Mudede Discovers VR

Charles Mudede has long been my favorite writer for The Stranger.  Over the years he has filled that paper with insights on urban development, Marxism, post-structuralism, rural Washington state, and pop culture. Every time I read his work I end up thinking about something differently. This week he has an excellent piece on SIFFX and VR in general. I liked this bit in particular.

Later that night, I dreamed of my dead mother. We were, of all things, dancing in her bedroom to “Under the Pressure” by the War on Drugs. She was so real, so alive, so there. When I awoke, I was amazed by how perfect the illusion had been. I wanted to go back to it. But I couldn’t. I have no control over my dreams. Now imagine if someone had filmed my mother, who died in 2003, dancing with a 360-degree camera. I could enter a room in my house, or in a karaoke joint repurposed for VR consumption, and visit my mother in the virtual world. I could walk to her and dance with her. I could do this again and again.

I had a similar thought recently. I’m the child of Baby Boomer parents who, like many Baby Boomers, adore using FaceTime to chat with their grandchildren. My niece and nephew live in Victoria, BC, which is close to me and my parents geographically but does involve traversing water and an international border to visit. In recent weeks as I’ve been telling my mom about the magic of VR, I keep coming back to the example of being able to put on a set of goggles and “visit” my brother’s family in their living room.

I’ll be interested to see what happens when 360 camera arrays become more affordable, allowing users to upload immersive footage of their vacations and family barbecues. We don’t know yet how this is going to change us, but we know it will be profound.

I’m reading Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators, a history of the birth of the digital age, starting with Ada Lovelace and ending with Google. I’ve passed the part about the IBM execs who assumed that regular people would have no use for a personal computer. When personal computers first started showing up in shag carpeted rec rooms–I remember this well–there was a sense of massive, curious potential. We knew that this technology would change society, but we couldn’t yet conceive of what that would mean. I felt the same way answering customer service calls for an online bookstore in 1998. And like Mudede, I feel the same way now about VR.