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?