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Title Page

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]


Candidate Number: ------

Against a Dark Background: Changing trends in the perception and understanding of


Virtual Spaces in the United States of America, 1966-2014.

14,963 words

Contents

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Abstract, 4
2. Chapter 1: Introduction - State of Play, 5
3. Chapter 2: Methodology New Map, 14
4. Chapter 3: Changes in the Usage of the Word Virtual Academia, 16
5. Chapter 4: Implications for the History of Virtual Reality Patterns of Force, 41
6. Chapter 5: Evaluation Fallout, 50
7. Chapter 6: Conclusions Against a Dark Background, 53
8. Bibliography, 57

Abstract

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ABSTRACT
Immersive virtual reality technologies are increasingly common in the developed world
of 2014. However the technology has existed in one way, or another, for over 50 years.
Studies have been undertaken in the past to trace the history of this technology, and
elucidate its troubled path to popularity.
However the nature of the technology, as made up of many other entirely discrete
technologies (displays, motion tracking, computing, computer graphics, haptic
interfaces, and so on) means that conventional histories, particularly extant oral histories,
often struggle to assess the range of factors affecting the technology. Virtual reality is
hard to isolate as a technology, and therefore a new approach is needed to develop its
history. This paper aims not to rewrite existing histories, but utilise new methodologies,
inspired by those of corpus linguistics and the semantic history of discourse, to bring
new light to the existing history. Access to online databases and digitised publications
means high-volume samples of text are more feasible than ever: as such the study of
changes in the usage of a key word across a broad range of academic and popular
sources, enabled by computerised access, could yield historically valuable results.
This paper shall use wide-ranging samples of academic and popular literature to examine
the usage of the word virtual, creating a survey of academic, journalistic, and popular
sources. Its change over time having been plotted, superposition on the existing history
of virtual reality technology may be able to highlight or lend nuance to elements of the
history of that technology. If the technique is successful, it may be applicable to many
other technologies and concepts. It is hoped that this paper will illustrate that linguistic
methods, and broad analysis of textual discourse over time, can inform understandings of
the history of technologies, concepts, and philosophies, in this case setting the
technological development of virtual reality against an entirely new background.

State of Play

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CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

S TAT E O F P L AY

Whilst virtual reality and virtual space is, for many, a product of the computer age, this is
far from the case.1 Virtual spaces have been created since antiquity in the imagination, in
art, and in artifice. Pliny the Elder wrote about classical artists who painted virtual
environments so convincing that people and animals were deceived. 2 Since the secondand-first centuries BCE, wealthy homeowners built rooms designed to extend their
apparent size through painted virtual spaces.3 These sale delle prospettive were one of
many examples of pre-computer design of virtual spaces, and a desire to create spaces of
virtual private paradise or subversive, taciturn oration. 4 Virtual space, and the technology
surrounding its modern iteration, therefore has an historical and cultural context beyond
contemporary notions of computer simulation.5
Virtual reality (henceforth: VR) and virtual space as they are understood in 2014 are
quite different from that of the early 20 th century. Whilst this paper will be focussing
mainly on VR, virtual space is, at times, closely linked to it and therefore unavoidable.
The immersive, computer-generated environments of modern VS are not dependent on
any one technological development, like the perspective arts of the past, but are instead a
technology cluster, based on many: computer manufacture, programming, displays,
interfaces, motion tracking, sound generation, and others.6

1 Grau, Oliver, Into the Belly of the Image: Historical Aspects of Virtual Reality,
Leonardo, 32/5 (1999), 36571
2 Bostock, John, The Natural History. Pliny the Elder. 35. 6, (London, 1855).
3 Grau, 365.
4 Hayum, Andre M., A New Dating for Sodomas Frescoes in the Villa Farnesina,
The Art Bulletin, 48/2 (1966), 21517; and also Grau, 365-6.
5 Grau, 365-6; and also Steuer, Jonathan, Defining Virtual Reality: Dimensions
Determining Telepresence, Journal of Communication, 42/4 (1992), 7393.
6 Schroeder, Ralph, Possible Worlds: The Social Dynamic of Virtual Reality
Technology (Boulder, Colo, 1996), 20; and also Biocca, Frank, Communication Within
Virtual Reality: Creating a Space for Research, Journal of Communication, 42/4
(1992), 522; and also Biocca, Frank, Virtual Reality Technology: A Tutorial, Journal
of Communication, 42/4 (1992), 2372.

State of Play

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Explaining just what virtual reality is at this point seems vital, as there could
understandably be a large amount of confusion over what virtual reality technology
encompasses, means, and represents.
The modern (2012-2014) iteration of virtual reality is noteworthy as, for the first time in
its fifty-year history, computerised virtual reality technology is broadly accepted as
viable, important and valuable.7 Oculus Rift, an American VR headset currently in
development, has been a champion for VR, accumulating $2.4 million in funding from
crowd-sourcing site Kickstarter in 2012, then being purchased by online social network
Facebook for $2 billion in March of 2014.8 The growing success of modern VR is due to
several factors, which can be illustrated by a history of the technology.
The first computerised VR environments were devised by Ivan Sutherland at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966 and, later, at Harvard University.9 While
the Philco Corporation had conducted similar projects in the late 1950s with
telepresence, Sutherland was the first to use computer-generated environments. 10
Sutherlands earlier work was in computer graphics and in 1968 these were integrated
into a headset, which immersed people in computer generated environments.11 His
resulting Ultimate Display was the first graphical computer display to immerse people

7 Dujmovic, Jurica, Look at the Amazing Future of Virtual Reality Your Digital Self,
MarketWatch <http://www.marketwatch.com/story/look-at-the-amazing-future-ofvirtual-reality-2014-08-07> [accessed 11 August 2014]; and also Arora, Asit, Loretta
Y. M. Lau, Zaid Awad, Ara Darzi, Arvind Singh, and Neil Tolley, Virtual Reality
Simulation Training in Otolaryngology, International Journal of Surgery, 12/2 (2014),
8794; and also Citrome, L., Ride em Cowboy! The Therapeutics of Virtual Reality
Technology and Simulation, International Journal of Clinical Practice, 68/8 (2014),
931931; and also Heaven, Douglas, Virtual Reality Rises Again, New Scientist,
218/2922 (2013), 20.
8 Heaven, 20; and also Rubin, Peter, The Inside Story of Oculus Rift and How Virtual
Reality Became Reality | Gadget Lab, WIRED, 2014
<http://www.wired.com/2014/05/oculus-rift-4/> [accessed 11 August 2014].
9 Sutherland, Ivan, The Ultimate Display Proceedings of the International
Federation of Information Processing Congress, (1965), 506-8; and also Sutherland,
Ivan, A Head-Mounted Three-Dimensional Display Proceedings of the Fall Joint
Computer Conference 68, (1968), 757-64.
10 Kalawsky, Roy S., The Science of Virtual Reality and Virtual Environments: A
Technical, Scientific and Engineering Reference on Virtual Environments (1993), 201, 346.
11 Sutherland, A Head-Mounted Three-Dimensional Display, 757-8; and also
Schroeder, 164.

