Forms of Communication

It goes without saying that for virtual reality it’s easier to be virtual or immaterial. There is no doubt that the future product designer will be more a designer of virtual spaces, surroundings, things and experiences.
If only the dream or the experience (of happiness) matters, one can limit oneself to sell dreams. The Internet comes as if called for. It makes a gigantic production of virtual realities available for the hungry consumer, that is hungry for experiences. In the future the Internet and Virtual Reality (VR) will merge into one cyberspace. And that gives enormous possibilities. Companies, that produce virtual realities (all possible experiences), will become the most important. The most extreme virtual experiences can be put up for sale directly on the Internet.
In VR the product and the experience are one and the same. Until now, the product and the advertising were distinct but grafted upon each other. With VR, the product and the message will merge. Communication and design will be inextricable. Advertising becomes superfluous. The future is on the dream-producers. Engineers will have to invent dreams and experiences instead of technical engines. So, Disney Corporation states that "imagineering" will take over the task of "engineering".
Surely, the VR technology is not yet as advanced as the Internet, but it is very promising. An economic growth of 60% is put in prospect. There is no doubt that VR, once merged with the Internet, will fancy the public. The most important characteristic feature of VR, quoted by all authors, is immersion.
Provisionally a Head Mounted Display (HMD) is required. But to interact with the environment, use is made of a vibro-tactile feedback glove, a joystick, treadmills, bicycle grips etc. It seems that the cumbersome HMD can yet be replaced by a kind of glasses that scan the retina and bath the backside of the eye with images, so that in principle there is no more difference from our usual spatial perception. The simulations reach an always higher and theoretically unlimited degree of realism. That is anyhow their trend, their purpose.
If we have to believe some authors, such as Rheingold, the day is not more far away that "computer simulations become so realistic that people cannot distinguish them from non-simulated reality" ("Virtual Reality", 1991). The apple of the eye is a haptic VR, that can produce properties such as mass and texture and that will be tactile and not just visual. Most lyrical about this is B. Woolley ("Virtual Worlds", 1992): "With the ultimate display, the objects in computer-generated space would not just be visible, they would be tangible. (...) The kinaesthetic display reveals their physical characteristics – chairs become ‘good enough to sit in’, bullets real enough to kill".
Virtual Reality becomes high-fidelity (while real products become high-semiotic or virtual).
But especially the merging of VR with the Internet is exciting. From his/her own home everyone will be able to enter any virtual world of his/her choice. And moreover, he/she will be able to share this virtual experience interactively with anybody in any continent. Communication will indeed become "doing things together". But this "doing things together" will mainly take place in the cyberspace.
A first repercussion, that is already seen on the economic level, is that companies actually conclude striking alliances in order to make profit of this market in expansion. In particular, and that is very symptomatical, cable companies and entertainment companies try to bring their interests on one line. US West collaborates with TCI, the biggest cable company in the United States, and has also built up a partnership with the entertainment factory Time Warner. Disney acquired Capital Cities, owner of the ABC Network, aiming this way at becoming a producer and a supplier of entertainment. Japanese giants such as Nintendo, Fujitsu and Sega aim at the market for entertainment. In Japan exists a coordinated strategy to join telecommunication, computer hardware and software, and especially the entertainment market. Games drive the commercial VR industry.
Moreover – this is just a side-remark – the current VR-games cannot disavow their origin, the Arpanet. They imitate mainly the military training they derive from. The goal of the game is invariably: "find the enemy and kill him". The "doing things together" in the cyberspace will mostly be: "find the enemy and kill him".
The apologists of VR compare it incessantly with a dream. When we are totally immersed in an "all-inclusive experience", "we find ourselves as in a dream". All our dreams not only come true, but we can direct them and give them the course we wish. Here comes the Dream Society. All human dreams become reality. That is the definition of the paradise.

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Design Management
VIZO Workshop

“Design makes the Difference”
Brussels, Belgium - 29/30 November 2002

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