In a 1963 short story called The Walls science fiction author Keith Laumer writes of a young husband whose enthusiasm for consumer electronics brings emotional ruin to his wife, Flora. Flora is forced to bear the brunt of her husband Harry’s need for ever-more intense audio-visual stimulation, which radically transforms their cramped urban home.
By installing an all-encompassing cube of Full-wall flat-screen television panels, one on every side of their living room, Harry seeks a level of media saturation so complete that it’s as if the original room is no longer there. Flora, however, finds the transformation vertiginous. The apartment suddenly seems both dizzyingly infinite and horribly constricting, annihilating her sense of where the Full-wall ends and reality begins.
Bart Nagel 2016
With– and Microsoft’s HoloLens on its way – . And the excitement around the technology brought Laumer’s story to mind. As Harry and Flora found, VR could have a big impact on our home life. Ultimately, it may force us to rethink completely what we want from our homes.
Incorporating virtual objects, people and places into our homes will require actual space: space for visual projection and physical interaction that allow virtual worlds to come to life. With applications that blend the real and virtual – as with the HoloLens – you need empty space for the virtual to appear within. You also need adequate space to flail around: reports are already coming in of people injuring their hands playing VR game Selfie Tennis, for example
“Let’s assume that you don’t have a giant empty room in your house just waiting to become your own personal holodeck,” Wes Fenlon recently wrote for PC Gamer magazine. “Because if you do, you’re already in good shape for VR. Also, we’re very jealous and would like to come hang out, please.” Virtual reality could push interior design even further towards minimalism – a blank canvas on which to paint the worlds that aren’t really there.
In fact, those most prepped for VR may be those of us who already embrace the kind of lifestyle advocated by Marie Kondo, who champions what she calls “the life-changing magic of tidying up”. Kondo prescribes a drastic pruning of possessions to free up space and end. Kondo is aiming for a kind of spiritual cleansing, but welcoming virtual reality into our homes will require a similar effort.
As Fenlon has fun pointing out, the virtual reality boom is a perfect excuse for decluttering – getting rid of furniture, removing rugs and cables you might trip on, and even taking pictures down from your walls so you don’t knock them off. Most VR experiences also require you to stand. So Fenlon also recommends purchasing a standing desk in your office and anti-fatigue mats, instead of carpeting, to help ease the hours you will be spending on your feet.
It’s partly tongue-in-cheek, of course. But Oculus is not joking in the guidelines accompanying its Rift headset when it warns users to “remember that the objects you see in the virtual environment do not exist in the real environment, so don’t sit or stand on them or use them for support.”
And agoes to show that many of us are going to need reminding.
Oculus would not have to warn us if the temptation to interact with the virtual didn’t exist. But we are all too easily tricked into confusing what is and isn’t real. As we declutter, it is worth remembering Flora’s fate in The Walls. She begins to find the world of screens impossible to escape and can no longer tell whether what she sees is taking place in a neighbour’s apartment or on TV.
That’s not to take away from the fact that virtual reality tech is a marvel. But maybe we should pause before throwing everything out. If the power cuts out, we’ll all be left wondering where the furniture went.
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