COLM O'REGAN: Virtual reality is here to stay

The march of virtual reality is unstoppable, writes Colm O’Regan

As if real reality wasn’t enough to be dealing with, now it appears the march of virtual reality is unstoppable. There is one sign that it’s taking off: Politicans wearing the headsets in photo-opps. The politician photo-opp has many incarnations. Some are timeless like kissing babies or wearing a hard-hat at the launch of a new construction project. Then there are those that augur the arrival of technology. Remember when Enda mentioned cloud computing? And now you’re granny is talking about server farms and data centres. This time it’s the VR headset — all over the world you will see an otherwise stern head of state with half their face encased in what looks like the rear-view mirror from a Ford Mondeo, their hands waving, a slightly nervous spin-doctor standing nearby, wondering how this photo-op is going to be photo-shopped the following day.

Virtual reality is here to stay, if indeed we know where here is anymore.

Virtual reality is here to stay

The early adopters already have it sussed. You’ll hear them on the radio trying to explain to an avuncular radio host about how these things work. Then the host will offer a bemused sigh about what is the world coming to at all, before going to Sinéad for the traffic update.

But eventually you will start seeing it creep its way in. Look at how social networks have colonised the so-called mainstream media to the extent that the mainstream media now seems almost artisan and quaint. Remember when your cranky friend would rant down the pub about how Facebook was just about people talking about what they had for breakfast. Now that ranter is sharing lists on Facebook of 10 Things We All Do In The Bathroom.

It’s unstoppable. One thing’s for sure anyway — whatever way Virtual Reality takes off, it probably won’t be the way we think now. Humans have a habit of taking a technology and running with it in a way that its designers never envisaged.

For example SMS was an afterthought in mobile phones but it became the raison d’etre. Facebook’s main use is looking up old school-friend or school enemy and judge from their photos whether their life had been more successful than yours.

What will be the unknown killer app of virtual technology? Will we stop going on holidays and go on the holodeck? Will we have virtual children as they are much easier to mind and definitely sleep through the night. What happens if our virtual self decides it doesn’t like us and leaves us?

Speaking of killer apps – what about virtual crime? Does the law have a way of convicting you of stealing virtual objects within a virtual world? Will you need a virtual jumper over your head as you’re led from the court in handcuffs? In the real courtroom would the suspect escape because everyone is wearing virtual headsets in order to look at the evidence?

You’ll be able to go to matches and get that pitch-side feel without leaving your house. Picture the scene – sitting on your sofa drinking a flashk of tae and munching on ham sandwiches. But to make the ham sandwiches authentic you’ll have to sit on them first so that that the bread and ham are practically one layer and you’ll need pre-wrinkled tin foil.

We’re going to need a new words to describe our virtual worlds because existing words will find their uses bastardised. The word ‘social’ used to mean friendly or ‘the dole’. Now it’s shorthand for social networking. Likewise the word virtual itself will virtually never mean ‘nearly’ again. When you actually do something in the tangible world, you’ll have to preface so that every one will know what you mean. Conversations will be go as follows

- I went for a walk

- A walk-walk or just a walk?

- No, an actual walk, like … with my legs to another place.

VR is here. Really.


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