State of Play

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in its environment.12 Although limited in detail, the sensation of immersion was


startling.13 Sutherlands dream was for users to interact with the environment, and be
provided haptic (sensory) feedback.14 Sutherlands device was never adapted for
marketing or public use, it was too bulky, and the computers required too rare and too
expensive.15 It did however set the template for future developments of VR.16
After The Ultimate Display however, development of VR displays slowed considerably.17
Outside of simulators for NASA and the USAF, no virtual spaces were developed from
1970 until the 1980s.18 The nature of early simulators made disorientation common and
the resulting simulator sickness prompted a growth in medical and psychological
papers on simulation.19 The cause of this sickness may be partly responsible for what
Schroeder has referred to as a lull.
Simulator Sickness was mainly due to lag between the user moving and the virtual
space changing accordingly. Contemporary computers were too slow.20 Displays and
motion sensors were prohibitively expensive at the time (i.e. above $1million to develop
in 1975, $24 million in 201421). Schroeder, Kalawsky, Rheingold, and others see this lull
as having a technological rather than sociological cause, predominantly in this regard
they seem to be correct.22

12 Schroeder, 17, 38-9; and also Sutherland, Ivan, A Head-Mounted ThreeDimensional Display, 757-8.
13 Sutherland, Ivan, A Head-Mounted Three-Dimensional Display, 760-1; and also
Schroeder 17-9, 38.
14 Sutherland, Ivan, The Ultimate Display, 506.
15 Schroeder 20-1.
16 Ibid, 17-21.
17 Ibid, 17-20.
18 Ibid, 18, 22; and also Kalawsky, Roy S., The Science of Virtual Reality and Virtual
Environments: A Technical, Scientific and Engineering Reference on Virtual
Environments (1993) 27-32.
19 Schroeder, 21; and also Reason, James T., Motion Sicknesssome Theoretical
Considerations, International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 1/1 (1969), 2138, pp.
27-8; and also Clark, Brant, Some Recent Studies On The Perception Of Rotation, in
Vestibular Function on Earth and in Space, ed. by J. Stahle (1970), 4354.
<http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780080155920500111>
[accessed 12 August 2014].
20 Biocca, Frank, and Mark R. Levy, Communication in the Age of Virtual Reality
(Hillsdale, N.J, 1995) 99-100.
21 US Inflation Calculator, US Inflation Calculator
<http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/> [accessed 12 August 2014].
22 Schroeder, 33-4; and also Kalawsky, 277-290; and also Rheingold, Virtual Reality,
33-4, 133-44.

State of Play

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The next significant development in VR came in the 1980s. It was in 1987 that the term
virtual reality was first popularly coined by a pioneer of VR, Jaron Lanier. 23 At this
point, virtual appeared more frequently in academic and journalistic literature. The
work of Lanier with VPL research, as well as others at the time, shifted VR toward
domestic spheres, exciting broader public awareness.24 Technological improvements in
computer science and technology, as well as in displays, motion tracking, and
programming helped drive this move.25 While technological development was clearly a
prime mover, there may have been other factors at work also: the spread of the phrase
virtual reality beyond purely technological spheres of influence was also significant.
Until the mid-90s virtual technologies (i.e. those generating or displaying virtual spaces,
including video games) boomed.26 Immersive headsets and suits were available for
enterprise and business, and through the 90s VR became cheaper and cheaper, arguably
culminating in the Nintendo Virtual Boy in 1995 (figure 1.1); a VR headset sold across
America at a reasonable price ($150, or around $280 in 201427).
The device was a commercial failure however. Panned as ineffectual and disappointing,
the optimism surrounding VR seemingly turned on its head. The technology still hadnt
caught up with the theory, or the expectation.28 This failure of realisation led arguably to

23 Trials Of A Cyber Celebrity, BusinessWeek:, 21 February 1993


<http://www.businessweek.com/stories/1993-02-21/trials-of-a-cyber-celebrity>
[accessed 12 August 2014].
24 Schroeder, 24-5; and also Van Dam, Andries, Computer Software for Graphics,
Scientific American, 251/September (1984), 14659.
25 Kalawsky, 20-2; and also Schroeder, 22-5; and also Dertouzos, Michael, The
Multiprocessor Revolution: Harnessing Computers Together, MIT Technology Review,
89/2 (1986), 4457.
26 Schroeder, 22-43; and also Edwards, Paul, From Impact to Social Process:
Computers in Society and Culture in Jasanoff, Sheila (ed.) Handbook of Science and
Technology Studies (1995)270,73,84.
27 US Inflation Calculator, US Inflation Calculator
<http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/> [accessed 12 August 2014].
28 Narcisse, Evan, Top 10 Failed Gaming Consoles, Time
<http://techland.time.com/2010/11/04/top-10-failed-gaming-consoles/slide/virtualboy/> [accessed 12 August 2014]; and also Parkin, Simon, A History of Videogame
Hardware: Nintendos Virtual Boy | Features, Edge Online <http://www.edgeonline.com/features/a-history-of-videogame-hardware-nintendos-virtual-boy/>
[accessed 12 August 2014]; and also Iwata, Satoru, How the 3DS Was Made, Iwata
Asks, 1 vol I.

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a second lull; after 1995-6 interest in virtual reality technologies died away
considerably.29

29 History of Virtual Reality Where Did It All Begin?


<http://www.virtualrealityguide.com/history-of-virtual-reality> [accessed 12 August
2014]; and also A Brief History of Video Game Virtual Reality, and Why This Time
Will Be Different, Prima Games </games/killzone-shadow-fall/feature/brief-historyvideo-game-virtual-reality-and-why-time-will-be-different> [accessed 12 August
2014]; And also Julia King, Aaron E. Walsh; An Early Interest in Virtual Reality
Blossomed into a Passion for Education Environments That Can Engage Students
through Interactive Visualization., ComputerWorld, 24 August 2009, section NEWS
<http://www.lexisnexis.com/uk/nexis/docview/getDocForCuiReq?lni=7WFS-P4N0Y9NM-F00J&csi=280434&oc=00240&perma=true> [accessed 12 August 2014].

State of Play

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Its at this point that the predominant historical literature ends. But considerable changes
continued to take place. Beyond VR work on (more general) virtual spaces continued, in
computer graphics and the World Wide Web among others, at an increasingly rapid pace
from the mid-90s onward.30 Virtual was increasingly associated with these kinds of
spaces over VR, following the growth of another 80s term cyberspace. Non-immersive

30 Schroeder, 152-3; and also Berners-Lee, Tim, History of the Web, World Wide
Web Foundation <http://webfoundation.org/about/vision/history-of-the-web/>
[accessed 12 August 2014]; and also Pallen, Mark, The World Wide Web, BMJ:
British Medical Journal, 311/7019 (1995), 155256.

State of Play

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Figure 1.1: A Nintendo Virtual Boy headset with controller, with kind permission of
Evan Amos.

experience on a screen increasingly became virtual experience, as VR moved out of


vogue and virtual semantically loses meaning at this time, as the usage and intended
meaning diversified and dispersed.31

31 Cf. Ullmann, Stephen, The Principles of Semantics (1951), 204-5 for this pattern of
semantic loss.

State of Play

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This second lull was roughly the length of the first, from 1996 until 2012. 32 Limited
developments in specialist fields such as flight simulation and medical training
continued, but were rare and expensive. Until the announcement of the Oculus Rift
Kickstarter project, VR was considered by most a gimmick, distant aspiration, or
science-fiction trope.33
Oculus Rift differed from extant VR kits because it overcame many longstanding
problems with VR; public testing showed that it not only boasted no lag (latency) but
could display simulations so detailed that the user could believe what they were seeing.
The cause was primarily technological; Moores law (that the transistor count in
computers doubles every two years) holds true, domestic computer power in 2012 was
orders of magnitude greater than in 1995. Similarly programming languages, graphics
engines, displays, and accelerometers were more sophisticated, powerful and affordable.
A kind of VR singularity was achieved in 2012, truly immersive spaces could be
experienced when they couldnt in 2011.34 Virtual society and virtual activism, seen here
in the form of the Kickstarter crowdfunding website, also played a role, securing over
$2.4 million for developing a product which had only been tested by a few.35
This highlights both public appetite for VR, and the importance of online populations in
the success of technologies: virtual technology can beget virtual technology.
Oculus Rift remains in development in 2014. 36 Development kits are widespread in
America for military, medical, psychotherapeutic, sociological, and gaming uses, among
others.37 Facebook hopes to use Oculus Rift to create immersive virtual societies of the
32 Schroeder, 22; and also Rubin The Inside Story; and also A Realer Virtual World,
Forbes <http://www.forbes.com/2008/11/06/virtual-world-sensors-tech-sciencecx_ag_1107virtual.html> [accessed 12 August 2014].
33 Ibid; and also Orland, Kyle, Virtual Reality That Doesnt Suck: My Time inside HalfLife 2, Ars Technica, 2012 <http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2012/03/virtualreality-that-doesnt-suck-my-time-inside-half-life-2.ars> [accessed 30 August 2014].
34 Rubin, The Inside Story.
35 Oculus Rift: Step Into the Game, Kickstarter
<https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1523379957/oculus-rift-step-into-the-game>
[accessed 12 August 2014].
36 UPDATE 3-Facebook to Buy Virtual Reality Goggles Maker for $2 Bln, Reuters, 26
March 2014 <http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/26/facebook-acquisitionidUSL4N0MM4IP20140326> [accessed 12 August 2014].
37 Zuckerberg, Mark, 10101319050523971, Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10101319050523971; and also Five Incredible
Ways Oculus Rift Will Go beyond Gaming, TechRadar
<http://www.techradar.comhttp://www.techradar.com/news/gaming/5-incredible-

