Virtual reality: a menace or marvel?

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Kathleen's take

I’m slightly afraid for our future.

I recently had the chance to try out virtual reality, which in essence is putting on a headset complete with headphones that “transport” you pretty much anywhere you’d want to go.

Sounds cool, right? Well, not exactly.

I had high expectations as I’d only heard good things. But I should have known that I wouldn’t have enjoyed the experience. After seeming to float weightless through space and an up-close encounter with a dinosaur, I ended the five minute journey standing in the exact same spot as I’d started, but now completely freaked out.

While I enjoyed the ability to virtually tour places and see things I would never be able to in real life, I didn’t like the somewhat claustrophobic feeling of virtual reality. Multiple times I basically forgot it wasn’t real and had to remind myself I could take off the headset.

Maybe that’s the thing though. Maybe it was almost too good for me to appreciate.

If the whole point of virtual reality is to transport your mind and a few senses to other places, then it worked exceedingly well.

But if this is the way of the future, I’m not too sure I want to be involved in it.

After taking off the headset, I remembered everyone else could see and hear me, while I couldn’t see or hear anything outside of what was shown in front of me.

That makes me uneasy. We are already so completely engrossed by our devices and the cyber world. Do we really need one more thing that will give us an excuse to shut off from the real world?

The nice thing about smart phones, tablets or laptops is that you can power them down, put them away and stop looking at the world beyond the screen and immediately be back in the real world. Even while using them, you can look up and be aware of your surroundings.

But with virtual reality, you are completely immersed. If this is the way of the future, I’m sure we’ll be able to smell and feel things too, pretty soon. And just imagine a movie experienced through virtual reality.

I would hate to be in Jaws, The Hunger Games or Pearl Harbor. However, it would be pretty cool to travel to Paris or go deep sea diving without the associated costs or potential risks.

But that’s the thing. We’d be replacing those palpable experiences with fake, intangible ones. We already seem to have enough of a problem getting people to stay off their phones and live their lives. So why add another option to avoid each other?

We live in such a fascinating, captivating world already. We don’t need to experience it virtually when it already is our reality.

Julia's take

I don’t know what I was expecting when I went to try on a virtual reality helmet for the first time. As a glasses-wearer, 3-D movies have never really worked out for me and came off as gimmicky at best. VR didn’t seem like it would be any better.

The bulky headgear and headphones didn’t help much either, as far as first impressions go.

When the recordings actually started to play, however, my misgivings were quickly turned on their head.

I don’t think I’m ever going to forget my first glimpse at the dinosaur that came on screen. And I’m sure the attendant laughed at my loud gasp.

It just looked so real and awe-inspiring. I couldn’t help but think back to some conversations I’ve had with older generations about their first time watching Jurassic Park. The special effects in those movies were a game-changer, they said, the first dinosaur that walked across the screen took their breath away. As someone who’s grown up with amazing special effects in movies all my life, I’ve always had trouble imaging their awe. The wonder sounded so over-the-top.

I think I understand now. Or at least, this is the closest I’ll get to understanding.

Yes, there are still some issues I have with virtual reality as it is now. I didn’t even realize how foggy my glasses had become until they took the headgear off, and it’s concerning how closed off your senses become during the experience.

But the potential for this technology is incredible, if only because of how in the moment it puts you. I can already imagine its uses for teaching, communicating, record-keeping and, of course, entertainment. You could watch recordings of a family gathering, observe surgeries, travel all over the globe or get a front row seat to a coveted Broadway show as if you were actually there. If the technology would become cheap enough, it would be a boon to people who would otherwise be unable to have those experiences.

This virtual reality, instead of replacing our reality, can enhance it.

It’s only natural though that new technology will have its kinks and growing pains. I’m sure the first cars and computers were as scary as they were thrilling. But through some changes and use, they’ve become just another piece of mundane technology.

Give VR a try, if you haven’t already. You might be surprised.


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