Over the holidays I had my first foray into virtual reality. As if we haven’t already been living in an altered reality from the US presidential election and president-elect Trump rewriting nuclear arms policies in a 140-character tweet. Now we can create a new reality, or escape from our existing one for a brief period of time, through the use of a virtual reality viewer.
Earlier this year, the NY Times sent my mother a cardboard virtual reality viewer. I assembled it and immediately downloaded the NY Times VR app to check out the options. The viewer isn’t necessary, just a smartphone.
Fortunately, the first couple of times I used the virtual reality viewer in an open area. That way I wasn’t hitting and bumping into things as I swiveled my head and spun around trying to see everything. First I watched a video about detainees in England and got to walk around their tiny prison cells to “experience” their reality. Then I switched to something more upbeat, a redwood forest meditation followed by another video of a herd of bison.
I realize that the free cardboard viewer is pretty basic compared to the more sophisticated ones available for purchase, complete with something to hold it on your head. A quick Google search revealed a number of virtual reality viewers already available on the market. I had to hold mine against my face which got pretty tiresome for my arms after a while.
In November I went to an exhibit called “Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). It was days after my LASIK surgery and I remember feeling enormous relief walking around the dimly lit exhibit area. It was pretty amazing to see these miniatures, some of them only the size of a clementine with such intricate carvings layered inside. I felt a bit sad that the virtual reality display, which would have allowed us to “walk” inside one of the miniatures was not fully operational when we went. However, we saw a video of the VR experience which looked pretty neat.
It’s still early days for virtual reality, but I can already see how it will begin to be incorporated more into our everyday experiences.