Will Extended Reality replace reading?

A podcast that I follow, called The Light in Every Thing, recently devoted a few episodes to the emerging technology of Extended and/or Augmented Reality, which is like Virtual Reality on steroids. In the very near future it’s going to be widely possible to “step into” the electronic world and experience it with all our senses, giving us the possibility to be and experience pretty much anything we want: roam jungles with the dinosaurs, fly on dragons, visit historical battles of the past, be vampires in love, whatever. And of course, it will permit us to have the virtual meetings with others to which we’ve recently become so accustomed, not just through screens, but with a real ‘sense of presence.’

Following my first amazement at the somewhat overwhelming images this development provoked, my next thought was, “Isn’t this just what we readers have already been doing all along?” Through reading, we can do and become anything and anyone. I’ve been to so many amazing places and met so many people through books (and lately, through blogging as well), I can’t even begin to catalogue them. Reading has always been my extended reality, and I think I’m not alone in feeling that way.

The difference with reading, I suppose, is that we have to activate our imaginations in order to have these experiences, not passively take them in through machine-assisted senses. And I wonder if we humans, lazy creatures as we are, will shortly forget all about that effortful activity and gladly go along with the easier, more convenient and more immediately impressive way to live in another world. Or will we readers, stubborn and idiosyncratic characters as we are, keep the flame of reading alive? Is there something that Extended Reality cannot and will never satisfy in us, no matter how seductive it becomes?

I welcome your thoughts. How do you see the future of reading?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight.

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17 thoughts on “Will Extended Reality replace reading?

  1. Food for thought, for sure. I have never heard of Extended and/or Augmented Reality, until your post. My first reaction is that I can easily see this experience as a substitute for lots of different things, including reading. I do like the idea of being able to experiences countries I probably will never get to! And I think for people who either are uncommitted readers or don’t like reading, this could be a replacement. But I don’t think I would stop reading. It’s the words that create the pictures and those pictures are mine, not someone else’s. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading so much: the words make pictures for me and it is in a sense, my own virtual reality; one that I create.

    Interesting new technology, but I wonder how much that will change the way we imagine and create when that is given to us?

  2. Some friends of mine got a virtual reality rig last Christmas and have let me play with it several times. I like looking up places in the world that I’ve been and “seeing” the parts that have been filmed, and I enjoyed seeing the International Space Station as if I were there, but there’s no way that could substitute for reading.

    1. What if instead of books you could get interactive “ER” experiences? What if you could be inside the stories, not just viewing scenes? I wonder if this will appeal to readers or just to those who already don’t really bother with books.

  3. Have you read “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr? If not, he has sections set in the future that seem to describe just this. I’m not so sure it will become reality so quickly (it isn’t like virtual reality has progressed beyond being a game/toy), but I’m certain that nothing will replace reading.

    1. It’s going to happen quickly, according to what I heard. Silicon Valley is going to push it like crazy and the technology is nearly there. I’d also expect reading will survive, but we’ll find out. I’ve not read Cloud Cuckoo Land, thanks for the tip.

  4. This is certainly an interesting question, I wonder if what happens will follow what has happened with vinyl records and ebooks. And Zoom calls. There’s an initial period of euphoria about this great new technology, then it levels off or falls in popularity, and we end up listening, reading, watching in various ways. What worries me is the subset of people who will be more vulnerable to manipulation and won’t question where and from whom the information is coming from.

    1. The potential for manipulation concerns me too. I’m not sure I want to let anyone that far into my head, especially not Mark Zuckerberg.

  5. I went to see my college roommate the other day and her son, a first year law student, had his virtual reality helmet (?) and goggles or headphone or whatever on most of the time I was there. Rudeness aside, I simply could not understand what made his video game better wearing this gear.

    1. I think we’re going to see this more and more. Some people will want to spend as much time as possible in the ER world, ignoring actual people and things. I also can’t really understand why except that possibly they find real life too challenging.

  6. Fascinating. Though I think books will survive. The other day, I was watching a literary program (La Grande Librairie, French TV), and they were talking about books vs. movie. Some authors /readers were saying how much richer reading is, because the reader can make his own images as he/she reads, whereas in a movie, you are stuck with the image imposed on you.
    It’s going to be even worse with what you describe, and I know a good number of readers who will still better appreciate the freedom to create their own images and environments as they read

    1. Yes, perhaps the benefits and joys of reading will become even more clear! That would be a good thing. I feel more free and more autonomous with reading than with watching movies, more in charge of the experience, and it seems like that effect will be magnified with ER.

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