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type imagined by Lanier, Gibson, and others. Samsung announced its own VR headset,
Samsung Gear VR, integrating Oculus Rift technology with mobile phones and tablets
for web-based VR experiences including games, films, photo galleries, and web calls. 38
Sony has also announced a VR kit, Project Morpheus; Microsoft is also working on a
similar device.39 2014 is seeing considerable public interest in VR and, unlike in the
1980s, VR is less likely to be seen as a disappointment.40
The works of Ralph Schroeder and Howard Rheingold are arguably the most significant
in the current history of virtual space.41 Their work in the early 1990s provides useful
context and content up to 1996. Since then, besides occasional niche studies, 42 there has
been a dearth of work on the history of VR. Consequently it is hoped that this study may
assist future scholarship through the provision of a new methodology and data.
The causes for the swell and attenuation of VR technologies are not fully understood. A
hardware-based explanation covers major factors in the history of the technology, it does
not take into account the wider dynamics of the technologys history and development.
The aim of this paper therefore is to add sociological context and content to the history
of of VR technology and virtual space. The distributed nature of the technology means
ways-oculus-rift-will-go-beyond-gaming-1220211> [accessed 12 August 2014].
38 Kuchera, Ben, Samsung Gear VR Gives Us Hints at What to Expect from Retail
Oculus Rift, Polygon, 2014 <http://www.polygon.com/2014/9/3/6101371/samsungoculus-retail-rift-gear-vr> [accessed 3 September 2014]; and also Ben, Kuchera,
Samsung and Oculus Offer First Details on Cellphone-Powered VR Headset, the Gear
VR, Polygon, 2014 <http://www.polygon.com/2014/9/3/6099671/samsung-oculusgear-vr> [accessed 3 September 2014].
39 Yoshida, Shuhei, Introducing: Project Morpheus, PlayStation.Blog.Europe
<http://blog.eu.playstation.com/2014/03/19/introducing-project-morpheus/>
[accessed 12 August 2014]; and also Microsoft Interested in Using Eye-Tracking VR
Headset for Xbox One,
TechRadar.<http://www.techradar.comhttp://www.techradar.com/news/gaming/micro
soft-interested-in-using-eye-tracking-vr-headset-for-xbox-one-1259657> [accessed
12 August 2014].
40 Rubin, The Inside Story; and also Rhodes, L., Virtual Reality Like The Oculus Rift
Will Be A Technological Triumph And A Commercial Failure, Business Insider
<http://www.businessinsider.com/virtual-reality-like-the-oculus-rift-will-be-atechnological-triumph-and-a-commercial-failure-2014-4> [accessed 12 August
2014].
41 Schroeder, Possible Worlds, and Rheingold, Howard, Virtual Reality: The
Revolutionary Technology of Computer-Generated Artificial Worlds--And How..,
Reprinted edition (New York, N.Y., 1992).
42 Wiederhold, Brenda K., and Mark D. Wiederhold, A Brief History of Virtual Reality
Technology, in Virtual Reality Therapy for Anxiety Disorders: Advances in Evaluation
and Treatment (Washington, DC, US, 2005), 1127; and also Ellis, Jason W., Cultural
History of Virtual Reality, Science Fiction Studies, 39/2 (2012), 33941.

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that a new methodology is required to build a history of it away from conventional


material-cultural and oral histories.
The timeline of computerised virtual space, from the 1960s to the present day, means that
oral histories are both a possibility and a considerable temptation, considering the
distributed nature of the technology. However, the niche nature of the technology means
that there are few experts, and many of them are so close to the technology, and in some
cases to the now considerable market forces, that avoiding risk of bias would be
difficult.43 Understandings of how the technologies of virtual space have changed, as
well as the background of social and cultural perceptions against which the technology
rests, are hard to access traditionally.
Notions for an alternate point of access to the history of VR rose from the work of
historian Raymond Williams, who studied discourse and linguistic change to examine
historical concepts through words.44 Journalistic, popular, and academic sources could be
identified by database keyword search; in this case, for the word virtual, though other
words and phrases could be used. This approach, influenced by corpus linguistics, would
seek to examine changing discourse concerning virtuality over the period that
computerised virtual spaces have taken shape.45 Changing patterns of use could highlight
technological and sociological trends in the history of virtual space, which may be
invisible to more traditional histories.
This paper will chart the historical development of a technology from 1966 to the present
day through discourse concerning it and its social and technological periphery.
Developing a linguistic and social-scientific history of virtual spaces and their cultural
context will add nuance to existing historical understandings of the technologies,
especially VR, and help establish a history of the technology from the mid-1990s to the
present day. As such the project will seek to investigate two research questions:
43 McCracken, Harry, A Talk with Computer Graphics Pioneer Ivan Sutherland, Time
<http://techland.time.com/2013/04/12/a-talk-with-computer-graphics-pioneer-ivansutherland/> [accessed 11 September 2014]; and also Trials Of A Cyber Celebrity,
BusinessWeek.
44 Williams, Raymond, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1983).
45 Maverick, George V., Review of Computational Analysis of Present-Day American
English by Henry Kuera; W. Nelson Francis, International Journal of American
Linguistics, 35/1 (1969), 7175; and also Quirk, Randolph, Towards a Description of
English Usage, Transactions of the Philological Society, 59/1 (1960), 4061.

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1) How does the perceived meaning and significance of the word virtual change
over time in America from 1966 to 2014, and for whom?
2) Can changes in the meaning of the word lend nuance to, or aid revision of,
understanding of the history of virtual spaces, particularly virtual reality
technology, and, if so, in what ways?
America was chosen for two reasons. Firstly, America is the site of most virtual reality
research and development; it gained the most public momentum, and was most
marketable there in the late 80s-early 90s. Secondly, America sees the greatest combined
academic and journalistic output in the English speaking world and, as such, provides the
richest source base for this kind of study.46
Through investigation of these two questions it is hoped that greater understandings of
the multiple factors affecting the history of the technologies comprising computerised
virtual reality will be made possible.

46 Royal Society, Knowledge, Networks and Nations: Global Scientific Collaboration


in the 21st Century, Knowledge, Networks and Nations (London, 28 March 2011), 17.

New Map

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CHAPTER 2: METHODOLOGY

NEW MAP

This study traces changes in usage of virtual in a variety of contexts, drawing on the
methodologies of etymology and linguistics, particularly of corpus linguistics and
historians Williams and Stern.47 Random samples of sources were taken at five-year
intervals, with exceptions for landmark events visible from extant histories. For each
interval, 500 academic publications were sampled. Of those, the subject of the
publication and intended meaning of virtual was recorded. Detailed readings of some
sources were undertaken at key points or in instances of ambiguity of meaning.
For optimal coverage, a Google search algorithm was used to sample a wide range of
online databases, as Googles range of site indexes is unparalleled. Third-party search
algorithms, and those written for this project generate random searches of digitised
publications by year. Similarly Google indexes grey literature (advertisements,
unpublished theses, online manifestos, etc.). Literature on the deep net (i.e. hosted on the
internet but not the World Wide Web) was not sampled, due to access issues.
In 5 year intervals, samples will be taken. Each sample will comprise 5 blocks of 100
articles taken across the entire range of search results for that year. The articles were
grouped by block and subject, then averaged, providing an indicator of approximate
distribution. Publications straddling multiple subjects were grouped by journal subject.
Any subject appearing fewer than five times out of 500 will not be counted. Results are
compared in bar-charts over the history of VR.
Online archive websites including newspapers.com, archive.org, and lexisnexis.com
provided journalistic sources in the absence of a synoptic search engine. These databases
stack search results according to relevance, so sampling took place across their entire
47 Williams, Keywords, 11-26; and also Stern, Gustaf, Meaning and Change of
Meaning with Special Reference to the English Language, (Greenwood, 1975), pp. 14.

