Virtual reality has been the talk of the entertainment industry for the last couple of years, as the TV, film, gaming, and social media worlds all look to immersive experiences as the next advancement in digital experiences.
But while big budget productions will rake in millions in the coming years, the on-the-ground presence of virtual reality will be about more than studios—it will be about sharing individual experiences and recording personal moments. And that’s maybe not a good thing.
At a recent Cannes Lions Festival appearance, Google VR vice president Clay Bavor said some interesting things about the future of VR, as a way for users to start reliving their own life experiences. It starts with the close connection between memory and experience. “When you look at your brain under an fMRI,” he said, “remembering and experiencing look very similar.”
Bavor talked about how, if your home was on fire, you’d be saving photo albums and hard drives with photos because of their value: the experience. “You can remember someone you love” is how he phrased it, someone “who might be far away or who you’ve lost.”
And for him and the many others writing and developing the VR world, that’s the primary goal: to step back into that memory years later.
Bavor went on to discuss his own experiences with a new prototype camera for recording VR.
“I’ve recorded similar things too, little fleeting moments,” he said. “Sitting with my grandmother in her home. Having breakfast with my son. Here’s the thing: A few years from now, when my grandmother is gone, I’ll be able to sit with her. Twenty years from now, when my son is an adult, I’ll be able to put on some goggles and sit across the breakfast table from him as a little boy.”
Recreating the past is what we do. It’s how we remember what we lost, what we had. It’s how we find inspiration to get
through bad times. But being able to call up an experience with the push of a button carries some dangers that memories don’t. We could get lost in the experiences, in an addictive way.
I know that sounds like science fiction, and yes, here’s where the Matrix reference would go. Feel free to make your own associations. But as a counterpoint to the skepticism, the more apt comparison isn’t with that film so much as Vanilla Sky, or perhaps Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. You know, tales of a virtual world people want to stay inside of.