Seeing (yourself in VR) is believing

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I started exploring primitive augmented reality with Google Glass about four years ago. A year later, I began playing with virtual reality using Google Cardboard. And the following year, after watching the Oculus Interstellar Experience at the Air and Space museum (twice — I went back the next day), I ordered the Oculus Developer Kit 2, built a VR-optimized computer, and subsequently spent hours exploring virtual worlds.

It all felt very experimental and forward-looking back then. By the time I finally got the Oculus Rift CV1 (Consumer Version), I had already decided that VR wasn’t quite ready, and that it would be another generation or two before it would really inspire both consumers and content creators. But then something happened that completely shifted my perspective: I picked up the Rift Touch Controllers.

Bringing my hands into VR with me raised the level of immersion to an entirely new level. The experience went from passive observation and consumption to active participation and creation. Suddenly, I was simultaneously controlling time while shattering enemies, climbing breathtaking mountains, and sculpting with light under the stars. Everything about VR I’d been complaining about was easily forgotten, and I was transported. I became convinced — not gradually, but almost instantly — that VR had the potential to become a computing platform every bit a transformative as mobile, if not moreso.

As recent as a year ago, I would have said that tropes like Tony Stark manipulating holographic, virtual objects in 3D space, or the Avatar / Hunger Games / Westworld control rooms, were, at best, aspirational — vaguely feasible permutations of humanity’s non-foreseeable future. Today, I know for a fact that they’re not only achievable, but achievable on a reasonable timescale.

VR still isn’t “ready” yet in the way that mobile was ready in 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone. VR hardware is expensive, uncomfortable (though it’s gotten much better), and the experience is inherently solitary (at least in physical space). In general, getting in and out of VR is still too big of a commitment for most people to do on a regular basis. But as I wrote in a recent piece on Medium, if we wait for VR to be ready, we will have waited too long.

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