When Virtual Reality Becomes Real

Though Manovich never explicitly discusses a world with gestural-based devices, he does assert that space has become a type of new media. The media of space which he speaks about, however, is far less limited than that over the modern-day; he talks about spatial media in computer programs and games with three-dimensional navigation and visualization. But we’ve surpassed even this stage of once-new media. Our virtual space that was once miraculously rendered on screens for us to control has begun to expand outside of the screens and panels of our devices.

Voice-activation and recognition software such as Siri or Dragon Speech-to-Text debuted some five years ago to the general public’s amazement. Gone were the days of worrying about texting and driving or even using one’s fingers to search Google for the next showing of Transformers. Our phones and computers grew ever closer to becoming the types of A.I. seen in Space Odyssey or Terminator.

This new frontier exploded further with the inception of Microsoft’s Project Natal, more commonly known as Kinect. Suddenly, our living rooms became virtual soccer fields and combat arenas through the Xbox 360. Despite virtual reality’s novelty in the 80s and 90s, this technology was different in that it transformed the actual, physical realm which its users lived in. There was no virtual world constructed through the use of some kind of headgear, no, reality was effectively augmented by this device. The space open to navigation was now real and palpable, not limited to the aircraft simulation or many dungeons of Doom. And although the space was now defined and finite, the possibilities of action within it were quickly approaching endless.

Furthermore, the presence of gesture-based technology continues to spread as we see it in our very own hands in our smartphones. The recently released Samsung Galaxy S IV has several features in its interface that are guided by the user’s eye, head and hand movement. For instance, the moment you look away from whatever TV show or captured video you’ve taken, the smartphone pauses accordingly. Similarly, there are also a variety of hand gestures, such as waving over the screen to answer a call in speakerphone. Such a technology’s implementation into mobile devices is a sign of a growing trend that has only just begun.

More precise and compact than its spiritual predecessor, the Kinect, the Leap Motion device is a USB-driven device that runs on a platform called AirSpace where developers can create new gestural-controlled programs for all kinds of users. In short, Leap Motion expands upon what Kinect already introduced to the layman: a suite of tools and programs which allow the user to augment their perceived reality. With Leap, molecules of DNA can be manipulated with the push and pull of your hands and you can explore the world with your fingertips using Google Earth. Regarding space as a form of new media, the growing world of gesture-based apparatuses is the latest addition to the wild frontier of ICTs. With this in mind, I think it’s safe to say that if Manovich had written about gesture-controlled devices, he would have addressed the fact that such a new technology has only just started to be understood and accepted by the masses. I assume that he would also examine the correlations between our contemporary films, TV shows and literature and the functionality of these machines. Our physical world is being redefined by these new technologies and the clear divergence between computational data and tangible reality becomes less evident with each new invention.

So, in an eery 3:30 nutshell, the future and newest source of media has seemingly arrived:

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