Many years ago I was in a pilot group to design a virtual auction place. On board were a virtual reality designer, an auctioneer and a few marketing specialists. The idea was to create the ability to offer a large variety of art for auction to the entire world, while eliminating a whole lot of logistics. It seemed like a great idea and there seemed to be a market for this venture. But when the auctioneer and the designer clashed over absolutely nothing during the second meeting, the project fell apart. I have always wondered if this concept could have taken off, or that it was destined to fail regardless of the effort put in.
At the time I was barely aware of the existence of virtual reality.
The internet was commonly available, but not so much that I had access in my house. Being a student at the time, it seemed not more than normal that I needed to take a quick bike ride to campus in order to check my email. Facebook was still in diapers, and smartphones with pretty much constant access to the web were still something of the future. Heck, I was on my first ever cellphone. Virtual reality was exclusively accessible to gamers, until suddenly every family seemed to purchase a Wii Fit for Christmas. Who would have thought that it would be used for rehabilitation, in gyms and nursing homes?
“Virtual reality and augmented reality is going to connect people regardless of their physical location”, according to Hugo Barra, vice president of virtual reality at Facebook. That could be great, especially if your loved ones live across the ocean. But let’s be real. How many people feel happier about their relationship with friends since social media has been the main way to connect?
An emoticon may express how you feel, but it won’t replace an actual hug. Virtual reality still won’t allow for the rush of hormones that comes with a genuine kiss.
That being said, if you look at how telephone conversations have improved with the addition of video (except for unintended bathroom pocket dials) there may be value to virtual reality that we are not even quite aware of yet. After all, not all of us can hang out with friends or family, or give our grandma a final farewell when studying abroad. And to be honest, on occasion my European mom has entertained and therefore up to a certain level babysat my American kids, from across the Atlantic.
We used Skype, WhatsApp or maybe Facetime, while I frantically cleaned house or got an article into my outbox. What if our home was set up for virtual reality, kids and grandma ran around with virtual reality headsets on their noses? (To be clear, no child was ever left supervised solely by grandma from overseas.)
Maybe next year we will share Christmas dinner across the globe. Which one of us will have wine at 6am?