a different kind of possible side effect here? This kind of technology would allow people to "live" in another reality, unlike the media of smartphones and 2D social media platforms. I can hear you saying that in the end it is not all that different, but there does seem to be something of a difference - there's a different kind of embodied presence and depth that is lacking in other tech. That doesn't mean that this tech should be avoided (not at all!), but it is a consideration moving forward.

    2. The balanced trade off is that with the heightened benefits this tech could bring comes heightened pitfalls. Virtual embodied presence and depth can bring online education to new heights, but might the trade off cost be too great?

      You know, I say all this, but this is all unavoidable. This tech is going to happen whether we like it or not. I think we should just embrace it and make it the best that it can be and we'll deal with the bad as it happens.

    3. I did consider the point your making (as I was watching a movie myself last night, actually), and I do see a difference between the virtual reality thing and the media we're used to. Maybe when gaming and engaging in a simulation of some aspect of real life (for entertainment purposes) actually starts to feel more like actual reality, AND one can easily manipulate their surroundings, then maybe more people will slip into wanting to use the technology more often as a means of escape from the real world (which is becoming increasingly difficult to live in it seems). This might be a stretch, but we could at that point be able to compare the technology to a kind of drug that almost entirely severs people from the real world. Yet, at the end of the day, people still need to eat, sleep, and work, among other activities, which we (as of yet) can't do in a virtual reality. If we could, I have to refer to Star Trek and say that even the Voyager crew turns off the holodeck at some point (and to my knowledge, the possibilities of what one can do on the holodeck are practically endless). When it comes down to it, yes I agree the technology will inevitably arrive at some point, and there will be good and bad effects. Sadly though, the desire to escape reality will probably always be there, and fulfilling that desire will bring about similar outcomes, regardless of the means we have to do it.

    4. Yea, I was thinking of making a drug reference before too. I can't disagree with anything you are saying here. Maybe at some point, we can opt to get IV feeds and hook ourselves up to a virtual world permanently... ;)

  2. Have you ever read the book "Feed" by M.T. Anderson?