New Map

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range to reduce bias. Dormant online publications were accessed using archive.orgs
wayback machine.48
The changing trends in usage revealed by these samples were overlaid upon historically
understood technological change, particularly in computer graphics, displays, VR and
space. The greater history of technology may be informed by the understandings this
study made possible.49

48 Internet Archive WayBack Machine, archive.org, <archive.org/web/> [accessed 9


September 2014].
49 LeVine, Philip, and Ron Scollon, Discourse and Technology: Multimodal Discourse
Analysis (2004) Heracleous, L., and M. Barrett, Organizational Change As Discourse:
Communicative Actions And Deep Structures In The Context Of Information
Technology Implementation., Academy of Management Journal, 44/4 (2001), 75578.

Academia

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CHAPTER 3: CHANGES IN THE USAGE OF THE WORD


VIRTUAL

AC A D E M I A

Virtual in the sense of unreal seems to first appear in English in the mid-15 th century CE
in Pecocks Reule of Crysten Religioun, where it refers to an imagined physicality.50
Through to the eighteenth century, virtual mostly pertained to the implications of
scripture or extra-terrestrial realms in an Abrahamic context. 51 Specialist uses also
existed in engineering (virtual pressure heads), in physics, and others. 52 The physics
(specifically optical) notion of virtuality, a synthetic image created by lenses and filters,
is the closest precursor to computerised virtual space.53
Beyond the 18th century, virtual as unreal became common, and moved away from
theology and into broader notions of imagination. 54 Virtual became associated with an
imagined, often idealised, object, event, or space. In many ways, this still applies in
2014.
In the late 1950s, virtual was adopted by computer science as a specialist term for
hardware that gains new functions through software, such as Virtual Memory.55 By 1966,
50 Virtual, Adj. and N., OED Online <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/223829>
[accessed 14 August 2014]; and also Pecock, Reginald, The Reule of Crysten
Religioun, 1443 (London, 1927), 60.
51 Asloan, John, The Asloan manuscript: a miscellany in prose and verse, c.1525
(Edinburgh; London, 1923) I. 68; and also Taylor, Jeremy, The Real Presence and
Spirituall of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament Proved against the Doctrine of
Transubstantiation. By Jer. Taylor, D.D. (London, 1654), 21; and also Appleton, James,
A Collection of Discourses on the Various Duties of Religion, as Taught by the
Catholic Church; ... By the Rev. Mr. Appleton, ... (Dublin, 1790), 120.
52 Smeaton, J, An Experimental Enquiry Concerning the Natural Powers of Water
and Wind to Turn Mills, and Other Machines, Depending on a Circular Motion. By Mr. J.
Smeaton, F. R. S., Philosophical Transactions, 51 (1759), 100174.
53 Stephen Parkinson, A Treatise on Optics (1884)
<http://archive.org/details/atreatiseonopti02parkgoog> [accessed 9 September
2014]
54 Warner, Philip, Sieges of the Middle Ages. (London, 1968), 57; and also Barratt,
Alfred, Physical Metempiric [ed. by D. Barratt]. (1883), 47-50.
55 Cocke, John, and Harwood G. Kolsky, The Virtual Memory in the STRETCH
Computer, in Papers Presented at the December 1-3, 1959, Eastern Joint IRE-AIEE-

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virtual was established in computer science, as were notions of computerised virtual


space. Concurrently, virtual became more common throughout academia, especially in
physics, where it pertained to hypothetical particles. 56 Until 1970, virtual remained
predominantly in computer science articles, both in growing numbers, approximately
3000 papers involving virtual hardware or virtual particles in 1965 and 3700 in 1967,
growth continued into the 70s (figure 3.1).

ACM Computer Conference, IRE-AIEE-ACM 59 (Eastern) (New York, NY, USA, 1959),
1-42, pp. 1-4.
56 Beres, W. P., Virtual Transitions to the Continuum in O16, Physical Review
Letters, 17/23 (1966), 118084.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.1: Number of journal publications in the U.S.A. using 'virtual', 1965-85
12000
10000
8000

7850

6190
6000
Number of
publications
Figure
2: Number of journal publications
4550 in the U.S.A. using the word
4000
2970
2000
0

Year (20th century C.E.)


From the mid-60s through the mid-80s, publication numbers grow rapidly and steadily

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Regarding subject divisions, computer science was a niche study of American


academics. Disciplines with higher publication rates, especially medicine, were well
represented at this time (figure 3.2). The meaning of virtual varied across subjects.
Away from computing and physics, virtual was used for the sake of supposition, for
instance: they are in a position of virtual serfdom. 57 The bulk of medical publications
concerned virtual screening, meaning computerised molecule comparison. Publications
concerning computerised notions of virtuality totalled around 200 in 1966, with 30 in
computer science, 160 in physics, and 10 in engineering.
Distribution and usage of virtual by subject changed from there on, with simulation in
silico (generated by a computer) being a growth area. Outside of physics and computer
science virtual as computerised simulation was rare.
The number and range of sources using virtual grew through the 1970s, and variations
in usage diversified. Computer science publications grew in number rapidly, as did the
proportion of them using virtual, as virtual memory was a proven technology by
1969.58 The work of Sutherland at Utah and of others in the 70s drove advances in
computer graphics, diversifying and broadening access to virtual spaces. 59 Computer
technology as a whole similarly became more advanced, reflected in the contemporary
growth of literature (figure 3.3). In the majority of computer science publications at this
time, virtual was intended to describe either virtual hardware or virtual space. Virtual
hardware was increasingly commonplace and by the 90s became standard.60

57 Wlck, Wolfgang, From German Publications, International Journal of American


Linguistics, 31/3 (1965), 245.
58 Sayre, D., Is Automatic folding of Programs Efficient Enough to Displace
Manual?, Communications of the ACM, 12/12 (1969), 65660.
59
Schroeder, 52, 164; and also Burton, Robert, Ivan Sutherland, AM Turing
Awards (2013)
<http://amturing.acm.org/award_winners/sutherland_3467412.cfm>
[accessed 21 August 2014].
60 Denning, Peter, Before Memory Was Virtual, in In the Beginning: Recollections of
Software Pioneers, by Robert Glass (1997), 25071.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.2: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 1966
10000
1860
Physics

Computer Science Engineering1000Biology Chemistry Psychology


270

Number of publications (logarithmic)

Economics Education

History

100

60

120120
90 90

3030
10

1
Subject
Physics publications dominate the sample of those containing 'virtual' in 1966. Computer science is a minor area, with much of biological writing concerning medical and pharmaceutical virtual screening.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.3: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 1975
10000

Physics Computer Science Engineering Biology


1530 Chemistry Meteorology
1000 690

150150
Geol
ogy ofMedici
ne
Psychology 100
Sociology Educati
on Law60
Number
publications
(logarithmic)
60 60
3030 30303030 3030

10
History Drama

Theology

1
Subject
Physics remains the dominant subject in 1975, but computer science literature has grown considerably, reducing incidences of biology literature in the sample.

As publication numbers increased, usage and distribution of the word virtual


diversified. By the mid-1970s computing literature was a major area, though beyond that
simulation of the imagination and supposition were persistent uses across a wide range
of disciplines. Contemporaneously virtual information moved from epistemology into
computer and information science as computerised data grew in relevance.61 Usage in
physics similarly continued to grow.62 Discussion of Virtual Particles seems
contemporaneous with the development of virtual memory, and seems to become popular
in the 70s alongside the growth of virtuality in computing.63
61 Folinus, Jeffery J., Stuart E. Madnick, and Howard B. Schutzman, Virtual
Information in Data-Base Systems, ACM SIGMOD Record, 6/2 (1974), 115.
62 Technology, National Research Council (U S. ) Conference on Glossary of Terms in
Nuclear Science and, A Glossary of Terms in Nuclear Science and Technology: A
Series of Nine Sections (1953), 61; and also Andres, K., J. E. Graebner, and H. R. Ott,
4f-Virtual-Bound-State Formation in CeAl3 at Low Temperatures, Physical Review
Letters, 35/26 (1975), 177982.
63 Denning, 251-2.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.4: Approximate subject distribution


of journal publications using 'virtual' in 1980
Physics

Computer Science

Applied computing
10000

Information Science

2680
Virtual Space/reality

Holography

940
Engineering
1000

810 Mechanics

250

250 250 250


180
120 120120
120

100
Number of publications
(logatithmic) Geology
Biology
Chemistry

60
Medicine

60

10
Acoustic Science

Psychology

Mathematics

Ecology

1
Cartography

Subject
Political Science
Education
English
Whilst physics remains dominant, academia concerning computing, virtual
reality and computer science has increased drastically. Usage of 'virtual'
across other subjects also grew and diversified by 1980.

