Travel Truths 04 – Virtual reality, Star Trek and the future of travel

Have you ever come across the word “Holodeck”? Ιf you are above a certain age limit or if you are a Star Trek fan, then it is highly probable you have. For those that have not, let me enlighten you!

{Wikipedia} – “The holodeck is a fictional plot device from the television series Star Trek. It is presented as a staging environment in which participants may engage with different virtual reality environments. From a storytelling point of view, it permits the introduction of a greater variety of locations and characters that might not otherwise be possible, such as events and persons in the Earth‘s past and is often used as a way to pose philosophical questions“

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What this basically means is that in this room different historical or longitudinal/latitudinal environments may be replicated without moving an inch from that room. This is effectively VR (Virtual Technology) technology, but on a pure 3D level – people can actually walk and interact into an environment without wearing googles or other gear.

Which brings us to our hypothetical scenario! Assume that such technology replicates exactly the British Museum, London Eye, the Eifel Tower etc. Not just the monument/landmark – this is the easy part when it comes to e.g. museums – but also the people around and inside those landmarks, the sounds or even the smells from the landmark’s café where you walk to have a quick espresso and a bite.

Don’t ask yourself if this can or cannot happen. Thirty years ago we had no PCs. 20 years ago we barely knew what a mobile phone was. 100 years ago we could barely lift ourselves from the ground and now we are planning in colonising Mars. So in the next 50 years I am sure such VR services will be available – If not 50 in 100 years. It is just a matter of time! “If” is not the word to ask. “When” is the word!

So assume that one does have the option to experience with the press of a button a 3–hour visit in the Eifel tower, to listen to people talking French, to feel the Parisian wind on his face (Ok.. maybe the wind from a local turbine), to look at the whole of Paris from high above (ok.. maybe some video projections). And all of this could happen for a fraction of the cost of a real trip to Paris. After all, many people plan a visit to Paris for the sole purpose of visiting the Eifel Tower.

So, would this mean that this technology would … ruin the essence of traveling? Would this mean that people would prefer such an experience to the real thing? Would we prefer to live a series of 3 2-hour experiences on the main three Paris landmarks instead of a 3-day visit there? Would you prefer this? Would these 2-hour sessions be enough to characterise this experience as a “Trip to Paris”? And would that mean inevitably bring the decline of travel as we know it?

The truth of the matter is that travel should be put in perspective. Travelling to Paris – or anywhere – is not just about the 3-hour visit to the Eifel tower. It is not about walking the Sydney Bridge. It is not just visiting the Empire State building. Travelling is the summation of all the small experiences – all the nitty-gritty stuff – before and after the main “highlights’ (although I do not particularly like this word) that a VR technology will never be able to replicate. Travelling is about the physical movement from one place to the other.

The truth of the matter is that – no matter how much we cannot/do not want to see it – travelling is about choice. It is about serendipity, probabilities, uncertainty – all these things that create a unique set and blend of emotions and experiences when present in a location – things that VR technology may never replicate. Travelling is about uniqueness of the space and time. And no matter how much people will moan about the practicalities – getting there, flying in and out, waiting to get served in a restaurant, not being able to talk in English because the French will refrain from speaking, the rain that made us soak into water because we had no umbrella with us etc – in the end it is all these small pieces that sum up and create the unique personal experience called a trip to Paris.

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