Communication in the Age of Virtual Reality

By Frank Biocca; Mark R. Levy | Go to book overview

1 The Vision of Virtual Reality

Frank Biocca Taeyong Kim University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Mark R. Levy University of Maryland

When anything new comes along, everyone, like a child discovering the world, thinks that they've invented it, but you scratch a little and you find a caveman scratching on a wall is creating virtual reality in a sense. What is new here is that more sophisticated instruments give you the power to do it more easily. Virtual reality is dreams.

--

Morton Heilig1

The year is 1941. Engineers and industrialists are introducing a new medium to the country. Few can predict the significant influence of this new "gadget" with the odd name, tele-vision -- vision at a distance. It is not just a novelty in a research lab or an amusement at a World's Fair. Although a technological reality, it is not yet a psychological and cultural reality. In the early 1940's there are less than 5,000 sets in the United States. But soon, the light from the TV screen will flicker in every home and mind in the country.

Change the channel. The year is 1988.2 Engineers and industrialists are

____________________
1
Quoted in Hamit ( 1993, p. 57).
2
Unlike television, dating the "public introduction" of virtual reality is more than a bit difficult. The full-scale introduction of television required legislation allocating parts of the electromagnetic spectrum to broadcasters. Historians date public introduction of TV as the emergence of the first permanent broadcasts using those frequencies. VR, on the other hand, is a heterogeneous cluster of simulator technologies that has been slowly diffusing for decades. There is, strictly speaking, no starting point, and, as this chapter suggests, VR is part of the grand evolution of media technology toward the reproduction of the "essential copy" and the achievement of "physical transcendence." We use the year 1988 because it marks a milestone

-3-

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