The Perils of Being Elsewhere: Occulus Rift and the Return of Virtual Reality

The Perils of Being Elsewhere: Occulus Rift and the Return of Virtual Reality

It's this subliminal susceptibility that virtual reality would pry open, making even more of our interior lives open to the artificial suggestions of designers in some distant office park. Think of it as an exponential intensification of the Kuleshov Effect, making it possible for the experience of an event and a place to be subconsciously driven toward one particular impression. Imagine the Wii U's Google Maps app being transformed into a surrogate vacation tool when connected to Occulus Rift for instance, and imagine giving designers the power to rewrite how one experiences a distant place and culture to suit the emotional wants of the user. We still have the freedom to question the truth of these experiences, but our capacity to do so depends on the ability to access experiences on terms controlled by natural phenomenon, not a designers. For centuries art has come in limited media formats, ones with clear boundaries between them and the environment we experience them in. One remembers not just the book, but the time and place one reads it. Even in the submerssive arena of movie theaters, one has a constant awareness of surroundings, the creaking of the seats, the chomping of popcorn, the ushers marching up the aisles with their flashlights.

Virtual reality creates the dual thrill of being magically elsewhere, but it comes with the price of losing control over the context and implications of that experience. People like new experiences and learning about how life might be outside of their own limitations, but they also like the control of being able to pursue those ends consciously, as part of our relationship with the world's natural phenomena, not its handmade artifice. As the merchants and technicians behind virtual again try and pitch its wonderments, it's worth asking why we should want to give our senses and perceptions over to such an experience, if even just for a few minutes at a time. And it’s worth double skepticism over why a technologist of any stripe would want access to us in our most vulnerable states.

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Tags: virtual-reality, occulus-rift
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