Saturday, February 27, 2021

Virtual Reality, Again

Related to the Charles Murray interview, but it's not that crucial why.

My wife and I were thinking of visiting Anchorage and Houston immediately after Easter, as our vaccinations would be under full effect, and we are anxious to meet the granddaughter born in January 2020 and the prospective daughter-in-law in Texas.  Both sons discouraged this.  They are coming up this summer anyway, and both said there really was not much to do where they are in April these days.

Yet I was worked up at the idea of travel and thought Well, why not go to Europe, then, late in the summer?  It should still be inexpensive, and we can see those sights that the granddaughters, and even the sons might not be that fascinated by.  The Orkneys, the Alps, the Netherlands, the Danube. (There is a longer list.) We hate long flights, but maybe even Australia and NZ. But I read that many European countries are very worried about variant Covid strains coming in, and even vaccinated people with a recent negative test will not be allowed in.

I predicted a few years ago that Virtual Reality that can be purchased at what we would think now is a high price could be popular, simply because it is much cheaper in comparison to actually going there.  It is also more versatile.  You could go to Paris 1927 or 1972; London 1910 or 1965. Perhaps a little more chillingly but more marketably, we could go to Vienna 1880 as we imagine it was, with accurate details even though it isn't quite honest. We have enough photos to mock up the buildings.  We have enough info to know what the food and the music would be like. Delivered food to support particular VR's would spring up in larger cities and eventually be available everywhere. 

I have been told repeatedly that this is not as brilliant an idea as I think.  People will want to really go to Prague, even though it is inconvenient.  But when a VR weekend in Prague is one-tenth the price of an actual week there, and no one is letting you into Prague for the next six months anyway, won't there be additional advantage to the fake?  Not to mention that if you go on an arranged tour and go to tourist spots it's already rather fake anyway. If you think they can't program in serendipitous finds of charming little bistros or local artists, you haven't looked at online gaming in the last two decades. Piece o' cake. 

Also, traveling with other people is annoying, even the ones we love, because they want to shop while you want to seek out scenery, and they have a tendency to feel sick or hold yesterday against you, or even not go to that restaurant that you think might be one of the key events of the entire trip. VR fixable.  Is that bad for our overall character, our ability to endure inconvenience in the service of a broadening experience, our understanding of actual people from other cultures rather than curated examples that governments will eventually weasel their way in to influence*? Sure, but when has that ever stopped us before? We grew up on Westerns, for Pete's sake. We think Moses looked like Charlton Heston. We think "Saturday Night Live" is talking about current events and colleges teach history. 

We will take only the occasional VR trip at first, then it will be 50% of our travel, and eventually we will make a once-in-a-lifetime Hajj to a real place. I'm telling you, it's coming.

*If the official French tourism board is going to "help out with" an expensive VR of Marseilles in the 1890's, won't they have design influence over what you see and what people you meet? And won't that be even more intense for Marseilles 2021?


Christopher B said...

I've seen people liking a number of 'virtual tours' of various locations over the last year on FB.

I do think there is something to wanting the full monty. VR would do ok for somebody who primarily wanted to see a few famous sites and is visually oriented but it's not going to do near as well for the other senses or a feeling of real immersion in a place, even at a fraction of the cost.

james said...

On the plus side, there's no jet lag.

On the minus side, nothing I've seen has anything like the resolution of vision, and if you want to throw a coin in the fountain you're out of luck.
And, as Christopher says, you won't get anything like real immersion. True, there are upsides to that--no flies or mosquitoes, and the smells don't always evoke delight.

Still, combining VR and staffed reproductions of selected sites could provide enough of an experience for most people. Colonial Williamsburg plus VR?

A question with staffed reproductions is how authentic you can make it without starting fights. Suppose one wanted to reproduce Imperial Rome (or antebellum Atlanta)--some things on display might not be pleasant for sensitive viewers.

I'd be happy to use something like that, if I could afford it. But most of the time I'd rather be there--if I could afford it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I spent four years in CW and loved it. I had not thought of it in this context. There is a mood, at night when the tourists have all gone and you can pretend the lamps are not electric when you do almost travel in time. There is a subtle reason underlying that, perhaps. From my Wayfinding, Inner Navigation post in 2011, "It's a navigational island in Tidewater Virginia."

That experience was enormous for an overdramatic soul such as my 20 y/o self, and I would be tempted to say that VR could not replicate it. Yet once the basic program is set up, why not? People might think first of Paris between the wars for the cafe life, but an add-on of "Paris 1:00 AM" would be easy. As thousands of faux-tourists purchased "Edinburgh 1520" for the sport of it the price would go down. It would play an anachronistic "Scotland the Brave" and many would shed a tear. Purists would look down their noses for decades - but they might buy it for their grandchildren as an introduction to "the real thing."

Donna B. said...

While I didn't experience Colonial Williamsburg until 2003 and then only for a few days, I think it's accurate to say that neither of us experienced the "real" thing. Though we were physically present there, it was virtual.

I don't mean to downplay the experience of physically visiting historic sites and I certainly don't mean to disparage the efforts that have gone into preserving those sites as I think it is very important to remember that things were not always as they are now. And it's important to learn how things progressed from then to now.

It's notable that visitors to Colonial Williamsburg, the Alamo, and numerous other historic sites are never required to use an outhouse, to pick cotton barefoot, process (or even touch) a tobacco leaf, or butcher an animal for food.

Donna B. said...

I forgot to say how grateful I am to only know about those things virtually!

Timothy said...

The time travel idea actually has merit, going back to Paris while the Eiffel Tower is under construction would be worth it.
And I mean worth, the equipment required to let you experience being there in high visual fidelity would cost enough to actually go to Paris in reality but on the upside one you have the hardware itself you could buy the actual trips for $50-100 each.

Christopher B said...

I don't doubt that there will be what are essentially VR tours or travelogues in the future. I'm just doubting that they will substitute for *actual travel* rather than books, videos, or other media about places and history. The historical angle offers some real possibilities but I think it's again more a substitute for other media rather than actually visiting a historic site.

In my own experience, most people don't return to a bucket list location. I had an opportunity to tour Chichen Itza when we did a cruise in 2019. While I might go visit another Mayan location if we're back in the area, I don't see any need to go back to Chichen Itza specifically, or even any other similar city. I'd rather see something different.

Cranberry said...

The James Bond movies have always struck me as travel brochures. He never goes to the same place twice, they're always exciting and glamorous.

I think there would be a huge market for solve-it-yourself mysteries set in historic milieus. Partner with Sherlock Holmes in Victorian London; search for a killer in Pompeii on the eve of the eruption. The same landscapes could be used for multiple productions, simultaneously.

It would also be a godsend for the places that have been overwhelmed by mass tourism. Some locations have been catapulted to internet fame by influencers, but don't have the services in place (cafes, hotels, porta-potties, waste removal) to support visitors.

Grim said...


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Very interesting article. It puts me in mind of the sci-fi stories "Call Me Joe" and and Rogue Moon" Both are in the Volumes of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

SJBC said...

There are other possibilities as well. Why fly down to the Caribbean in the winter and stay at a pricey resort, when a savvy group of investors could build an indoor beach resort in the snowy north? I got this idea from watching people lie on an artificial beach adjoining a wave pool inside the West Edmonton Mall. It just needs to be enlarged and made into a more complex and realistic appearing environment. This mall also contains an indoor amusement park (with a roller coaster!), a full-size skating rink, and an adjoining hotel.