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Virtual Reality Was Intended as a Complement to Physical Reality, Not as a Substitute



(p. A17) The illusion of presence is what drove Mr. Lanier from the start. He envisioned VR not as an alternative to physical reality but as an enhancement--a way to more fully appreciate the wonder of existence. More conventional individuals, their senses dulled by the day-to-day, may be drawn to virtual reality because it seems realer than real; he considered it a new form of communication. "I longed to see what was inside the heads of other people," he writes. "I wanted to show them what I explored in dreams. I imagined virtual worlds that would never grow stale because people would bring surprises to each other. I felt trapped without this tool. Why, why wasn't it around already?"

"Dawn of the New Everything" is full of such self-revelatory moments. The author grew up an only child in odd corners of the Southwest, first on the Texas-Mexico border, then in the desert near White Sands Missile Range. When he was nine, his mother, a Holocaust survivor, was killed in a car crash on the way home from getting her driver's license. The tract house they'd bought burned down the day after construction was completed. The insurance money never came, so Jaron and his father lived in tents in the desert until they could afford to build a real home--which turned out to be a mad concoction of geodesic domes of Jaron's own design. They called it Earth Station Lanier.


. . .


Lacking a degree from high school, never mind college, he nonetheless parlayed his virtual-reality obsession into a company, VPL Research, that for a few years in the late '80s made VR seem real, if only in a lab setting. Then came board fights and bankruptcy, and VR disappeared from public view for more than 20 years.

What went wrong at VPL? Unfortunately, you won't find out here. Mr. Lanier warns us he isn't going to deliver a blow-by-blow; instead we get a disjointed sequence of half-remembered anecdotes. What does come through is his ambivalence about going into business at all, and his even deeper ambivalence toward writing about it.



For the full review, see:

Frank Rose. "BOOKSHELF; The Promise of Virtual Reality; The story of VR, the most immersive communications technology to come along since cinema, as told by two of its pioneers." The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, February 6, 2018): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 5, 2018, and has the title "BOOKSHELF; Review: The Promise of Virtual Reality; The story of VR, the most immersive communications technology to come along since cinema, as told by two of its pioneers.")


The book under review, is:

Lanier, Jaron. Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality. New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2017.






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