It has been over 3 years since Facebook purchased the
current big name in VR, Oculus VR, who make the Oculus Rift headsets. My
experience with VR has been limited to Google
Cardboard, which is a decent approximation of what to expect from actual
VR. Of course, I still have that Google Cardboard thing, but after the initial
few hours, I never used it.
The VR makes us (the user) part of the action, to the extent
that video and audio can. This is in contrast with a regular movie or TV. The
fourth wall is strictly in front you, and clearly defined. With VR you are
inside the four walls, and that means, you can look around and depending on the
technology (and the capability of the technology used to develop the VR media,
interact and perhaps even change the virtual reality world. VR will put you in
the driver’s seat of a formula 1 car for instance, or make you one of the
characters in a movie or allow you to roam around in a (virtual) Jurassic park
with huge dinosaurs and totally insecure and untested security systems that are
designed ensure that all humans will die once these beasts escape from their
Now, that’s VR.
Then there is Facebook. At it’s core Facebook is essentially
a place to share media (photos, videos, links and of course text) and allow
others to interact with it. It plays on the essential human instinct to show
the world what you are, and just may be, tell them that you are doing something
they are not. Essentially, it’s an ego feeding machine that also has some
peripheral uses like networking and business development and (actually) keeping
in touch with people we care about.
So, why would Facebook bother having Oculus as on of its
subsidiary? It is essential to understand that Facebook has always been a
platform to get things done. It’s like the operating system that powers your
phone or PC. It’s like a (virtual) home or house in which you live. If your
Facebook account is your house (filled with memories, the joys and sorrows, the
events and milestones and all things that cover), the interesting thing is that
you cannot live in it. You are essentially operating from outside the fourth
wall. It’s like when you go to the zoo. Sure you paid for the ticket and you
are here to see the Lion but you cannot go and roam around with the Lions or
pat them or take selfies with them.
I think the idea here for Facebook is to break that fourth
wall and put you in the middle of your facebook account, which is by default
your digital home. I am sure that VR is at least 5 years away from becoming
mainstream. I wrote about the many problems with
VR in an earlier blog post. Many of the problems I talked about earlier are
solvable. They are mostly engineering issues (like processing power, displays,
battery capacity, user comfort) which will be fixed because the march of
technology does not stop for anybody. People (and the world is filled with
people who are constantly coming up with innovative solutions) will always
figure things out.
While talking about VR, its hard not to think of the quick
growth and death of 3D. I think what killed 3D was the same thing that killed
3D 30 years ago, as well. The lack of content. Imagine you buy a food processor
that makes fantastic fruit juice in like 5 seconds. Unfortunately, lets imagine
a scenario where you live in a time and world where it is impossible to get
fruits. You want to use your processor but there is no way to get fruits. The
television companies were selling 3D television sets like they were the next
greatest thing for the living room but other than promotional videos, there was
literally nothing else that was available in 3D. Streaming companies never
really embraced 3D in a big way. User generated content also never happened.
So, every possible producer of 3D video declined to generate 3D video. There
was no supply, and there was no consumption and by default, there was no demand
for 3D hardware. Everything just fizzled out. It’s Economics 101.
This time though, I have a feeling that perhaps VR medium
will grow. If Facebook gets it right and figures out a way to convert the
trillions of GB of data it is sitting into a VR format (and ensures that users
don’t have to jump through hoops to create VR content for consumption), supply
is ensured. Once there is a steady supply, consumption will happen and demand
for VR devices will grow. This will circle itself into the expected never
ending cycle that will lead to mainstream VR adoption, lower prices, easier
access and stuff like that. Obviously adult entertainment (as it has done with
VHS tapes, streaming media and Blu Ray adoption) and gaming entertainment have
a big role to play in this.
My job allows me to interact a lot of people (like 1000s
every year) and each year I notice that the younger generation is becoming more
and more digital social, less and less real life social. Obviously there are
some serious negative consequences in the long term because of this, but I
don’t see how this can communicated. As we consume more and more digital
services, and use digital tools for everyday communication, I can see that people
will embrace VR as part of their lives. Mostly because they don’t have a
choice, but sometimes because they really want to.
Eventually (perhaps even in our own lifetimes) we might see
some version of the life depicted in Wall E. You know people just sitting on
chairs and everything being done for them, and happening from where they sit.
Hopefully, at least some people will get up and get things done. Or, we might have
to abandon our planet, just like in Wall E.
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