Within computer science, virtual was diversifying further. Whilst virtual hardware
remained prevalent, virtual for some began to denote computerisation; virtual time
and virtual space (as in a virtual work space) are two examples first seen in the mid1970s.64 In engineering, virtual work became a common term in the mid-1970s to
denote the principle of minimal action in studying mechanical systems, an evolution of
Aristotles simplicity hypothesis and Occams razor, as did virtual water, meaning the
theoretical movement of water in a national or global industrial system.65
64
Denning, Peter J., and Kevin C. Kahn, A Study of Program Locality and Lifetime
Functions, ACM SIGOPS Operating Systems Review, 9/5 (1975), 20716; and also
Koenigsberg, Lawrence, Jon A. Meads, John Shaw, Ned Thanhouser, and Steven
Vollum, A Graphics Operating System, ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics, 9/1
(1975), 4248; and also Boi, L., and R. Martin, Simulation of the Demand Paging CII SIRIS 8
System: Principles and Experiments Overview (presented at the 3rd symposium on simulation of
computer systems, 1975), 25760 <http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?
id=800243.807294> [accessed 26 August 2014].
65 Yourgrau, Wolfgang, Variational Principles in Dynamics and Quantum Theory
(1979), 4; and also Lanczos, Cornelius, The Variational Principles of Mechanics
(1970), 132; and also Mrz, Z., and G. I. N. Rozvany, Optimal Design of Structures
with Variable Support Conditions, Journal of Optimization Theory and Applications,
15/1 (1975), 85101.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

The 70s saw considerable change in the usage of virtual, the rate of which continued
through the 80s (see figures 3.4-6), with physics remaining the prominent subject area,
but within it virtual increasingly denoting computer simulation. Similarly engineering
took on this context in addition to its existing specialist and colloquial uses of virtual.
The discipline of computer science expanded considerably by 1980 (the reasons for
which shall be discussed in chapter 4). The scope of publications also increased as
discussions of computing applications in other disciplines became more common. 66
Computerised work and information science became increasingly widespread as
computers moved into the workplace en masse.67 Terms such as virtual information and
virtual existence appear more regularly from the 1980s.68
Concurrently, discussions of Sutherlands vision for immersion appeared. Immersive
virtual spaces were described as useful for computer aided design, and education. 69 It is
also in the early 80s that virtual reality becomes more widespread, though it signifies
an imagined rather than computerised reality, and highlights growth of virtual as a
buzzword, used by many for noveltys sake. 70 Notions of computer-generated spaces as
being virtual were on the cusp of broader academic awareness in 1980.
66 See Hennemuth, R. C., J. E. Palmer, and B. E. Brown, A Statistical Description of
Recruitment in Eighteen Selected Fish Stocks, J. Northw. Atl. Fish. Sci, 1 (1980), 101
11; and also Moellering, Harold, Real Maps, Virtual Maps and Interactive
Cartography, in Spatial Statistics and Models, ed. by Gary L. Gaile and Cort J.
Willmott, Theory and Decision Library, 40 (1984), 10932
<http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-017-3048-8_6> [accessed 1
September 2014] for examples.
67 Dill, John C., and Frank W. Bliss, Computer Graphics - Assessment Of State-Of-TheArt - Part 1: An Overview of Cadence - A Computer Graphics System at General
Motors, Part 2: An Overview of the Ford Computer Graphics System (Warrendale, PA,
1 February 1980) <http://papers.sae.org/800010/> [accessed 27 August 2014]; and
also Dodds Jr., Robert H., and L. A. Lopez, A Generalized Software System for NonLinear Analysis, Advances in Engineering Software (1978), 2/4 (1980), 16168; and
also Ellis, Clarence A., and Gary J. Nutt, Office Information Systems and Computer
Science, ACM Comput. Surv., 12/1 (1980), 2760.
68 Folinus et. al. 1-2; and also Krakauer, Lawrence Abram, Virtual Information in the
INFOPLEX Database Computer (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1980)
<http://web.mit.edu/smadnick/www/MITtheses/08031252.pdf> [accessed 27 August
2014].
69 Walker, D. J., R. W. Verona, and J. H. Brindle, Helmet Mounted Display System for
Attack Helicopters, Displays, 2/3 (1980), 12930; and also Benton, Stephen A.,
Survey Of Holographic Stereograms, 1983, Proceedings of SPIE 0367, 1519
<http://dx.doi.org/10.1117/12.934296> [accessed 1 September 2014]; and also
Rabinovitch, Gerard, The Real And Its Holographic Double, 1980, Proceedings of
SPIE 0212, 6464 <http://dx.doi.org/10.1117/12.958387> [accessed 26 August 2014].
70 Levinson, Marjorie, The Book of Thel by William Blake: A Critical Reading, ELH, 47/2 (1980),
287.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Academia

Figure 3.6: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 1990
10000

37204510 3830
2250

1130
1000
Physics Computer Science Information Science Virtual Reality Medicine
400
280 340 230
170
Number of publications (logarithmic)

Engineering Chemistry

Mechanics

100

10

Mathematics Earth Sciences

1
Subject
By 1990 there's been a considerable change. Physics, dominant in samples since the 60s, has a lower representation than computer science and virtual reality seperately. Information science is also a rapid growth area at this time. Literature is reflecting

Figure 3.5: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 1985
10000Computing Information Science
Applied
3190
1720
1350
870
1000
540
360 360 450300
240 Mechanics
Virtual Reality
Medicine
Engineering
180
120
90
100
Number of publications (logarithmic)
Physics

Computer Science

Earth Sciences

Acoustic Science

10
Chemistry

Social Science

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

1980 saw increased computer simulation in acoustics, sociology, economics, and geology
among others. Virtual sounds, populations and currencies could inform understandings of
the real world for the American public.71 It also saw growth in articles concerning
computer holography, graphics, and interaction for the first time since Sutherland. 72
Notions of computerised sensory input were increasingly common. Reasons for this
adoption of computerisation shall be examined in the following chapter.
The 1980s saw considerable change in usage of virtual in academia. Total publications
rose significantly from 1980 to 1985, including considerable growth in engineering and
niche areas like mathematics. In engineering, virtual was mostly used in virtual work
or computer simulation. In mathematics, virtual was mostly linked to rapid growth in
computer-aided theory. 1982 sees nascent virtual workspaces with virtual offices in
academia, and the benefits of computerised virtual space are increasingly understood
academically and commercially.73
The breadth of subjects discussing virtuality in the 1980s renders many statistically
invisible. Whilst figures 3.5 and 3.6 might suggest otherwise, the number of disciplines
in which virtual appears in publication increases drastically between 1980 and 1990,
while a small group of disciplines dominate the field, with less popular disciplines
becoming invisible in samples. The total number of publications increased rapidly
through the 1980s and beyond (see figure 3.7). By the mid-80s virtual has, for many, a
71 See Pulkki, Ville, Virtual Sound Source Positioning Using Vector Base Amplitude
Panning, Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, 45/6 (1997), 45666; and also
Porter, Elaine Gertrude, Social-Psychological and Communication Factors in
Discontinuance of Birth Control Use in the Dominican Republic., 1980
<http://www.popline.org/node/449871> [accessed 27 August 2014]; and also
Thornton, R., Technology, Government, And The Future Of The Automobile Industry,
1980 <http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=207428> [accessed 27 August 2014] for
examples.
72 Sanford, Robert J., Photoelastic holographyA Modern Tool for Stress Analysis,
Experimental Mechanics, 20/12 (1980), 42736; and also Tamura, Poohsan N.,
Stereophonic Recording And Reconstruction Methods To Generate Real And Virtual
Images, 1980, Proceedings of SPIE 0215, 14453
<http://dx.doi.org/10.1117/12.958433> [accessed 27 August 2014]; and also
Bazargan, Kaveh, Review Of Colour Holography, 1983, Proceedings of SPIE 1118
<http://dx.doi.org/10.1117/12.935063> [accessed 1 September 2014].
73 Markaff, John, Virtual Office Can Be Almost Anywhere You Want It To,
InfoWorld, 4/27, 12 July 1982, 3233; and also Licker, Paul, The Computer
Programmer as the Model of the Worker in the Automated Office, in The Proceedings
of the Twentieth Annual Computer Personnel on Research Conference (1983), 3438
<http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=800618> [accessed 28 August 2014]; and also
Licker, Paul S., Information Careers in the Office of the Future, ACM SIGCPR
Computer Personnel, 9/3 (1983), 610.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

dual meaning: a discipline-specific principle (virtual particles, virtual work etc.), or


synthetic space, both in and ex-silico.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.8: Uses of 'virtual' in


academia between Virtual
1987Hardware
and (computer
1990 science)
Virtual Reality

