Popular culture got virtual reality wrong.
Back in the 90s, as the Internet exploded into the mainstream, Hollywood took advantage and created a cottage industry of movies full of paranoid theories about what it would mean for the future. For instance, just look at this:
Within that genre, virtual reality was a wild technology that was supposed to be ubiquitous by 2018. Go back a few decades to the 1990s when the concept of virtual reality was first introduced to the general public. It promised users entry into whatever reality they craved. It could mean visually transporting themselves into the middle of Times Square on New Year’s Eve, or seats at the 50-yard-line at the Super Bowl. Or heck, you could send yourself into space if you wanted. The only limit to where you could go would be your imagination.
It promised us escape from the rote routines of daily life.
Well, it hasn’t quite panned out that way.
We don’t walk down the streets with our faces buried in headsets pretending we’re actually walking along the Seine. Instead, we walk down the streets with our faces buried in our phones scrolling through pictures of our friends’ dinners on Instagram.
The concept of VR has always been better than its, well, reality. And as smartphones flooded the market a decade ago, virtual reality became less imperative. Who needed a bulky headset when our phones could take us just about anywhere?
It seemed like smartphones would render the idea of virtual reality obsolete. There are millions of videos at your fingertips that could get you what you were looking for, or sites like Google Earth that could make you feel like you were traveling the world. And with the quality of VR leaving much to be desired, it hadn’t permeated the public consciousness the way Hollywood led us to believe two decades ago.
So yes, popular culture got it wrong, and it seemed like virtual reality would never live up to Hollywood’s promise.
Except, as we sit here in 2019, there’s a good chance that VR is on the verge of having its moment.
The potential of virtual reality has always been intriguing to tech companies, and it’s starting to come to fruition. In fact, it’s not a stretch to suggest that VR is not too far away from revolutionizing everything from education to how we consume content. Those are the goals of Adobe’s Captivate, the latest version of which comes out in the upcoming months.
Captivate looks like it could be a technological gamechanger. While many school districts have moved away from traditional textbooks and have embraced Chromebooks or other computers or tablets instead, the advances possible with virtual reality take even modern learning to a new level.
Many people are visual learners, and the advent of virtual reality will be a boon to people who thrive on their vision, as noted by Adobe:
“Thanks to the feeling of presence VR provides, students can learn about a subject by living it. It’s easy to forget that VR experiences aren’t real — a body actually believes it’s in a new place. This feeling engages the mind in a way that is remarkable.”
Nevermind just looking at photos of the Louvre, students will be able to take a virtual tour through the entire museum. Along the way, there could be dynamic informational boxes that pop up to give context to what they’re seeing. Or, much to the students’ chagrin, real-time quizzes or exams testing their knowledge.
At this point, as you’re reading this you might be thinking about what we wrote in the opening, about the fact that virtual reality has always been more about promise than delivery. And that’s fair – except in this case Adobe wants users to create their own content and thus build a library of videos.
Consider that existing 360-degree YouTube videos can be incorporated into Captivate, meaning there is already a library of videos to form a starting point.
Even without YouTube, Adobe has made it possible for users to generate content for the system, with instructions on creating virtual reality videos, interactive videos, responsive eLearning, interactive PowerPoint slides and more.
Of course, the usefulness of virtual reality doesn’t end in the classroom. With the technology finally catching up to its potential, its uses in the business world are almost endless. As this article notes, Walmart has used virtual reality to train its employees to prepare for Black Friday, their biggest day of the year. One can imagine how useful it must be for Walmart’s people to practice what to do in a scenario when one bargain-hunting customer hits another person over the head with a toaster before the employee has to deal with it in real life.
(Ok, that was a cheap shot. After all, as the old saying goes, “Let he who has not hit a fellow human over the head with a toaster cast the first stone.”)
But consider the possibilities of virtual reality in real estate. Right now, you go on Zillow looking at houses, and there are photos and sometimes a 360-degree “virtual tour”. But that might as well be like using dial-up Internet compared to the potential with VR. Imagine putting on a headset and being transported right into the house. You can see how big that bedroom really is, and whether you can really see the lake like the listing promises.
The uses of reliable, technically-proficient virtual reality are almost endless in the business world. Name an industry and there’s almost certainly a market for it. Imagine running a tourism company and being able to bring your country/city/attraction to life for potential visitors. Or a car salesperson trying to get a potential customer to envision themselves in that ride driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. Imagine video games in virtual reality.
Along the lines of video games, virtual reality is starting to infiltrate popular culture. In late December 2018, Netflix released a Black Mirror movie called Bandersnatch, where viewers didn’t just sit back and watch passively, but instead got to choose what happened next in the movie. Remember those Choose Your Own Adventures books from your childhood? It was that for television, and it immediately went viral:
And for sports fan, the prospect of VR is tantalizing, getting you front row seats at a fraction of the price. The NBA has recognized that and has started a VR program for fans to watch games from a unique perspective. If you can’t afford the Jack Nicholson seats, you could still experience the grace of Steph Curry and the power of LeBron James up close.
As we said at the start, Hollywood seemed like they got it wrong, but it’s looking like all they got wrong was the timing of virtual reality. The grandiose promises, the thoughts of being transported into any world you want to be in, they might have gotten that right, and just needed the technology to catch up with the idea.
Well, we’re just about there. It won’t be long until we know for sure if the (virtual) reality lives up to the hype. Ultimately, VR is about allowing people an intimate, individual experience, and connecting with your audience in a personal way. Now we turn to you…Have you tried virtual reality? What do you think are the pros and cons? Where do you think it goes next in the future? Leave a comment with your thoughts – we’d love to hear your thoughts!