If there’s one person in the entire world who knows VR inside and out it’s Jaron Lanier. Decades before the likes of Palmer Lucky, Mark Zuckerberg et al, computer scientist, musician and artist Lanier spearheaded immersive technology founding VPL Research in the 1980s. As you may have already seen, the launch of Apple Vision Pro has prompted early adopters to use it in all manner of situations. On the subway, at a basketball game, or even just walking down the street. Whilst companies are trying to promote XR’s everyday use case, Lanier says that “living in VR makes no sense.”
With all of the excitement over Vision Pro’s launch on 2nd February, you may have missed an article written by Jaron Lanier in The New Yorker (well-spotted Mixed News). Delving into the idea of “Where Will Virtual Reality Take Us?”, he looks back at those heady early years when VPL’s systems cost millions of dollars, only available to clients like NASA.
He laments that over the decades, whilst he still loves VR, what he loves about it isn’t necessarily what modern VR consumers enjoy. Which, at the moment at least, is highly focused on gaming. “There are many reasons why V.R. and gaming don’t quite work, and I suspect that one is that gamers like to be bigger than the game, not engulfed by it. You want to feel big, not small, when you play.”
He also takes a quick shot at Vision Pro. Saying its apps “aren’t entirely compelling” and that it exudes “a lonely, dystopian flavor” – because of all the marketing showing users watching movies alone.
VR in bite-sized form
If you’re new to VR then it’s always best to enjoy it in bite-sized chunks. Those who are far more acquainted with the technology will know that the industry’s goal, in general, has been to keep you immersed for longer and longer. Let’s not even discuss the whole ‘Metaverse’ topic, and the desire to keep people in virtual worlds where they can socialise, shop and find entertainment.
This whole “living in VR makes no sense” writes Janier. “Life within a construction is life without a frontier. It is closed, calculated, and pointless. Reality, real reality, the mysterious physical stuff, is open, unknown, and beyond us; we must not lose it,” he continues. Lanier much prefers smaller “VR sessions” rather than long, drawn-out periods. Popping on a headset to “accomplish something specific and practical” for example. Or at the other end of the scale to experience something that’s “as weird as possible.”
It’s interesting to see a VR expert of Jaron Lanier’s stature also go against the grain of miniaturising headsets. Making them as small, light and as invisible as possible is what the likes of Meta, Apple, Magic Leap et al have been striving towards. He feels that “If you’re going to wear a headset, you should be proud of that weird thing on your head!” The VR community does go down this route with new paint jobs, stickers and accessories. Lanier tended to be a bit more extreme. “In the old days I’d build one-of-a-kind V.R. headsets into big masks from different cultures, sometimes adding lightning bolts and feathers. I wanted the headsets to be vibrant, exciting objects that enriched the real world, too.”
What do you think? Do you love spending hours in VR or do you prefer short sessions? Are you an avid headset modder? Let us know in the comments below.