Virtual Particles (physics)

Supposition

Virtual information (computer science)

Virtual orbits (chemistry)

Virtual processes (computer Science)

Virtual Work (engineering)

Virtual phase (biology)

Virtual Cathode (physics)

Virtual transition states (chemistry)

Virtual Messages (information science)

Virtual gap states (physics)

Virtual levels (physics)

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.7: Approximate number of American academic publications using 'virtual' from 1986-2000
400000

349000

350000
300000
250000
200000
Number of publications

150000Number of publications
100000
50000 25700 32800
11300
0

62200

Year (20th Century C.E.)


American academic publications using 'virtual' increase steadily in the 80s-90s, before rapidly growing from around 1995. Ths overwhelming growth may relate to rapidly spreading internet access via the new World Wide Web.

A paradigm shift for many regarding virtual comes in 1988. Jaron Lanier, having spent
years working on immersive VR equipment, used virtual reality for the products of his
company, VPL.74 Whilst the term was not new, the connotation was, and it drew broad
attention. The term stuck, resulting in an explosion in literature on VR, virtual worlds,
and space. This was accompanied by a growing usage of virtual in academia and
popular literature as meaning something computerised. While this was visible in the
early 80s, it grew rapidly from the late 80s into the 90s.75
1990 was a key turning point in the history of VR, with more publications using virtual
being about virtual reality or computer science than physics (see figure 3.6), totalling
almost three times the number of physics publications.
As usage increased, meaning expanded (figure 3.8), and became increasingly blurred in
popular media. By 1990, virtual reality and virtual worlds were established in public and
74 Kevin, Kelly, An Interview with Jaron Lanier, Whole Earth Review, Fall, 1988, 108
19; and also Heilbrun, Adam, A Vintage Virtual Reality Interview, Jaron Lanier
(1986), <http://www.jaronlanier.com/vrint.html> [Accessed 28 August 2014].
75Wyshynski, Susan, and Vincent John Vincent, Chapter 6 - Full-Body Unencumbered
Immersion in Virtual Worlds: (The Vivid Approach and the Mandala VR System), in
Virtual Reality, ed. by ALAN WEXELBLAT (1993), 12344
<http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780127450452500155>
[accessed 1 September 2014]; and also Bricken, William, Virtual Reality: Directions
of Growth, Notes from the SIGGRAPH, 90 (1990), 9091.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

academic awareness. Contemporary literature reflects this, with perceived applications of


VR ranging across education, manufacturing, commerce, entertainment, sex, and war.76
Virtual became increasingly popular through the 1990s (figures 3.9 -10). Circa 1995-96
overall publication numbers increased drastically, and virtual became considerably
more visible (figure 3.9-12). Usage of virtual as meaning computer enabled, including
simulations and online, became far more common, as did virtual space in any
computerised medium. Causes for this growth will be discussed in chapter 4.

76See Blanchard, Chuck, Scott Burgess, Young Harvill, Jaron Lanier, Ann Lasko, Mark
Oberman, and others, Reality Built for Two: A Virtual Reality Tool, in Proceedings of
the 1990 Symposium on Interactive 3D Graphics, I3D 90 (New York, NY, USA, 1990),
3536 <http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/91385.91409> [accessed 28 August 2014]; and
also Bricken, William, Learning in Virtual Reality. ERIC Viewpoints, 1990
<http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED359950> [accessed 28 August 2014]; and also Pentland,
Alex, Computational Complexity Versus Virtual Worlds, in Proceedings of the 1990
Symposium on Interactive 3D Graphics, I3D 90 (New York, NY, USA, 1990), 18592
<http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/91385.91444> [accessed 28 August 2014]; and also
Bricken Learning, 9091; and also Mercurio, Philip J., Thomas Erickson, D. Diaper, D.
Gilmore, G. Cockton, and B. Shackel, Interactive Scientific Visualization: An
Assessment of a Virtual Reality System., in INTERACT, 1990, 74145
<http://thyrd.org/mercurio/cv/cvmedia/brainvr.pdf> [accessed 1 September 2014]
for examples.

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Academia

Figure 3.10: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 2000
72705

100000

Physics Computer Science Information Science 14410


Virtual12445
Reality/Virtual Space
9170
10000
4585
3275 3275
1965
1310
1000

655 655

Number
hmic)stry
Medi
cine of Publ
Enginiceeriatinogns (logaritChemi

Earth Sciences
100

10
Economics Social Science

Augmented Reality
1
Subject

2000 sees academic literature on virtual space continue to grow, though virtual reality makes a smaller proportion of it than in 95 (see figures 3.11-12). Computer and information science continue to grow, as does medicine, which increasinly uses virtual

Figure 3.9: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 1995
100000
Physics

25038
Computer Science Information Science Virtual Reality/Virtual Space
10000 7254
4446
2106
14041170
1000

Number
Medi
cine of Publications
Engineering (logarithmi
Chemic)stry
100

468
234
Earth Sciences

700

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Similarly meanings of virtual developed. Self-publication and web-journals led to


increases in publishing in, among other areas, VR research. By 2000, considerable
literature concerning the technology, social ramifications and potential uses of virtual
reality and virtual space was available.77 Concurrently, virtual became established as a
popular byword for anything accessible online: virtual chat rooms, hangouts, libraries,
and shops were all commonplace.78
In the run up to 2000, literature increasingly discussed the sociological, psychological
and physiological ramifications of the use of virtual space, particularly with regards to
internet addiction, and the use of VR in training and psychological rehabilitation. 79
Specialist uses of virtual became so relatively sparse as to almost disappear, even
though their absolute numbers grew. Virtual as supposition (e.g. virtually destitute)
persisted throughout literature, as did virtual hardware and virtual particles, but form a
small minority compared to computerised virtuality in the 21st century.
By 2000 however emphasis seemed to shift away from VR and toward virtual space,
especially online. A prevalent topic was interpersonal exchange of data, primarily via the
internet and World Wide Web (figures 3.11-12), particularly the contributive virtual

77See Shivakumar, K. N., P. W. Tan, and J. C. Newman Jr, A Virtual Crack-Closure


Technique for Calculating Stress Intensity Factors for Cracked Three Dimensional
Bodies, International Journal of Fracture, 36/3 (1988), R43R50; and also Herz, J.C.
C., Surfing on the Internet: A Netheads Adventures on-Line, 1st edn (Boston, MA,
USA, 1995); and also Satava, Richard M., Medical Applications of Virtual Reality,
Journal of Medical Systems, 19/3 (1995), 27580; and also Wiederhold, Brenda K.,
Virtual Reality in the 1990s: What Did We Learn?, CyberPsychology & Behavior, 3/3
(2000), 31114 for examples.
78See OMalley, Michael, Building Effective Course Sites: Some Thoughts on Design
for Academic Work, Inventio, 2 (2000), 111; and also Orick, Jan T., The Virtual
Library: Changing Roles and Ethical Challenges for Librarians, The International
Information & Library Review, 32/3-4 (2000), 31324; and also. Yetkiner, I. Hakan,
and Csilla Horvth, Macroeconomic Implications of Virtual Shopping: A Theoretical
Approach, Managing Internet and Intranet Technologies in Organizations:
Challenges and Opportunities, 2000, 104 for examples.
79 Constable, Nicole, Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and
Mail Order Marriages (2003); and also Brook, James, and Iain A. Boal, Resisting the
Virtual Life: The Culture and Politics of Information (1995)
<https://www.magamall.com/Client/Disticor/DisticorDirect_LP4W_LND_WebStation.ns
5/96f10a97c486a71785256fb2000017a6/cc35f5881e62888185256fab001fdab2!
OpenDocument> [accessed 28 August 2014]; and also Fernback, Jan, and Brad
Thompson, Virtual Communities: Abort, Retry, Failure? (1995)
<http://www.rheingold.com/texts/techpolitix/VCcivil.html> [accessed 28 August
2014].

