are perhaps the four most commonly uttered words in our house over the last several months. Any number of wishes, plans, and projects have been temporarily punted into some vague future with the turn of that simple phrase. It’ll be interesting to see which ideas survive a year in limbo.

Our favorite family portrait, by Susi Baxter-Seitz

One of my punted projects was conceived two nights ago, as we sat on the couch watching Fellowship of the Ring, most of our packing done, nothing to do but wait. I wanted a bigger movie screen. So I began architecting in my imagination a hi-def projection system. I calculated the maximum size of the screen, factoring in wall size, projection distance, aesthetic margins, and aspect ratio.

Then it occurred to me that “when we get back,” consumer virtual reality may be a real thing. With VR, we won’t need to hang an actual screen on the wall. We can simply hang a virtual screen, only visible through our VR (AR, actually) goggles, leaving the actual wall free for artwork, or maybe photos of us doing things in the real world.

I quickly realized that with VR we won’t need a virtual screen to watch the movie on, nor even a wall for that matter. The movie could take up our entire field of view. My next realization, of course, is that we could all be watching a different movie. Finally! The tense battles over which movie to choose will be a thing of the past. But so too the valuable lessons in negotiation and compromise. Also gone: the shared experience of watching the same movie at the same time in the same room, with each other in the corners of each others’ eyes.

Get ready for VR. A lot of the time.

I predict that within ten years most people in the developed world will spend more time in VR than they do in the real world, much as today, my good friend Eric pointed out, many of us spend more time on social media than we do socializing in person. If I’m right, the world “when we get back” will already be a much different place. For us, that difference will be amplified by having spent the previous twelve months in less developed places and a generally slower paced society. In just a few short years, what we’re embarking on today may seem a quaint notion from a a bygone era: experiencing the same thing, at the same time and in the same place, with the people we love the most.

VR is often lauded for its ability to transport us to far-off places – the very places my family and I are going to visit over the coming year. But consumer VR will be used for more than just visiting exotic and beautiful locales. My second prediction is that for our generations (those of us who’ll remember a world before VR), we’ll don our goggles to recreate our past experiences in the real world. Some next-gen tech will comb through our photostreams to generate 3D worlds based on placetimes we’ve actually been to, immersing us in our own memories, brought back to life through the magic of VR.

Las Cajas National Park outside Cuenca, Ecuador

If Bitcoin is digital gold, data is digital oil. Tech companies around the world are siphoning up as much data as possible, feeding it to their machine learning algorithms in a race to extract insights, intelligence, and ultimately profits from this newly valuable and abundant resource. The data that will power much of VR’s magic ten years from now is our own experience in the real world today: memories and artifacts from when we spent most of our time in the physical realm. That’s why I’m especially grateful for this year abroad, this amazing opportunity to experience exotic, beautiful locales in the flesh and siphon up some data of my own.

As I watched Frodo pull Sam out of the water and into the boat with him, I imagined that one day, when my kids are grown and gone, I may don a pair of VR goggles, dial up our couch and carpet from 2019, hang a virtual screen on a virtual wall, and watch videos of the real-life experiences we’re about to share. The tech will paint blurred hints of my family just there, in the corners of my watering eyes, creating the illusion of us sharing the experience of reliving our shared experience. But that’s a virtual reality from some distant tomorrow. Today, we have an actual plane to catch.

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2 Comments

  1. The idea of experiencing everything virtually instead of literally makes me sad. I guess “old” people always feel like the waves of the next generation are wrong in some way. But I especially think the attraction of turning on VR and living in the past (with our watering eyes), could contribute to even more substantial mental health issues. Sigh…

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