10 February 2017: 24-33, “Grasping Reality Through Illusion”

Author’s Name: Howard Rheingold
Bio: Howard Rheingold fell into the virtual ecosystem fairly early on and documented his travels in seeking out the virtual frontier in the book Virtual Reality
Name of Artwork or Topic: Virtual Reality, “Grasping Reality through Illusion” [24-33]
Date of Artwork, Article Publication or Topic: 1991
Describe Artwork, Article or Topic: Pages 24-33 of “Grasping Reality through Illusion” documents Howard Rheingold’s foray deeper into his experiences at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he walks through a virtually constructed building that was then built as the building he was presently testing the construction, tries to attach bonds chemically using the ARM which has force-resistance and reacts haptically to his input, and waxes poetic on the future of medical technology and education.
Opinion of Artwork, Article or Topic:
For having been written in 1991, Virtual Reality becomes more and more prescient the further I read. Just as Howard Rheingold walked through a virtual building that, at the time the simulation was built, did not exist, so too have I walked through a virtual building that did not exist. Now, 60 Fifth Ave, Floor 3 exists and when I stepped out of that elevator for the first time to visit the Future Reality Lab I had a strange sense of deja vu. Unlike Rheingold, however, I did not walk on a treadmill to simulate walking through the building (I teleported). The “game” he played with the molecular manipulation system and the ARM reminds me of how the HIV enzyme was turned into a puzzle for people to solve. As easy as it is with the foresight that I have of almost 30 years of experience with how this specific technology that Rheingold was writing about has evolved, I still believe that using devices such as treadmills (and other haptic devices) to augment the virtual reality experience is wishful thinking. Rheingold says that later in the book he’ll explain how a man in Japan was solving the movement problem with a stationary harness, a universal joint, and rollerskates (30). While I do think there will be some special use cases for large external devices for augmenting the physical interaction with virtual reality (the likes of “Pygmalion’s Spectacles” and Ready Player One with the haptics for the OASIS), I think by and large people are going to be immersed enough solely with the HMDs (head-mounted displays) which eventually I’m guessing will be small enough to be glasses or contacts.
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