Putting on Google Cardboard to Watch the Revolution
Virtual Reality devices like Oculus Rift place you at the center of another universe. But does a 360º perspective really increase our knowledge of other worlds? Or does it simply enable our detachment and narcissim?
We all have different ways of coping. My roommate came across me blindfolded, spinning in circles.
My hands gripped to the armrests of the swivel chair, she saw me strapped into a bichromatic mask. I wore over-the-ear headphones. I didn’t know she was in the room. She saw my lips purse for a moment, then rest in a half-frown, reacting to whatever was happening within the opaque black-and-white plastic apparatus covering my eyes.
Fade to black. I take off the goggles, and I squint against the sharp detail of reality. I hear her laughing, and I spin to the source. She’s excited. She tells me she’s going to DC to protest. She wants to make signs. Can I help? And then she asks me what I’m doing.
“Watching the news.”
Can we the trace a straight path of progress in the history of virtual reality? It seems it is more accurate to view it as an assemblage of failed patents, secret projects, dystopian sci-fi and utopian dreams that eventually, perhaps inevitably, found its way to reality.
The headset I was using can be traced to a military experiment in the 1980s. Thomas Furness of the US Air Force was working on phase two of his flight/fighter jet simulator. He tinkered with his model, increasing the graphic quality and, most importantly, increasing response time to head rotation, since a lag in time would make the pilot sick. It used a HMD (head-mounted device), with the image feed responding to head movements and control inputs to give a sense of immersion. No one claimed it was the same as clocking air time, but the idea is that it would eventually be faster and cheaper to train on. He called it the “Super Cockpit.”