But strangeness was also a criticism leveled at another bizarre new technology that went on to play a central role in our homes.
“Leaders of the television industry, in their more enthusiastic moments, have suggested that ultimately the television set may replace the fireplace as a focal point of interest in the living room,” reads an article in The New York Times from 1949. “In terms of interior decoration, there may be difficulty in deciding which should come first.”
Today, of course, 97 percent of American homes have a television and walking into a living room without one as its centerpiece can be, frankly, confusing. It’s hard to fathom that before TV’s invention only a few decades ago, the fireplace reigned uninterrupted as humanity’s literal hearth for more than 100,000 years.
Now, just two generations since we rearranged our living rooms to accommodate a new technology, there are early rumblings that virtual reality may ask us to do so again.
In exchange for the superpower to instantly transport you anywhere you can imagine, virtual reality asks that you place a headset over your eyes, blinding you to your immediate surroundings.
“If I want to set up a walking-around VR experience, I’m clearing out maybe a living room-sized space,” says Bruce Wooden, an influential VR evangelist and head of developer relations at AltSpaceVR, a social virtual-reality company. “A segment of this early-adopter, hardcore-gamer population, that’s what they’re going to do. They’re definitely going to have VR rooms.”
But Facebook didn’t buy Oculus Rift for $2 billion last year just to give hardcore gamers more immersive games to play in empty living rooms. Mark Zuckerberg sees virtual reality as the logical next step along the path we’re taking toward a world entirely connected by social media: First we shared text, then photos, and now video. Why wouldn’t the next phase of that evolution be an immersive technology that allows other people to actually go where you’ve been? And if it means rearranging some furniture in the home to advance the collective human experience, so be it. Whether that happens at a massive scale is anybody’s guess, but the virtual-reality community is beginning to make the case.
In the coming months, consumers will be confronted with a flood of virtual-reality headsets, ranging in price and quality from Google’s literal cardboard boxes to Oculus’s sophisticated and still-handmade headsets. Before Thanksgiving, Samsung will release Gear VR, a headset that works with Samsung phones, to offer the first higher-end virtual-reality hardware on the market. By next spring, Oculus, PlayStation, and HTC will debut their own dedicated VR platforms. Other players, notably Apple, may reportedly join the fray thereafter.
Even the most optimistic virtual reality enthusiasts acknowledge that mainstream adoption will take time. But that doesn’t mean virtual-reality executives aren’t bullish.