I cannot have been the only one who was less than totally enthralled upon seeing photos, on Tuesday evening, of people wearing headsets made by Oculus VR. Facebook had just agreed to spend two billion dollars to acquire Oculus, a maker of virtual-reality hardware. The people in the pictures using the Oculus Rift headset appeared to have been blindfolded with a car battery. Weirder still, they looked like they had no desire to escape.
“When you put it on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away,” Facebook’s C.E.O., Mark Zuckerberg, wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition. “The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you’re actually present in another place with other people.”
Oculus, which raised an early round of funding through a Kickstarter campaign, in 2012, designed the Rift for people to wear while playing video games. (The headset is available to game developers, but the consumer version isn’t out yet.) Last year, Joel Johnson wrote about his experience testing the Rift on a game called Titans of Space. The simulation takes place in a space capsule as it travels through the solar system. “By the time you find yourself cocking your head all the way back so that you can take in the coronal margins of VY Canis Majoris, a dying red giant, you’ll start to have a good understanding of how otherworldly virtual reality can be,” he wrote.
In his post, Zuckerberg said that Oculus would keep making gaming hardware. But he made his broader aspirations for the company clear:
After games, we’re going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face—just by putting on goggles in your home.
This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.
There’s something unusual about this part of Zuckerberg’s message, beyond the content itself. Typically, when a company makes a surprising acquisition like this, analysts jump in to explain the strategic shift that the purchase represents. But the acquirer, not eager to tip off rivals about its plans, usually offers little detail. In January, when Google announced that it would acquire Nest, a company best known for making high-tech thermostats and smoke alarms, plenty of observers wrote about Google’s interest in building hardware itself instead of simply becoming partners with hardware companies, as it once had. But in the press release announcing the deal, Google C.E.O. Larry Page said, simply, “We are excited to bring great experiences to more homes in more countries and fulfill their dreams!”
Zuckerberg was much more explicit about his company’s plans for Oculus: it wants to bring virtual reality to the experience of using Facebook. In being specific about how a Facebook-owned Oculus might look, Zuckerberg might simply have been trying to come across as transparent and communicative, in keeping with Facebook’s broader mission. But Facebook is a huge, publicly traded company; despite the informal tone of the blog post, it was surely vetted carefully. All that information about Facebook’s plans for Oculus must have been meant for someone. Whom, then?
Employees, to start, both current and prospective: Facebook competes aggressively to hire the most talented engineers in Silicon Valley—people who are looking for interesting, new challenges and are also being courted by cutting-edge start-ups and established rivals, like the people in Mountain View behind Google Glass.
Investors, too: to avoid spooking people who own shares of Facebook, Zuckerberg needed to explain the value of acquiring a company that, on the face of it, doesn’t have much to do with the business of connecting the world.
There’s another audience, as well: you. Oculus has clearly excited the earliest of tech adopters. But Facebook has more than a billion users, and most of them—most of you, as Zuckerberg might put it—are presumably new to Oculus. The headset obscures a wearer’s immediate surroundings as much as it offers a vivid vision of another setting. That setting might include advertisements or other commercial elements. If you’re anything like me, you might feel disoriented by this and maybe a little apprehensive. You might be thinking: Could this be a step toward disconnection from my actual surroundings and the people in it?
Zuckerberg writes about how “you” might use Oculus: to attend a sporting event, learn alongside classmates, or visit with your doctor. (He uses the word “you” seven times in his blog post.) These examples—carefully chosen, no doubt—make the case that virtual-reality hardware can make you feel more “present” in your relationships, rather than alienating you from them. There’s little doubt that Zuckerberg believes that this is true. The question is whether you will eventually agree. Not long ago, you—and I—bought into another technology that promised to enhance human connection but seemed, at the same time, like a weird simulacrum of real life. It was called Facebook.
Πηγή: The New Yorker – Vauhini Vara