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immersion quest: Linda Jacobson

Being There Here: How and Why

I'm buzzed about being with you here in this E-space. To think that I once viewed these computers as mind-numbing, bureaucratic behemoths! These days I like computers. I like them as much as I like telephones, x-rays and crayons. I just wish they were more people-oriented.

Let1s get this said: while they have their uses, monitors, keyboards, and mice resemble instruments of torture. They deny our creature quintessence, our reliance upon senses. They ignore our hunger for experience, for sensory stimulation, and for power. Don1t you want more natural, intuitive access to information?

That1s why we1re here - to explore the minds of those who strive to obliterate the dehumanizing barriers between us and our 3D graphics. We1ll discuss the brilliant people and bizarre places I encounter as virtual reality evangelist for Silicon Graphics, as host of VeRGe, a San Francisco-based event producer and as the voice of RiGBy, the computer-generated puppet who performs with D1Cuckoo.

Sometimes I just can1t get over how important computers are to my intellectual and creative life. Especially when I remember Camp Mohawk. I spent six summers at Camp Mohawk during an era of American history now satirized. Every night we gathered around the ol1 oak tree to warble 3We Shall Overcome2 and 3This Land Is Your Land,2 led by long-haired counselors swathed in tie-dye. At Mohawk, competition was discouraged and individualism and teamwork were encouraged. Our counselors took us to hear Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez. We danced in circles and passed around jugs of wine. We learned to love peace and brotherhood, and we learned to rag Big Brother and his anti-creative, dehumanizing tools.

At college I avoided classes involving computers (Big Brother1s anti-creative, dehumanizing tools). After graduating in 1980 with a journalism degree, I aimed to expose the dehumanizing underbelly of corporate America. But until someone hired me to do that, I took a job stocking diodes, resistors, and integrated circuits at BTX, a company that made synchronization systems for film, video, and record production. I wound up editing BTX manuals and brochures, writing for audio trade mags, and running BTX1s HP 250 mini-mainframe. Oh, the seductive power of that anti-creativity, dehumanizing, Asteroids-playing, number-crunching behemoth!

Hungry for more, I moved west to Silicon Valley. I decided to focus on writing about music recording technology and the people who built it and used it. But in 1988 I read a book that changed my mind. The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT, by Stewart Brand, introduced me to the notion of 3virtual reality.2 This opened my eyes and by then I1d been rolling my eyes a lot, weary of the music industry1s 3been-there-done-that2 sneer. In the recording-studio biz, the rules were written: the old boys were networked; the hits were crafted from supermarket recipes. One didn1t go into that industry to create new means of expression or communication. This new medium called virtual reality, however, was something that would go gold at Camp Mohawk. I set out to learn everything about VR.

By 1991, VR had seized the minds of mass media and Hollywood, who apparently did not Get It. They presented VR as electronic LSD. As a cybersex toy. As a tool for mind control. Or simply as a video game you wear on your head. I decided to help people understand the essence of VR as a tool for solving problems, enhancing creativity, and, above all, humanizing computers.

After that, I published CyberArts: Exploring Art & Technology (1992, Miller-Freeman Books) and Garage Virtual Reality (1994, Macmillan/Sams Publishing). Between editing CyberArts and writing Garage VR, I helped launch Wired magazine, documented inventions at Xerox PARC, co-founded VeRGe, and wrote reams about virtual reality tech, apps and pioneers.

Several years have paged by, and many folks still think VR is a video game you wear on your head. It1s not. Head-mounted display of virtual environments isn1t the only way to experience direct interaction with data. (Besides, 3wearable VR2 inspires Hollywood movie producers to do cheesy things.) You don1t have to wear a device to experience a virtual environment, though it has distinct benefits, which we1ll explore in future Quests.

The best-known immersive technologies are the head-mounted display, data glove, and data suit, but you don1t necessarily need this fashionware to feel telepresent. Another approach is 3simulator VR.2 in which you literally climb inside the system. A direct descendant of post-WWII flight simulators, this approach involves 3pods2 or 3cabs2 - mock-ups of vehicles, with real, physical controls for navigating and manipulating the virtual environment, viewed on a large monitor or set of monitors that look like a windshield. 3Projection VR2 is viewed on a large display, typically a stereoscopic simulation on a large, flat or curved surface. You interact using a 3D controller, joystick, even a mouse. Into this category go Immersadesk, GVR-120 Reality Center, VR theater, and Immersive Workbench. Then there1s 3desktop VR,2 the most affordable approach to immersion - the impression that you1re interacting with physically real objects. You view a virtual object on a standard monitor, perhaps with stereo glasses so the object seems to move in 3D space. A 3D controller enables manipulation. This approach suits many engaged in scientific and financial data visualization, and especially in surgical simulation.

So here, now, we launch our quest. Oh, the places we1ll go! We1ll explore immersive, real-time graphics technologies, applications, and pioneers, both here and in the IQ conference. We1ll show the world that the keyboard ain1t king and the mouse ain1t master!

Speaking of which...thanks for clickin' by.


immersion said:

I loved talin's description of electric reality, virtual hallucinations. The mixture of fantasy and technoreality is enlivening and fresh in a way that is so hard to achieve for people like me who thoughts are dominated by hypothetico-deductive scientific empiricism. Your novel world presents an alluring alternative reality.

I have a much stodgier approach to VR, trying to decipher how the human mind works from its interactions with the limited representations of reality that goggles offer. It can be exciting at times when a new insight offers itself from the strange perceptions of these semireal environments. I see now how the sense of self in a seeing person is dominated by the reference frame of space, and our understanding is derived from metaphoric extensions of spatial structures and dynamics, that overpower the temporal and melodic sequences of our lesser senses. How I wish I could sing the sense of space!

Join the conversation!

Most Active Topics:

Topic 1 Innerductions

Topic 3 OSMOSE and the Future of Immersive Experience

Topic 22 The Wired Brain?

All Immersion Quest Topics


Also in Immersion Quest:

Virtual Reality Rolls Up Its Sleeves
Virtual reality is being wielded by meat-and-potatoes types all across the country.

Come On In, The Data's Fine!
Immersion is the key to opening the doors of perception.

Being There Here: How and Why
Meet Linda Jacobson, our guide into the realms of immersive technologies.

Complete Archive


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