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Virtual Reality: As Real As You Want It To Be

Virtual Reality: As Real As You Want It To Be

Excerpt from Foreword of Virtual reality: applications and explorations
Virtual Reality:As Real As You Want It To Be by Pat Cadigan

Welcome to one of the oldest forms of Virtual Reality in existence: a book. I should know, as it so happens that I make my living as a writer. It also happens that a good deal of my work is directly concerned with Virtual Reality, so perhaps instead of calling myself a writer, I could start passing myself or as a, um, Virtual Realtor.

Maybe in the future, Virtual Realtor will be one of the growth occupations, though it will probably be nothing like writing books. For one thing, judging from the essays on the following pages, you’ll need a lot more hardware (and software), as well as a strong abilit to visualize and good organizational reflexes.

Exactly when we’ll see the first true Virtual Realtors is as yet undetermined, but there are plenty of informal prototypes around, as you’ll know if anyone has tried to sell you beach-front property that turned out to be polluted swampland—figuratively, or even literally, depending on what you were looking for, and how anxious you were to buy in. What does this have to do with any of the essays in this book, all of which deal with practical issues and problems concerned with the construction of a computer-generated graphic environment for purposes of education, work, and/or recreation? Just this essential truth: we’ve always had Virtual Reality, in many, many forms. We’re just now getting around to making it technically literal, via computers.

The truly oldest form of VR is located in a relatively small area stretching roughly between your left ear and your right ear.

From here, we produced select pieces and portions of our personal VR to show the world— statues, pictures, music, plays, books, films. And, oh, yes, television.

The pieces and portions we drew from our personal VR became more elaborate, larger and longer in duration. Virtual Reality, as detailed in the following essays, is the next logical step, and the question l’ve heard most often about it is “What for? What is Virtual Reality good for, what is the purpose?” The authors here will tell you that it’s a good place to work and/or to learn; a good way to explore environments too deadly to visit in person; a good way to manage the information deluge; a great way to have a good time; and any number of other things.

It is true that VR’s potential applications are almost too numerous to list. But how things will really turn out when we move from the potential to the actual—ah, that’s a different matter entirely. Because, as William Gibson, one of VR’s cultural godfathers, once said, “The street finds its own uses for things.” No statement has ever been truer. What it means, friends, is that intent seldom has the same degree of impact as the results … or, if you will, consequences. And that includes not only VR, but what we will learn from it, and in it.

So once again: “What for?  What’s it good for, what’s the purpose?” lt’s important because we need better, easier ways of managing information or it ceases to be information and simply becomes noise. Because improved educating techniques make for more knowledgeable and more capable people. Because we need places to exercise our curiosity by performing experiments that may be too difficult, if not downright impossible, in the outer world. Because VR has always been with us conceptually anyway. Because whatever we learn in creating VR teaches us something more about this reality and how we fit into it. Because it’s not time to stop exploring the possibilities. Because it’s not time to stop doing. Anything.

How many more reasons do you need?

I wrote a book called Synners, in which VR was in regular use, commercially and privately, and in the course of the story, some people generated a reality that was a synthesis of the outer world, technological VR, and human perceptions. Because of this, some things happened that were good, and some other things happened that were bad, and in the end, it was as mixed a blessing as any other new development. Ultimately, this is all you can say about  VR:  Like anything  else, it will be a mixed blessing. There are lots of reasons good enough to justify it. There are no reasons good enough to stop it.

As e. e. cummings put it:  “There’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go.”

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