Everybody is talking about virtual reality right now, and not just headsets: as our worlds become increasingly digital—our currency, our homes, even our love lives—it becomes worth asking … are we living in a virtual reality? Today we’re looking at four things helping us cross the boundary between the physical and the digital: VR gaming, digital currency, the mobile revolution, and Moore’s Law.
We might just be in the fastest-developing era in human history. Fifty years ago, the idea of a portable phone was a joke. Thirty years ago, it was something an uber-rich business executive carried around in its own briefcase. Now they’re in every pocket, they’re more powerful than ever, and you’re hard-pressed to find a place that doesn’t get coverage (okay, that last one depends on your carrier). Meanwhile, VR headsets are taking people into digital worlds, where they spend digital currency on digital clothes. The world changes every day, and it can be hard to keep up. So: what’s new?
Virtual Reality Headsets
The long-awaited Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive both come out this year and the Playstation VR is just around the corner—between them, they’ve already moved somewhere around two million units. As more games and applications come out for these devices, we can expect sales to increase. A lot of the current games are action-oriented, but a surprising number of them aren’t—there’s music games, sports games, exploration games. For people cooped up in cities and without a lot of free time, the ability to go walking in the woods inside their own home can be liberating.
I’m not sure I’m ready to go ahead and declare VR games dominant over the industry (remember the Virtual Boy? We’ve been here before) but they’re certainly having a renaissance. This boom, combined with the recent trend of microtransactions in games—where players make payments <$5 for small cosmetic items, unlocks, gadgets, or other additional content—makes VR gaming a lucrative area for expansion. With money comes more funding, which means more VR: if it catches on this time (and the conditions are a lot better than they were in ‘95) then we could see more and more people disappearing into virtual worlds.
Virtual currencies are on the rise. I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Bitcoin: the blockchain cryptocurrency has been around for a while now but has really taken off in the last year or so. It was initially seen as a bit seedy and was predominantly used for illegal activity on the dark web, but recent research shows that it has turned over a new leaf and is being used more and more by legitimate Silicon Valley enterprises (Tasca, Paolo; Liu, Shaowen; Hayes, Adam (1 July 2016), The Evolution of the Bitcoin Economy: Extracting and Analyzing the Network of Payment Relationships).
At time of writing, a single Bitcoin is worth just over $600 USD, as investors scramble to get onboard with the new gold rush. Unmoored from a single government or regulatory scheme, cryptocurrencies like BTC have become the go-to for a significant number of international transactions.
Money as an idea has always had a tenuous relationship with physical money—a dollar bill is ultimately just paper that represents real money. Now that Credit and Debit cards have become the defacto payment form for most of the Western world, that relationship has become even weaker, as more and more people accept that money isn’t necessarily physical, or government produced. It liberates us and makes it easier to buy things, but it’s another anchor line cut from the physical world.
The Inescapable Internet
We each carry a supercomputer in our pocket. Mobile devices are on-trend to, by 2017, supplant desktop as the main way we access the internet. iPhone releases are major events that people line up around the block for. Generally, there’s been a pretty firm demarcation between our physical and virtual lives, but now the internet is with us everywhere. The virtual world has become an inescapable thread in the fabric of our reality.
You could avoid being online, but you’d miss out on opportunities, events, friendships. Because everybody else is online all the time, you either go online yourself or you impoverish your life—it has become self-replicating. Perhaps that’s what a real virtual reality looks like: not total submersion into virtual worlds, but instead a synthesis of our virtual and physical lives, to the point where we can’t tell them apart.
We are writing more code, faster and better than ever before. We’ve talked a lot today about the stuff we’ve already got, but this is more about what we might have: our capacity to build new technology increases exponentially with each passing year. It’s hard to say specifically what is going to happen, but it feels safe to say that, as time passes, technology is going to dominate more and more of our lives.
Which isn’t all doom and gloom. Technology has made our lives better in myriad ways, and it’s going to continue doing so. So long as we approach it with a critical, intelligent eye, we can improve ourselves while keeping our feet firmly on the ground.
CodeClouds is a Kolkata-based development firm, with additional offices in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. We believe tech should be socially responsible and staff should be treated fairly. If that sounds like a development company you want to hire or somewhere you want to work as a developer, drop us a line!