Berkeley Center for New Media

Tamim Hasan 

Cannon Writer

By now it’s no surprise that the current pandemic we are living through has affected all aspects of our societal and personal lives. Having to shift to a virtual setting for our meetings, events, classes, and everything else in between has caused an unwanted void in today’s world, one that many of us are still adjusting to. However, what if I told you that this void we face isn’t unwanted or that it isn’t a void at all? What if I told you that this virtual lifestyle we are living is one both you and I wish to have more of in the future? 

Of course, one of the most discernible impacts the pandemic has had is on our education. Large lecture halls have now shrunk to glowing screens and for many of us the university campus is no longer a frequent visit. But this virtuality in education is nothing new. Over the last decade, the traditional form of learning has been largely distorted due to the ease of one’s ability to access information over the Internet. If you really think about it, how much learning was really done in a physical environment before the pandemic began? The concept of learning today involves browsing through videos, forums, and documents over the internet, and is no longer the routine of going from one classroom to the next. 

On the Joe Rogan Experience #877 back in 2016, University of Toronto Psychology professor, Jordan Peterson, mentions the current separation between “university” as a concept and “university” as a physical institution. He claims that the process for learning today no longer occurs physically, and that one could argue the real university exists on the web through resources such as YouTube, a revolution he deemed “as overwhelming as the Guttenberg [printing] press revolution.” When making these claims on the podcast episode back in 2016, he mentioned the importance for universities to shift their content online and adjust to the rapid advancements the tradition of learning was going through. In present time, the pandemic has forced institutions around the world to place their content in an online arrangement. Maybe the end result of this situation is a form of permanence in the virtuality of education. 

With the exponential advancement in technology we see today, the virtual world seems to be swiftly taking over our real one. We all know that “cloud systems” and “artificial intelligence” are the latest focal points of innovation but where does it lead us? What’s the next big transition we will go through? Well, tech pioneers such as Mark Zuckerberg believe that the next wave of technology is that which can transport us deeper into the virtual world. In a recent interview with Tech youtuber Marques Brownlee, Zuckerberg expressed his visions for the future, primarily stating the things his employees and him are achieving at Oculus, a subsidiary of Facebook Technologies LLC. Facebook acquired Oculus VR for $2.3 billion back in 2014, and since then has released their own commercial virtual reality (VR) headsets and collaborated with Samsung in the development of the Samsung Gear VR Headset. Today, Oculus is one of the world’s leading investors in augmented reality (AR) and VR technology and their goal is to create technology that “delivers a sense of presence,” as mentioned by Zuckerberg. 

The tech mogul believes that AR and VR systems are “the next big computing platform” and wants to create technology that connects us better than our current apps and phones are capable of. If you’ve ever tried a VR headset before, you know that it is a product that steals control of your senses and sucks you into the world you’ve wrapped around your head. Though this powerful product currently seems no more than a nifty gaming extension, it is one of the first steps towards creating a limitless technology. Whether it’s VR headsets, AR glasses, or other products being created behind the scenes today, companies are looking to enhance the way we interact with one another in our daily lives. Turns out we’ve been approaching a virtual reality long before the pandemic shed light on the matter.  

As Oculus and other major companies innovate in virtual reality, the concepts of meetings with hologram appearances and being among a crowd at virtual concerts and sporting events is less of a wild thought. Going to the mall to hang out with your friends could be replaced with hopping between different virtual reality servers to participate in a multitude of immersive activities. Or imagine being able to be “physically” present at a lecture hall in a matter of seconds, instead of taking numerous hours to commute throughout the year. 

Would going further into the depths of virtual not be a phenomenal improvement? We have the potential to save countless hours of our lives otherwise wasted on traveling, replace large, space-occupying areas to build more homes, and interact with one another in a borderless world that we ourselves get to create. Maybe movies like Ready Player One and all those episodes of Black Mirror weren’t far-fetched after all? 

 

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