Virtual reality lets me be something I used to only dream of: alone
It’s hard to find time to be alone.
It’s possible that other people have it easier than I do. My job often requires I be online in some form or another during most waking hours. I interact with people through social media, and I try to make myself available to answer questions when I can. I have five children, and a wife with her own career. Being alone isn’t often an option, and when the children are home quiet comes at a premium.
Much has been made of the “limitation” of virtual reality, that it’s a solitary technology and it’s hard to share the experience with others. You put on the Oculus Rift and you’re locked into that reality, you can’t see anything but the program in your peripheral vision. I use Sony’s wireless PlayStation 4 headphones in my own little VR lab so I can move my head a bit more freely while also blocking out peripheral noise.
And then I slip away.
The joy of solitude
My favorite programs these days are the ones that send me as far away as possible, to places without even the hint of other people. It’s like taking a brain vacation, and the solitude is the entire point. The free Guided Meditation program can send you deep into a forest, or allow you to spend time inside a temple in Japan.
You can hang out on a beach with gently lapping waves, or sit in front of a canyon in the desert with your thoughts. Each experience comes with a 10 minute audio meditation program, and it’s a brilliant way to clear your head of distractions and frustrations.
I’ve also been spending a good amount of time inside the work of interactive illustrator Daniel Ernst. He creates virtual reality dioramas that aren’t exactly games, and they’re barely experiences. They’re simply places where you can sit and be with yourself.
My favorite of his creations is Der Grosse Gottlieb, a program that places you at the top of a huge pile of chairs. Your head is literally in the clouds, and you can look up and see the glittering 3D stars above you. Look down and see how high you are in the air, and how far away you are from just about everything. Turn to the table at your side and you can listen to some music from the record player. By turning on your microphone you can hear the ambient noise of your real-world surroundings as if it were coming from very far away.
It’s not ideal if you’re scared of heights, but if you’d like to remove yourself from your current surroundings and think some deep thoughts there are few better places to do so. For added fun you can point a fan at yourself to really feel the breeze.
I’ve been watching movies in Cineveo, a virtual reality viewer for movies and television shows that puts you inside different environments to watch your content.
It’s sometimes hard to try to focus on a movie when the kids are doing homework or my daughter is practicing her saxophone, but by placing a virtual movie theater on a lake, with my boat a few feet from the screen, I can block out the distractions and really pay attention to what I’m seeing.
This is the power of virtual reality, at least for me. Almost all of my experiences are already social, what I’m local are experiences that are truly isolated. I want to be able to sit and float in deep space for a few minutes to collect my thoughts when things become a bit too overwhelming.
I want a device that more or less allows me to step out of my house in an instant and be transported to a temple in Japan where I can be completely alone. I want an instant doorway to someplace that’s hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. A place I can’t look at my cellphone, or be reached in any way outside of an (admittedly jarring) tap on the shoulder.
Some people may not like this aspect of virtual reality, but it’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of the technology. It takes me someplace that is often hard to get to: Away.