Real Life or Fantasy? The VR Episode of YOU

If you could create your own world from scratch, what would you do with it? Maybe it’s making teleportation the main form of transportation. Or creating a forest full of monsters. Or just building the perfect, sunny, warm beach for a virtual vacation. In the latest episode of YOU, the new podcast presented by Okta, host Claire Evans dives into the world of virtual reality. Does it really expand our world, or just divorce us from our physical realities. Or is the answer somewhere in between?

Realities: Physical, Augmented, Mixed, Virtual Timoni West, Director of XR Research at Unity Labs, joins Claire in this episode for a wide-ranging conversation about virtual reality and its implications for identity – how we express who we are, and how others might want to see us.

Timoni establishes the different veins of simulated realities. She says, “Being able to step into virtual reality, it’s you stepping into a digital space, and being able to interact with it… In the end, it’s all 2D, because you have little 2D monitors that are stuck to your eyeballs that give the illusion of depth.” She contrasts it with augmented reality, which she says has an underlying philosophy that “humans want to interact with digital objects in a more real way… it’s an expression of human imagination.” If you can pull out and interact with three-dimensional objects into real world space, she says, we can genuinely bring our imaginations to life and share that and teach our experiences to others.

Timoni also frames an academic definition of mixed reality: In a continuum with the real world on one side and the totally virtual world on the other, in the middle is mixed reality, “where you mix digital objects that interact with the real world.”

More Room for Creative Expression and Community Claire laments “There’s not a lot of room for expression in our online spaces these days.” Will the rise of mixed reality change that? If we can manipulate reality to our liking with mixed reality, what does that do to our sense of self?

Timoni posits we’ll be able to share more of the inner workings of our imaginations in order to connect and find community with others, aided by virtuality. She says, for example, “There are things that I’ve never expressed to anyone or thought I could express, like I how I fly in a dream, that I’ve seen mimicked in virtual reality experiences. So I know that means someone else shared that vision.”

The ways we create and express ourselves are all ripe for change with virtual reality, from tattoos (imagine hiding your AR tattoos in front of your boss), to art, to movies, to fashion. Claire says, “There’s going to have to be an entirely new lexicon of creative expression that develops… We have to leave it open to new generations of artists to consider. And perhaps we have to leave the new technologies open enough that artists can adapt and explore freely.”

Beware the Dark Side (of VR) And yet, there’s undoubtedly a dark side to mixed and virtual realities. Timoni says, “People could feel empowered to bring the worst things they want to have happen to life,” like changing the race of those around them.

We may think new technologies offer us an opportunity to start again, and remake society to be more equitable, efficient or beautiful. And yet, Claire points out, when adoption hits a certain point, the new world just becomes part of the old world. “It’s a lot more exciting to think we can build something new than it is to fix structural inequality in our own society.”

Listen now to episode five, “Virtual Reality: What Are YOU." You can get this episode here:

Want more YOU? Go back to episode one, all about online dating, “Algorithm of My Heart: YOU +1.”