The Future of Internet Is Virtual Worlds. Or Is It? (Part 2)
(Note: this post is much longer and more complicated than the previous one. You can jump straight to the easier part 3, “Why the Matrix Will Not Happen“.)
In part 1 of “the Future of Internet Is Virtual Worlds. Or Is It?”, I explained why an immersive 3D internet will not take over the 2D one.
My whole argument really hinges on the assumption that the internet will remain largely informational, and not be surpassed by the experiential.
If my assumption is wrong, meaning that the internet will become largely an experiential one, then it’s easy to believe that the internet will also mostly be in 3D.
So why would the internet remain largely informational, and not experiential? Wouldn’t the Matrix-like scenario be inevitable?
Let’s hold our proverbial horses for now and not go as far as the Matrix yet, since that would probably be a very long way off, if it ever happens. I’ll address that in a later post.
For now, the internet is still mostly informational. People use the internet mostly for the informational. However, there is a small and growing proportion of users who spend more time in the experiential.
The majority of these would be the game
addicts enthusiasts. For them, the time spent in the experiential has replaced most of their informational time, as well as their real-life time.
Fragging monsters in World of Warcraft is more compelling than much of their real lives, such as sleeping or bathing.
Computer games and simulations are compelling because they offer opportunities that are otherwise impossible or very costly in real life. Most of us will never encounter monsters in real life, let alone experience the thrill of fragging them (or the danger of getting eaten). Nor do we really want to corner our cars at 300km/h in real life, either because our cars can’t (assuming we even have cars), or we’re not sufficiently inebriated.
A main attraction of online immersive 3D games like Second Life (which some insist isn’t a game) is the ability to meet and chat with others in that virtual world. But the reason why Second Life isn’t exactly taking over the internet by storm (despite the hype) is simply because the experience in Second Life for most people is not superior or more compelling than that in real life.
Thus for the rest of us well-adjusted people who lead normal lives, much of real life is still more compelling compared to the current experiential online offerings. (Something compelling need not be positive – screaming kids, for example, can also be rather compelling.)
So, for the internet to be more experiential than informational, the experiential would have to be more compelling than (much of) real life.
Which leads us to the next question: when will the experiential be more compelling for the rest of us well-adjusted normal people? When or how would 3D immersive environments surpass real life in terms of richness of experience?
This can happen only when certain technologies advance to a certain level – specifically visual, audio, and haptic interface technology (I’m ignoring bandwidth and computing power here).
The visual interface is definitely the most important. The current quality 3d renderings virtual worlds are very poor, compared to what we see in real life. To have a really gratifying and compelling experience, the 3D environment has to be photo-realisic, with a wide field of view (not the tunnel-vision views we’re used to on your computer screens). Think Omnimax.
To make things even more compelling, throw in realistic sound and haptic feedback. Good quality sound, even with a feeling of 3D space, is within technical reach. But realistic haptic interfaces, due to the complex nature of how our sense of touch works, is almost impossible outside of a Matrix-like scenario. Imagine wearing a special suit to receive haptic feedback. How does the suit convey a light touch? (Easy.) How about a punch? (Not that easy.) How about a cold wind that flows around different parts of your body? (Very hard!) Or the sickening sensation of bouncing on a bungee cord? (Close to impossible.) You get the drift.
But, even if I don’t get very realistic haptic feedback, if I could move around in a photorealistic 3D world with a wide field of view and good sound, it’ll be quite an experience. Instead of looking at nice photos of the Grand Canyon, I get to fly around in the canyons? I’ll be the next addict.
So, does that mean that the experiential would then overtake the informational, given good-enough technology?
Even with serious improvements in technology, there will be things holding us back. And unfortunately, these would be mundane things holding us back.
First of all is work. I would think that the informational would remain much more important than the experiential during work. Sure, with good-enough technology, we will probably have more virtual meetings with clients, but most of us don’t do that full-time, and never will. Of course, I may be wildly wrong in this case, since the nature of work might change drastically, such that the experiential becomes more important. But I doubt.
The other thing that would limit the extent of the experiential, even with good-enough technology, is our real, offline lives. (Let’s not argue about what is real and not for now.) Sure, the experiential internet will eat into our real lives, but this will be limited by real life commitments. Yup – screaming kids, nagging spouse – the usual (some things don’t change). (Speaking of the nagging spouse – if the spouse starts nagging online as well, the time one spends online would be further limited, because of the drastic drop in experiential quality.)
Sure, this is an anti-climax – the future of the internet in 3D virtual worlds getting limited by mundane issues like work and screaming kids. But one reason why the speculation of futurists often fail – they forget the mundane issues. Reminds me of the many books from the 1980’s that predicted what the year 2000 would be like – they always have flying cars.
It’s 2007, and I don’t see flying cars coming anytime soon. I don’t see a 3D internet taking over either.
So, how about the Matrix, where your brain interfaces directly to the Net? I’ll try to explore that in a later post.
Here’s the next post, part 3: “Why the Matrix Will Not Happen“.