I pull out my phone
One example of virtual reality that most of us often use without thinking about is our GPS navigation. Every time I hop into the car to go someplace, I pull out my phone and type in the destination. I quickly know which route will be the fastest, traffic conditions, road closures, or even if any cops are waiting to write a ticket ahead. This small virtual “world” created by someone is a massive help in our day-to-day lives. Everyone using the GPS app participates whether they know it or not, and all that data updates the virtual world in real-time. Different GPS applications have other overlays and interfaces. It never occurred to me that a designer had to imagine and portray pretty much the entire world for us to use and interact with their apps in a user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing way. I use Waze, but google and android have their versions of GPS that are each a little different in their way.
Virtual Reality surrounds us in our daily lives as we are confronted by games, live action role play, hypertext novels, movies, art, and through digital doctor visits and medical devices. Technology has created a bridge which allows us more participation so that we can interface with parts of our lives that were not possible before. One such example, that millions of us use on a daily basis, is the smart phone.
With my iPhone I can immerse myself into social media, carry on digital conversations with others while using a filter and modified photos to look how I want. I can transcend the boundaries of my everyday life by interfacing with my phone: checking the weather, ordering online meals, transferring money from one bank account to another, counting my calories, logging my daily steps, check the best route to avoid traffic, listen to recommendations for my play list, stalk my coworkers along with strangers and box-office super stars, all while making a phone call. This technology gives us a new narrative. It gives us a sense of control over all aspects of our lives, including things that are not within our control. In the end, although it can be a useful tool, smart phones allow us to play serious make-believe. Rather than control most of these aspects, smartphones give us a sense of participation that we didn’t feel before. It makes us feel more engaged therefore enhancing each of these experiences.
A less extreme, less technological example would be my favorite form of virtual reality: photographs. Photos capture a memorable time and place. Looking at these can build a bridge between the present and the past, allowing memories to flood forward. These metaphysical realities transcend the image you see. They create feelings, sounds, smells, and thoughts. I can look at a picture of my husband and I from a couple of years ago, and suddenly remember the way his warn hand felt on my arm, the bristle of his beard on my cheek as he nestled in for the picture, the smell of his soap, and I can remember how loud it was, how we struggled to hear one another over the loud music. I even remember how full my heart felt, being there with him. And best of all, different photographs can allow for different feelings, some good, some bad, but each has its own felt meaning.