From my tiny NYU apartment above Union Square, you can hear the noisy city pulse with energy down below. The smells of street vendors slither into the room; laughter, voices, shouting all echo off the steel walls surrounding my building.
This is definitely a different way of life from the quiet suburbs of Germantown. It’s loud; it’s exciting; it’s almost overwhelming. I love it. The ADHD inside me yearns for this kind of constant distraction. I find that it actually helps me to maintain my focus. It becomes white noise, a backdrop which makes all other things fade away.
New York is alive, hip, and full of tech. As I’ve started into my internship (in a firm where the average age of employment is in the low 30’s), I’ve started to become hyper-aware of ways that tech could be used better. Consulting firms are all about mobility and technology. I’ve never held a job before where you can be based in New York, fly to San Francisco Monday to Thursday, work from home on Friday, then fly to Miami that next Monday. To maintain relationships with clients, you have to physically be present with them. The firm goes out of its way to stay up to date on hardware and software. But they could go even farther. I think that the next big technological shockwave in business and society will arrive in the form of affordable, high quality virtual reality.
As we all know, Facebook acquired Oculus Rift in 2014. Zuckerburg believes VR to be the new face of social media. Imagine talking face-to-face with your friend who is thousands of miles away. It would certainly make consulting a lot easier. I recently watched the first episode of Wild Palms, a 5-hour miniseries produced by Greengrass Productions and first aired on ABC in 1993. It’s a bit aged considering this is 2016, BUT it does have a really cool scene involving VR. In it, the main character Harry Wyckoff puts on a pair of virtual reality goggles to be introduced (in a very 1700’s fashion setting) to a man hundreds of miles from him.
Granted, this is a movie; Harry was able to reach out and touch the man he was meeting, by shaking his hand. To do realistically do that today, Harry would have to wear a full-body suit as well as VR goggles, to mimic the touch stimuli from his VR environment. But the fact is that a movie predicted what Mark Zuckerberg envisions…over 20 years ago. But we still aren’t there yet. Why is that?
I’m a huge believer in VR technology. I think the future of business, social interaction, and education is locked away in virtualized environments. We are approaching a future where it might be possible to speak with friends in other countries yet feel like we are in the same room. We can play video games, like Fallout and Halo, and feel like we are literally in the game itself. We could immerse a child in a world of math and science in VR to help better engage them in their studies. VR could be used to cater to people with disabilities who are unable to leave their homes but yearn to explore the world.
One of the things I want to focus on in my career is the presence of virtual reality in everyday life. Just like how the cellphone drastically changed society, I think virtual reality will have the same effect. In the near future, self-driving cars will be the new automobile normal. Most cars could be completely electric, with mile ranges in the hundreds. Would it be a stretch to say that soon everyone will be able to affordably get their hands on a high quality VR device like an Oculus Rift?
But a lot of innovation still has yet to occur before we reach the stage of Wild Palms. Equipment such as Oculus Rifts are expensive and hard to acquire. Optimizations in the supply chain would have to be made, not only to cut down on the price of the goggles but also the powerful computers required to run them. Until that happens, the only people using Oculus Rifts will be the early adopters with the financial means of affording them.
Something interesting I read in a CNN article (Read It Here) was that the success of VR lies not in the hands of the virtual reality equipment manufacturers, but in the hands of the developers making the applications meant for these devices.
People won’t want to buy a VR headset if they can’t use it for a compelling game. And these games need to be ready to go when the headsets hit the market.
And they are right. Who wants to drop a couple hundred dollars if all they can play are bad games? What kind of business wants to spend thousands or millions if the business solutions are second-rate?
In the meantime, I think we should be watch the direction virtual reality is taking. We should work towards making it affordable and promote wide-spread use. The potential benefits are too numerous to ignore.