While driving home one morning a few weeks ago after taking my two Poodles for their morning run, I was listening to PBS on the radio and heard an interesting report from someone in Washington about visiting the Smithsonian Museum virtually, as opposed to visiting it in person.
For those of you born before 1990, virtual reality, according to my instant insight into encyclopedia-style information—Wikipedia–(founded BTW by a guy, Jimmy Wales, with degrees from both Auburn, BS, and U Alabama, MS), refers to virtual reality as computer technologies “to create realistic images, sounds and other sensations that replicate a real environment…and simulate a user’s physical presence in that environment.”
You’ve seen the image (that’s a “picture” for those of us born fifty or more years ago) of the guy or gal with what looks like a huge set of goggles, called a virtual reality headset. You not only look at a screen inside your headset, or at your computer screen, but virtual reality includes audio input (“sounds” we used to call them), and smells and motion and whatever else can be created to simulate reality.
I even saw an ad, probably on one of the television online news networks which seem to spawn ads like rabbits, for a simulated woman with all the ingredients that men want in a woman. I’m not even going there in a family newspaper, but while that may not be the ultimate reality experience, it is part of the genre.
Who knows? Maybe you could marry your simulated reality mate, register her to vote for your party, and if she ever crabs or nags you too much, just unplug her and poof, she’s gone.
You don’t need to deal with offending people, or being offended, cranky professors, idiot politicians, 24 hour talking heads on television broadcast, one percenters or welfare queens. Who needs all that when you can create your own reality world?
In my memory bank is a picture of the audience in a 3D movie theater with everyone wearing their 3D goggle glasses to see the newest from Hollywood, movies in three dimension. You have to be at least sixty or older to remember, but the lesson is I suppose not that we all looked like a bunch of crows on a telephone line but that fads come and go.
Personally, I kind of favor reality. How does one simulate finishing your first 10k, or a string of pars with maybe a birdie thrown in on your first five or six holes on the golf course? How about your first solo landing?
I learned to fly at the ripe old age of forty-six and forty-seven. It took me two years since I broke off training to do a Fulbright in Peru, but I was hooked the day an old student, and certified flight instructor, Ernesto Kortright, took me up for a flight in 1988 in a tiny Cessna 150.
I suppose I could do that flight with a visual reality headset, but how can I relive, or recreate, the day—almost two years later–when Jim Kicker, my next instructor, told me to pull the plane off the runway for a second while he got out.
“You got it. Go around and do three touch and goes.”
I looked at him, kind of the deer in the headlights I suspect kind of look.
“You can do it,” he said closing the little door, and off I went. I lifted off at 55 or 60 MPH and the little plane climbed slowly but steadily under my hands, one on the throttle and one on the yoke, looking left and right for traffic.
But, of course, there was no traffic. The tower controller knew I was on my solo. He probably had cleared the air all the way to Birmingham, but I was just going around the patch, flying the pattern. I had done this countless times.
The only difference was an empty right seat. No flight instructor. It was me and the aircraft. I lined up with the runway, went through my short checklist, probably five times in my excitement, and slowly pulled back on the yoke to flare as we neared the runway. The little plane lifted its nose and touched down smoothly as the tires hit the runway.
I did it three times and then taxied in, maybe not Chuck Yeager yet, but having joined the club. The feeling was singular and exhausting and satisfying. The reality set in. Not the virtual reality. I was on my way to becoming a licensed pilot.
Published in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday April 9, 2017 as Virtual World Simply Can’t Match Some Experiences