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

spaces of DiNuccis Web 2.0.80 Possible causes for this shift shall be discussed in the
following chapter.

80 DiNucci, Darcy, Fragmented Future, Print, 53/4, August 1999, 32, 22122.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.12: Distribution of articles discussing virtual reality and virtual space in 2000 (of a total pool of around 350,000 articles using the word virtual)

30%
Virtual Reality
Virtual Space

70%

Academia [AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]


In these two figures the distribution of usages of virtual changes from 1995 to
2000. In 1995 the majority of uses of virtual within the broader subject of virtual
reality/virtual space pertain to immersive virtual reality, by 2000, the majority
pertain to computerised virtual space.

Figure 3.11: Distribution of articles discussing virtual reality and virtual space in 1995 (of a total pool of around 60,000 articles using the word virtual)

Virtual Reality

41%

Virtual Space
59%

Around 2000 VR was increasingly re-named as Immersive Virtual Reality (or IVR)
highlighting a disconnect between it and more easily accessible virtual spaces. 81 An
unusual trend is revealed at this point however, whilst overall publication numbers
increased, the proportion of those concerning virtual reality decreased from around 58%
of publications in 1995 to around 26% in 2000. Within the growth in virtual literature
there is a real-terms decline VR publishing.
Use of virtual however continued to alter across academia as a whole. Within the
meteoric growth of publications at this time, computer science and virtual space studies
still form the largest categories, but increasingly overlap with social science,
engineering, medicine, chemistry, and others, as virtual technologies became
commonplace (figures 3.13-14).

81 Pugnetti, Luigi, Laura Mendozzi, Achille Motta, Annamaria Cattaneo, Elena


Barbieri, and Aaron Brancotti, Evaluation and Retraining of Adults Cognitive
Impairments: Which Role for Virtual Reality Technology?, Computers in Biology and
Medicine, 25/2 (1995), 21327; and also Hiltz, Starr Roxanne, Teaching in a Virtual
Classroom, International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 1/2 (1995),
18598.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Research on VR and virtual space continued to decline proportionally throughout the


2000s. Concurrently, virtual increasingly denoted computerised processes such as;
internet-based heritage, law and policing, trading, and training. These all used virtual
space rather than IVR.82 Unsurprisingly therefore, publications concerning IVR
decreased from 2000-10 while overall publications, and broader internet studies,
incorporating virtual law, education, and life, grew (figure 3.15).

82See Carr, Karen, and Rupert England, Simulated and Virtual Realities: Elements of
Perception (Kentucky, 1995), 98; and also Psotka, Joseph, Immersive Training
Systems: Virtual Reality and Education and Training, Instructional Science, 23/5-6
(1995), 40531; and also Stone, R., and T. Ojika, Virtual Heritage: What Next?, IEEE
MultiMedia, 7/2 (2000), 7374; and also Greenhalgh, C., and S. Benford, MASSIVE: A
Distributed Virtual Reality System Incorporating Spatial Trading, in , Proceedings of
the 15th International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems, 1995, 1995,
2734; and also Byassee, William S., Jurisdiction of Cyberspace: Applying Real World
Precedent to the Virtual Community, Wake Forest Law Review, 30 (1995), 197, for
examples.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.14: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 2010
1000000
Virtual Reality Virtual Space 220400 Computer Science
101900
100000 5790071600
33000
24800
16500
13800
11000
11000
8300 8300
10000
5500 5500
Augmented Reality Internet Studies Information Science Medicine
Physics

Number of Publications (logarithmic)

Economics

Engineering

1000

Social Sci100ence

Chemistry

10
Ecology

Archaeology
1
Subject

By 2010 Physics and virtual reality research become increasingly hard to see in samples, dwarfed by virtual space research, computer science, internet studies, and medicine. All of these subject use 'virtual' to refer to either virtual spaces or immersive

Figure 3.13: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 2005
1000000
100000

240900
92200

50500
26700
23800
Physics Virtual Reality Virtual Space Computer Science Informatio17800
n Science
10100
6000
6000
10000

Number of publications (logarithmic)

1000
100

Medicine Economics

Engineering Social Science

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

By 2010, virtual spaces were widely used in academic research and practice, particularly
medicine, engineering, social science, chemistry, ecology, and archaeology.83 Virtual
reconstruction, simulation, and education permeated disciplines, all using virtual
environments. Medicine also employed IVR considerably in training, rehabilitation, and
pre-surgery warmups.84 Virtual changed in meaning for many over the previous decade,
meaning computerised for the bulk of American academics. Similarly simulation now
held predominantly computer-generation connotations over imagination.
Concurrently, virtual was adopted widely by internet studies, incorporating anything
experienced through computer (not necessarily online), and almost all disciplines had
some form of virtual practice, increasing the diffusion of virtual in literature.85
From 2005-10, usage referring to IVR entered a sharp decline (from over 90,000 articles
to over 30,000). Virtual hardware remained a common usage in computer science.
83See Bawaya, Michael, Virtual Archaeologists Recreate Parts of Ancient Worlds,
Science, 327/5962 (2010), 14041; and also Sequeira, Lus Miguel, and Leonel
Caseiro Morgado, Virtual Archaeology in Second Life and Opensimulator, Journal For
Virtual Worlds Research, 6/1 (2013) <http://jvwr-ojsutexas.tdl.org/jvwr/index.php/jvwr/article/view/7047> [accessed 29 August 2014];
and also Barreau, Jean-Baptiste, Ronan Gaugne, Yann Bernard, Gatan Le Cloirec,
and Valrie Gouranton, Virtual Reality Tools for the West Digital Conservatory of
Archaeological Heritage, in Conference on Virtual Reality, 2014, 14
<http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01003416> [accessed 1 September 2014]; and
also Zurell, Damaris, Uta Berger, Juliano S. Cabral, Florian Jeltsch, Christine N.
Meynard, Tamara Mnkemller, and others, The Virtual Ecologist Approach:
Simulating Data and Observers, Oikos, 119/4 (2010), 62235; and also Meroney,
Robert N., and Russ Derickson, Virtual Reality In Wind Engineering: The Windy World
Within The Computer, Journal of Wind and Engineering, 11/2 (2014), 1126 for
examples.
84See Golomb, Meredith R., Brenna C. McDonald, Stuart J. Warden, Janell Yonkman,
Andrew J. Saykin, Bridget Shirley, and others, In-Home Virtual Reality Videogame
Telerehabilitation in Adolescents With Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy, Archives of
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 91/1 (2010), 18.e1; and also Snider, Laurie,
Annette Majnemer, and Vasiliki Darsaklis, Virtual Reality as a Therapeutic Modality
for Children with Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 13/2 (2010),
12028; and also Lerner, Michelle A., Mikias Ayalew, William J. Peine, and Chandru P.
Sundaram, Does Training on a Virtual Reality Robotic Simulator Improve
Performance on the Da Vinci Surgical System?, Journal of Endourology, 24/3
(2010), 46772; and also Calatayud, Dan, Sonal Arora, Rajesh Aggarwal, Irina
Kruglikova, Svend Schulze, Peter Funch-Jensen, and others, Warm-up in a Virtual
Reality Environment Improves Performance in the Operating Room:, Annals of
Surgery, 251/6 (2010), 118185 for examples.
85 Consalvo, Mia, and Charles Ess, The Handbook of Internet Studies (2011); and
also Page, Diana, and Richard G. Platt, Virtual Teams: Meeting the Next Challenge for
Experiential Education, Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential
Learning, 27/0 (2014) <https://absel-ojsttu.tdl.org/absel/index.php/absel/article/view/897> [accessed 29 August 2014].

