“What’s the best argument you’ve heard against virtual reality hitting scale?” a venture capitalist asked recently. I thought for a second and the lawyer in me really wanted to come up with a crisp pros and cons list but I realized, I have yet to hear a good con.
“How is VR different than reading a book?”
On the one hand, there are many challenges. Like developing and distributing the hardware, software and content necessary for either to become woven into our day-to-day lives. And there is no clear road to commercialization built on the foundation of clearly defined products.
But for every seemingly blocked road, some of the world’s smartest minds are on it, working hard to figure out the next evolution; developing work-arounds or entirely new mechanisms to improve upon the working tech that is viable and even already in use today in many sectors. The real challenge is most people don’t know it’s here.
“But for every seemingly blocked road, some of the world’s smartest minds are on it, working hard to figure out the next evolution …”
I heard the voices— with limited exposure — who say with certainty that until the new technologies crack social applications, they won’t scale. I don’t fully agree. Take a comment by Julie Young, formerly of the ground-breaking Emblematic Group, journalism VR, now of Snap Inc., who asked on a 2016 SXSW panel: “How is VR different than reading a book?” Books, podcasts, or even painting; there are many timeless activities we do every day that we do alone. That’s a fact.
“There are many valid arguments about the timeline for how long it’ll take for VR and AR to proliferate our everyday lives and work.”
And while swift technological advances have often been fueled by social communications; including email, mobile phones, and the internet with social media being a global anchor. Just because that’s the way it’s been done in past doesn’t mean that’s the way it will always be done in the future.
There are many valid arguments about the timeline for how long it’ll take for VR and AR to proliferate our everyday lives and work. But that’s very difficult to dissect, analyze and predict accurately. But the idea that it can’t happen without an explosive social component isn’t determinative for several reasons:
- Ease. The ease of access is changing at a steady clip, and moving from enclosed headsets to lighter fare; from augmented visors, to eyeglasses or the evolution of mobile experiences. It will expand and get better, so it won’t be strictly a question of forcing mass audiences to put on restrictive headsets.
- Best applications. We are still learning what the best applications will be and many of them might fall into the category of other beloved activities like reading or serving a utility function at work. We simply don’t do everything with other people.
- Hurdles. Human beings have a huge tolerance for overcoming hurdles if the perceived tradeoff is worth it; think everything from wearing high heels to living in crowded cities.
We don’t know what we don’t know. I remember the days in the mid-1980’s when few people even had access to or used a personal computer. There was little reason for it back then. Few people could see clearly down the road to the explosive usage, utility and entertainment that people use computers for today. How many of us can imagine not having a computer or mobile device to get through our days?
Sure, I’ve heard many arguments against everything from the “it is isolating” to “there is no narrative in VR” to “it’s a fad,” or “the challenges overwhelm the potential,” and so on, but none of them move me. There are problems today, and the nature of them will contract and expand as solutions are continually created.
But this is not an argument against proliferation; these are questions that outline the opportunities for academics, entrepreneurs and investors. Research and development is a time-tested avenue to evolve new technologies and define the product-development cycle. Experimenting will produce answers; and there will be many that lay ahead of us.