Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Moving VR Writeup

I Finally Tried Virtual Reality and It Brought Me to Tears
Trying VR at CES made me feel more connected to my 18-month-old son ...... Over the past four days at CES, I embraced every virtual reality (VR) experience I could get my eyes on. From the crude but accessible Google Cardboard to the much ballyhooed Oculus Rift, I tried them all. I stood alone on the deck of a shipwreck and looked a whale in the eye. I strapped into a wooden rollercoaster alongside dozens of other people and nearly lost my lunch. I climbed Mount Everest in sneakers and jeans. .....

Back here in reality, VR has me concerned about the future of everything: entertainment, travel, gaming, work — you name it. And I so badly want to go back in.

...... If I had to describe myself in three words, they would be: writer, father, grump. The first term is obvious, and for the second, I’m the proud dad to an inquisitive toddler. As for the third — and CES fatigue is influencing this — I can’t stand bright, flashing lights, loud noises, crowds, congested places, and most amusement park rides (especially roller coasters). Oh, and I don’t gamble, I never do drugs, and I can barely sip on a beer per week lest I fall asleep. Yet here I am in Las Vegas, a city that’s one giant sensory overload, for CES, the world’s most overwhelming trade show. As a technology writer, it’s a place I need to be in a city I should never visit. ....... In 20 minutes, I was able to explore Paris, tour a Carnival cruise ship, take in a catwalk view of Russia’s fashion week, and even enjoy an EDM concert (okay, “enjoy” may be the wrong word). ...... A high school senior can tour a college without trekking across the country. A wheelchair-bound music fan can get in the front row at a rock concert. And a relocating home buyer can view a new house from the comfort of their old one. ...... More than anything, I wished my wife could have been there to share the undersea experience with me. I wanted her to know this awe-inspiring beauty. I also wanted her to abandon a world full of mortgages, diapers, rush hour commutes, and grocery shopping, even if just for a minute. ....... Like a visit to the moon, it’s impossible to describe VR to someone who’s never been there. The technology isn’t just physically isolating — in some ways it divides us emotionally, too. ...... I couldn’t help but think about my son. At 18 months old, he’s just starting to make sense of the reality we all take for granted. Pushing buttons and opening drawers in Job Simulator was so delightful that it helped me understand why he loves opening and closing that one cabinet in our real life kitchen that I haven’t managed to safety latch. ...... Then my playmate, Erin, shot me with a shrink ray. Suddenly, not only were all the toys enormous to me, but Erin’s avatar was looming over me like a hulking giant. Her voice even changed as it poured through my headphones, entering my head with a deep, slow tone. And for a moment, I was a child again, with this giant person lovingly playing with me. It gave me such a profound perspective on what it must be like to be my son, that I started to cry inside the headset. It was a pure and beautiful experience that will reshape my relationship with him moving forward. I was vulnerable to my giant playmate, yet felt completely safe. ...... One reason the world is fascinated with millennials is that they never knew a world without the Internet. Post-millennials, like my son, will never know life without virtual reality. Because they can live in someone else’s virtual shoes, will they be more empathetic? ....... Will they stop watching and reading the news in favor of experiencing it? ...... I started to think of this reality (if Las Vegas can even be considered real) as a trick not unlike VR. Eventually, I made my way back to my hotel room.

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