Frank Biocca University of North Carolinaat Chapel Hill
Mark R. Levy University of Maryland
Virtual reality's (VR) final destination may well be as a multipurpose communication medium -- a combination of the television and telephone wrapped delicately around the senses. Even NASA scientists like Steven Ellis ( 1991a) admit that "Virtual environments . . . are communication media" (p. 321). Introductory VR books often describe virtual reality as the next logical step in the history of communication media (e.g., Hamit, 1993; Rheingold, 1991). A Delphi panel survey predicts that communication applications of virtual reality will amount to more than 60% of the marketplace when the technology matures ( Miller, Walker, & Rupnow, 1992).
But what are virtual reality's communication applications? One could argue that all VR applications are communication applications. In some ways this is valid; after all, all applications involve man-machine communication and human-to-human communication. But, maybe we should ask a more confined question: What are VR's applications in the traditional domains of entertainment, news and information, and telecommunication? What shape might they take? What design challenges do they present?
As the opening chapters noted, the mid- 1990s are full of turbulent change in the communication and computer industries. Virtual reality applications are being formed in this bubbling cauldron of activity. In this chapter we use the best available evidence and suggest the outlines of some key VR communication applications.
U.S. expenditures on communication technology and services account for between $7 trillion and $11 trillion, depending on what one counts as