This book is about virtual reality (VR), a tantalizing communication medium whose essence challenges our most deeply held notions of what communication is or can be. Part computer simulation, part "consensual hallucination," virtual reality offers us the opportunity to surf through information-rich cyberspace; to "be" in worlds that exist only in our imaginations, more so than we have with other media, and to manipulate (for better or worse) virtual environments, ranging from the smallest chemical compound to the entire surface of a distant planet. Communication becomes simulation. Inspired by William Gibson science fiction novel Neuromancer and underwritten by the Pentagon and Sega, the age of VR has begun. The communication process -- and, possibly, the human condition -- may never be the same again.
Yet despite the historic changes that are occurring, most communication scholars have only vague ideas about virtual reality. Virtual reality, we believe, may become too important, too wondrous, and too powerful a medium to permit disciplinary ignorance and passivity toward what may become the next dominant medium.
In part I of this volume, Virtual Reality as a Communication Medium, we introduce the medium of virtual reality, some of the major concepts that it embodies, and the wires, silicon chips, and displays that make it all work. In part II, Designing Virtual Environments, we explore the emerging issues in the creation of communication applications and experiences. Finally, in part III, the Social Reality of Virtual Reality, we take a step back and examine social and cultural issues impelled by the age of virtual reality.
Some of the ideas for this book started to take shape when Frank Biocca was on leave at the University of California and at Stanford. It was a chance to return to questions that had gotten him interested in communication, the kinds of questions he used to hear at Marshall McLuhan's lectures while he