Of Aristophanes and Oculus Rift

Kenny Brechner - March 31, 2016

Books provide the best point of reference regarding the advent of virtual reality headsets. That is not a surprising observation coming from a bookseller, of course, but the development team of Oculus Rift, the first virtual reality platform on the market, feels that way too. Ernest Kline’s Ready Player One was required reading for everyone involved.
It is vital, I think, with the advent of new experiential mediums, to consider both their nature and their potential for displacement of current mediums. After all, as Aristophanes well observed, there is only so much room in the bathtub. Those of us who are big readers know that the time for reading must be zealously guarded. Time spent on immersive mediums such as social media or TV watching comes at the expense of reading time. Virtual reality’s core nature is to be a completely immersive experience, and we can assume that its nature will extend into both time and space. It offers a giant opportunity to displace reading as a means of experiencing shared imagination simply by its appetite for consuming time.
Virtual reality and reading have many elements in common. Both are portals for people to engage with created worlds. The central difference is that reading is an active experience. Language is a subtle, quiet lever leaving our minds to do the work of producing images and narrative dimension. Apart from providing a more intense form of gaming Virtual Reality takes the inherent quiescence of received images and adds dimensionality and other sensory experiences to augment the passivity of the experience.
I have a pronounced ‘now more than ever’ feeling about reading books, and with the release of Oculus Rift, and the pending release of Sony’s Play station VR, that feeling is elevated times 10. It doesn’t matter how good or how stimulating Virtual Reality is; nothing is better, or more important to us, than the active exercise of our own minds. If using a GPS causes our directional sense to atrophy, what degree of atrophy does a virtual reality platform provide? The answer to that question lies in the pages of science fiction books.

2 thoughts on “Of Aristophanes and Oculus Rift

  1. M. Ray Rempen

    Or perhaps instead of seeing VR as a threatening encroachment on reading, the old tired “I’m scared of what’s new” argument, try thinking of how reading might actually be propelled by new technology. Yes, kids are on mobile devices more than ever, but they’re also reading on mobile devices, and writing on them. There are so many learning and reading apps, as well as young authorship platforms like JukePop and Wattpad that would never have existed without tablets and mobile phones, which for so long were seen as threatening to the minds of kids.
    Don’t be afraid of the future. Own it!

    1. Kenny Brechner Post author

      To me it is not a question of reactive fear but rather of personal choice and making a value conscious time management decision. Adopting new technology reflexively is not necessarily a good personal decision, especially for book readers. Owning the future means actively choosing its composition, especially since our time to experience it is limited.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *