Thomas W. Valente The Johns Hopkins University
Thierry Bardini University of Montréal
Widespread diffusion of virtual reality (VR) technology is likely to occur over the next several decades. The present chapter discusses the factors likely to affect the speed and character of VR diffusion. The chapter is of interest to marketers interested in predicting the potential market for VR as well as scholars and researchers interested in technology development and social change.
Virtual reality, for our purposes, is defined broadly as the technological system aimed at creating an electronically simulated environment in which the user experiences a sense of presence. Recently, numerous definitions of VR have been proposed ( Benedikt, 1991; Biocca, 1992b; Krueger, 1991; Pimentel & Teixeira, 1993; Robinett, 1992; Steuer, this volume). Our definition of VR, agrees with Steuer's view (this volume) that, at this stage of VR's diffusion, VR should be seen as "experiential" rather than "technological." The rationale for such a definition is that VR technology is not yet stable, and is still being negotiated by a network of inventors and innovators.
Another major feature of this definition is that the user becomes the focal point of our research. Focusing on the potential user of VR emphasizes that successful diffusion will probably depend on whether networks of inventors and shapers of VR are successful in reaching out to the network of potential VR adopters. Although the inventors of VR will shape VR technology, early VR users will also be influential shapers (and stabilizers) of VR technology. The effort of predicting the diffusion of such a complex and multipurpose set of technologies and individuals provides a means to understand the dynamic relationships between the networks involved in the process.