”There is no iPhone for VR — a product so attractive and affordable that it sits on every person’s nose.”
On waiting for the VR revolution
February 24, 2021
In 1993 I was a 12 year old boy with a newfound cultural interest that spanned from Guns n’ Roses and Metallica to action movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. It was a golden era for this particular canon. Guns n’ Roses’ double album Use Your Illusion part I and II was roaming the earth and Terminator 2: Judgment Day ran on repeat at my neighbor Erik’s house (I was officially not allowed to see it). I wore steel capped Getta Grip boots and a bandana tied around my head, Axl Rose style!
That year, the movie Demolition Man came out, starring Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, and Sandra Bullock. It was a futuristic sci-fi flick set in 2039, filled with then ludicrous predictions about Arnold Schwarzenegger becoming a politician, meetings taking place through video screens, and a future where “physical contact greetings” are abolished.
Sure, it got much wrong (we still use toilet paper, not seashells, but then again, we still have 18 years to go), but the many things it got right has made the film an unexpected hot topic amongst film critics online.
Looking back, the film also delivered one of the most quenching sex scenes in movie history. In it, we see Stallone and Bullock engaged in something that could be described as a hallucinogenic VR experience, sans nudity. Wearing a headset that transfers emotion though a kind of brain scan, Bullock refers to the act as “neurological arousal”. Stallone’s character is not amused (understandably, being the first person in history to be cock-blocked by a piece of virtual reality technology) and the movie continues its action beaten path.
I haven’t thought about this film in decades, but it comes up in my research about the state of virtual reality technologies. Last week in this column, I discussed the underwhelming use of innovation in the current fashion and design week offerings. When moving from physical experiences — fashion shows, design installations — into digital alternatives, we seem to move from 3D to 2D. We watch talk shows and scroll through press images on backlit screens.
Why, in 2021, is this so?
In my interview with Emma Ridderstad, CEO of Warpin Media, a Stockholm based company specialised in AR and VR experiences, we discuss the maturity of the technology. It’s easy to imagine a situation where we would immerse ourselves in both fashion shows and design exhibitions in a virtual reality space, paired with haptic feedback-gloves for an added sense of texture in fabrics and furniture surfaces. But it’s equally easy to see that the technology has not reached its necessary tipping point. There is no iPhone equivalent for the VR-glasses — a product so attractive and affordable that it sits on every person’s nose.
Which is not to say it doesn’t deliver. I had the chance recently to test some of Warpin’s technologies in their headquarters in Stockholm. I was blown away by some of the opportunities that the technology offers. Warpin produces stunning educational VR programmes for large companies, and Emma also showed me an awesome new app they are developing for an international artist.
When testing a simple program called Richies Plank, a VR experience created to help people overcome their fear of heights (not a Warpin product), I was almost unable to look down, even though I rationally knew I was standing in a conference room. If this silly animated situation could alter my perception, I can’t wait to see what more realistic alterations will do for us.
So what about virtual sex? Granted, it’s nothing that is on Warpin Media’s agenda. But the question came up recently when podcaster Joe Rogan interviewed Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, but also the man behind Neuralink, a company that develops brain-to-computer interfaces. Rogan asked Musk, somewhat off-hand, ”what if the virtual orgasm would be 100 times better than a real one?”
”I got news for you,” Elon Musk replied, scratching his chin with a smirk. ”It is.”