It’s About to Get Real: A Series on Virtual Reality

When I was in 8th Grade my brothers girlfriend took me to a movie…

The film was “Lawnmower Man” and it was terrible.  Just awful.  Even to the forgiving palate of an 8th grader.  It had quite literally nothing in common with the Stephen King short story I had just read.  I spent the entire film trying to make a connection between the two when there was clearly none to be found.  I remember little of the film save for my distaste.  I seem to mostly recall it being a terribly misguided  attempt to recreate “Flowers for Algernon” and perhaps something about all the phones in the world ringing in unison.  You see what I’m getting at. Even for the unrefined palate of a 13 year old it was dumb. Yet for all its flaws there was a portion of the film that resonated deeply within me.   A shinning diamond buried amidst a heap of dung.  Two decades later and it sits with me still; the promise of virtual reality.

You see that was the film that introduced me, along with many of my kin, to the concept of a powerfully effective interface connecting man with computer.  While “Tron” had showed us a decade earlier what it would be like to live within the game, this particular film had demonstrated a method that could actually accomplish the feat.  By strapping on a headset we could plug in and explore vast and endless computer rendered worlds.  Worlds of our own design.  Worlds both beautiful and grand whose limits were defined only by the bounds of the human imagination.  Within these realms we were to be unencumbered by flesh.  Our digital selves were freed of the limitations of the human physique.  Those vague and fleeting powers we oft possessed in our dreams no longer died upon waking.  This medium had avowed us with the potential to recreate them, to be a willing participant in full consciousness and to truly live within the experience under full light of day.  We could fly now.

That is the world that “The Lawnmower Man” illuminated for me and for so many others.  The films of the 90′s would offer that same promise to us time and again.  From “Disclosure” to “Strange Days” we were presented of glorious visions, each one assuring us that a true virtual reality existed on the horizon; a future just beyond our reach.  We whet our lips in anticipation of this new frontier but with each failed attempt to recreate a believable virtual reality experience we were consistently lead down paths of disappointment.  Endless bitter truths ruefully swallowed. The harsh reality had become the realization that perhaps it was all just a pipe-dream.  We accepted the fact that perhaps the “Virtual Boy” was the closest we’d ever get to living inside “The Matrix” after all.  Collectively we resigned to let go of the memories of what could be and instead embraced the best of what sat in front of us; and endless stream super polished 2d gaming experiences pasted upon flat screens which grew exponentially through the years.  It was good enough.  It was good enough because it had to be.

Amazingly still there was a hope.  A hope damaged and battered; all but put out by the dampening effects of disheartening setbacks and time’s long slow march.  But it was a hope nonetheless that somehow endured.  No longer a fire of inspiration, what remained was but a smoldering ember surrounded by the ashes of disappointment.  Like many, I had long forgotten the beckoning for a true and tangible virtual reality experience.  I had abandoned its search.  But then something happened for me that I did not expect.  It was late one dark and cold night in the dead of last winter.  Sitting in my living room while clicking away thoughtlessly on the internet, I happened upon the story of a new device and it’s unlikely creator.  I spent the rest  of that night  on a crusade to educate myself this on this remarkable piece of technology.  I feverishly consumed each morsel of news I could uncover; committing the facts to memory.  I compulsively watched and re-watched every video I could find; my mouth agape in awe of the various reactions of those who had the great fortune and unimaginable pleasure to use this device.  While the words to describe the experience varied the sentiment was seemingly unanimous; the virtual reality that we had long ago prayed for had finally arrived.  Remarkably it was as glorious as we had knew it would be.  I knew then, on that night, that the world was about to change.

What I didn’t know then was that I was walking in just shortly after the show had started.  Taking my seat at the beginning of this remarkable story.  A story which has grown and evolved wildly in such a small period of time.  Playing out as if it were scenes from a blockbuster film.  It is a tale populated with the kind of destiny laden encounters that are likely to be discussed for ages, technological breakthroughs we could not have dreamed of, unlikely players who have been thrust into the mix, and legendary men taking legendary chances.  At its epicenter the heart of this legend belongs to the most unlikeliest of protagonists; a brilliant and unassuming young kid who held on to that ember of a dream long after the rest of us had surrendered hope.  He believed.  He never lost the vision. With a brilliant approach, and the help of unbelievable allies, he dedicated himself to fostering that vision of a true virtual reality. Designing its interface, building it from the bones of past attempts, he has given the concept a fresh new life and he is soon to deliver it unto to the long awaiting masses.  He is the father of the Oculus Rift and it is our portal with which we will transport to our virtual destiny.  You don’t know it yet, but we will be talking about it and about him for many, many years to come.

And that, dear reader, is where I come in.  In this past year I have become a disciple of this new digital church; ambassador for a new age.  You may think that this is just is a game, a kids toy or a fools playground.  If that is your belief then it is my great fortune to inform you that you are wrong.  For many, its future is shrouded in an uncertainty that has been assured by the failures of the past. There are others though, like myself, who see both the road before us and it’s beautiful destination with a resounding and unflinching clarity.  In the very near future you will be witness to a revolution.  From how we learn, how we travel, how we explore, how we work, how interact with our computers, to how we learn to how we will someday interact with one another… this is going to change everything.

So come with me, if you will, as I sermonize.  Consider me an Evangelist for the future.  If you’ll walk with me for a spell I will show you how we are on the precipice of the great paradigm shift of our age.  Over the next few days and weeks I will present you with a series of articles that recaps the story thus far and forecasts where we the winds will take us.  I will introduce you to all the players and give you all the facts about this remarkable emerging technological revolution.  If you cannot already tell, I am greatly passionate about the future that I see before us and it is a passion that I take great pride in sharing with you.  Trust me when I tell you…. it’s contagious.

Stay tuned for Part I: On Palmer Luckey and John Carmac – The Two Most Influential Men You’ve Never Heard Of

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