My book review of Dawn of the New Everything, Encounters With Reality and Virtual Reality by Jaron Lanier (2017). The book is enjoyable and readable, though I did skip around over the more esoteric bits.
Alternating between a deep autobiographical dive into Lanier’s life and a straightforward account of the history of technology, with an emphasis on virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR). I enjoyed learning about early technologists like Ivan Sutherland, whose 1963 SketchPad presentation was the “greatest demo of all time” to Doug Engelbart’s 1968 productivity software demo than reads like a modern tech stack: file versioning, collaborative editing, and video conferencing.
More eye-opening for me than the history is the honest and thought description of VR from one of the industry’s true pioneers.
A lot of joy in VR remains in just thinking about it.
VR trains us to perceive better… we learn to sense what makes reality real. [Because] human cognition is in motion and will generally outpace progress in VR.
A sense of cognitive momentum, of moment-to-moment anticipation, becomes palpable in VR. Like the chi in tai-chi.
The investigation has no end, since people change under investigation.
The technology of noticing experience itself.
Lanier describes VR as feeling your consciousness in its pure form. “It proves you are real.” The exact opposite of what I’d previously thought of when considering VR—I perceived a “fake” or “out of body” experience. Instead, Lanier emphasizes that it’s meant to be temporary. It’s meant to make you think, not just escape. It’s intended to produce the enjoyment of coming back to your true senses, reborn.
Reading notes: I read the hardcover edition from my local library after seeing a mention in both Wired and The Economist. See on Goodreads.