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Predominantly during the 2000s, virtual referred to some form of computerised


simulation, but not an immersive experience.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.16: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 2012
1000000
270200
194900
181600
Physics

Virtual Reality Virtual Space100000


Computer Science Internet66500Studies
39900
26600 26600 26600 22200
17700
13300
8700
10000

1000
Augmented
s Chemi
Number ofRealpublity icMathemati
ations (locgari
thmics)try Ecology

Engineering

100

Medicine

Psychology Biology

10

1
Subject
2012 saw an explosion in literature on virtual reality, increasing sixfold within two years. Literature on virtual spaces, particularly online, remained the dominant subject, and virtual as refer ing to gomputer-generated spaces further established itself

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.15: Approximate publications using 'virtual' from 2001-2014 (value for 2014 extrapolated from figures to 10th Sep 2014)
1200000

1079000

1000000

886000
738000

800000
600000

595000

Number of publications Number of publications


400000
200000
0

Year (C.E.)
Academic publications using 'virtual' continue to grow in numbers through the 2000s to 2014, it's estimated that 2014 wil see over 1 mil ion American academic publications using 'virtual' for the first time.

Following 2010, growth continued, but IVR research continued to decline. Virtual was
rarely used in the context of Sutherlands vision, instead captioning anything
computerised. Usage often pertained to virtual environments like videogames and virtual
spaces like Second Life and Facebook, continuing existing trends.86

86See Baltar, Fabiola, and Ignasi Brunet, Social Research 2.0: Virtual Snowball
Sampling Method Using Facebook, Internet Research, 22/1 (2012), 5774; and also
Back, Mitja D., Juliane M. Stopfer, Simine Vazire, Sam Gaddis, Stefan C. Schmukle,
Boris Egloff, and others, Facebook Profiles Reflect Actual Personality, Not SelfIdealization, Psychological Science, 2010
<http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2010/01/28/0956797609360756> [accessed
29 August 2014]; and also Wiecha, John, Robin Heyden, Elliot Sternthal, and Mario
Merialdi, Learning in a Virtual World: Experience With Using Second Life for Medical
Education, Journal of Medical Internet Research, 12/1 (2010)
<http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2821584/> [accessed 29 August
2014]; and also Honey, Michelle, Kelley Connor, Max Veltman, David Bodily, and
Scott Diener, Teaching with Second Life: Hemorrhage Management as an Example
of a Process for Developing Simulations for Multiuser Virtual Environments, Clinical
Simulation in Nursing, 8/3 (2012), e79e85; and also Kaplan, Andreas M., and
Michael Haenlein, Users of the World, Unite! The Challenges and Opportunities of
Social Media, Business Horizons, 53/1 (2010), 5968; and also McMahan, R.P., D.A
Bowman, D.J. Zielinski, and R.B. Brady, Evaluating Display Fidelity and Interaction
Fidelity in a Virtual Reality Game, IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer
Graphics, 18/4 (2012), 62633; and also Hamari, Juho, and Vili Lehdonvirta, Game
Design as Marketing: How Game Mechanics Create Demand for Virtual Goods,
International Journal of Business Science and Applied Management, 5/1 (2010), 14
29 for examples.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Usage trends changed in around 2012-13 when publishing on IVR increased (figure
3.16). IVR was increasingly discussed across many disciplines with a wide range of
intended uses. For the first time since the early 90s IVR is visible in market analysis. 87
From 2012-14, trends continued changing, usage retaining much of its 2000s,
computerised meaning, but also regaining many connotations with simulated worlds,
sensory replacement and immersion (figures 3.17-18).
From late 2012, publications discussing wide-ranging uses of IVR have become more
widespread across many disciplines, especially, as in the 2000s, medicine during what is,
for many, IVRs golden age.88
From 2013-14, much of this literature is tied to Oculus Rift. 89 Usage by 2014 is mostly
divided between IVR, virtual environments (such as websites), and Virtual Learning
Environments (VLEs). Specialist uses persist (figure 3.18), but form decreasing

87 Guttentag, Daniel A., Virtual Reality: Applications and Implications for Tourism,
Tourism Management, 31/5 (2010), 63751; and also Pearlman, David M., and
Nicholas A. Gates, Hosting Business Meetings and Special Events in Virtual Worlds: A
Fad or the Future?, Journal of Convention & Event Tourism, 11/4 (2010), 24765.
88 Cerf, Vinton G., Virtual Reality Redux, Communications of the ACM, 57/1 (2014),
77; and also Psotka, Joseph, Educational Games and Virtual Reality as Disruptive
Technologies, 2013 <http://localhost:8080/jspui/handle/123456789/1524>
[accessed 29 August 2014]; and also Laver, Kate, Stacey George, Susie Thomas,
Judith E. Deutsch, and Maria Crotty, Virtual Reality for Stroke Rehabilitation, Stroke,
43/2 (2012), e20e21.
89See Bolas, M., P. Hoberman, Thai Phan, P. Luckey, J. Iliff, N. Burba, and others,
Open Virtual Reality, in 2013 IEEE Virtual Reality (VR), 2013, 18384; and also
Young, Mary K., Graham B. Gaylor, Scott M. Andrus, and Bobby Bodenheimer, A
Comparison of Two Cost-Differentiated Virtual Reality Systems for Perception and
Action Tasks, in Proceedings of the ACM Symposium on Applied Perception, SAP 14
(New York, NY, USA, 2014), 8390 <http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/2628257.2628261>
[accessed 29 August 2014]; and also Desai, Parth Rajesh, Pooja Nikhil Desai, Komal
Deepak Ajmera, and Khushbu Mehta, A Review Paper on Oculus Rift-A Virtual Reality
Headset, arXiv:1408.1173 [cs], 2014 <http://arxiv.org/abs/1408.1173> [accessed 29
August 2014]; and also Hoffman, Hunter G., Walter J. Meyer, Maribel Ramirez, Linda
Roberts, Eric J. Seibel, Barbara Atzori, and others, Feasibility of Articulated Arm
Mounted Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Goggles for Adjunctive Pain Control During
Occupational Therapy in Pediatric Burn Patients, Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and
Social Networking, 17/6 (2014), 397401; and also Byagowi, Ahmad, Saloni Singhal,
Michael Lambeta, Cassandra Aldaba, and Zahra Moussavi, Design of a Naturalistic
Navigational Virtual Reality Using Oculus Rift, Journal of Medical Devices, 2014
<http://energyresources.asmedigitalcollection.asme.org/data/Journals/JMDOA4/0/ME
D-14-1120.pdf> [accessed 1 September 2014] for examples.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Figure 3.17: Approximate subject distribution of journal publications using 'virtual' in 2014 (until 10th Sep)
1000000
Virtual Space233700Computer Science
154600
93500
100000
39600
288002880032400
2160018000
10800 1080010800
7200
10000
Internet Studies Augmented Reality Mathematics Chemistry
Physics

Virtual Reality

Number of publications (logarithmic)

Ecology

Engineering

1000

Medi100cine

Economics

10
Social Science Archaeology
1
Subject
By 2014 publications in virtual reality and virtual space continue to dominate the field. Engineering and medicine are each well represented, and deal equally with virtual spaces and specialist uses of the word. The overwhelming usage of 'virtual' in 2014

proportions of the broader corpus.

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Immersive Virtual Reality

Figure
3.18: Uses of "virtual" in
Virtual Environments
academia during 2014
Virtual Learning
Environments
(until
10th Sep)
Online Virtual Spaces
Virtual Hardware
Virtual Machines
Virtual screening (pharmacy)
Virtual procedures (Medicine)
Virtual teams (business)
Supposition
Virtual particles (physics)
Virtual Water (manufacuring/ecology)
Virtual dimensionality (spectometry)
Virtual Human Resource Development (business)
Virtual Organizations (computer science)
Virtual representation (eg avatars)
Virtual heritage (archaeology)
Virtual Work (engineering)
Virtual Private Networks (computing)
Virtual endoscopy (medicine)
Virtual histology (medicine)
Virtual knots (mathematics)
Virtual tissue (biology)
Virtual enterprises (economics)
Virtual power (robotics)
Virtual Compton scattering (physics)
Virtual formulas (mathematics)
Virtual Ghost Imaging (physics)
Abstract Virtual Humans (social science)
Virtual motion (mathematics)
Virtual government (political science)

Academia

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

By 2013, virtual reclaimed much of its 1980s uses, and 2013-14 sees a wide body of
literature on virtual technology, including IVR. Whilst virtual did not lose any of its 90s
and 2000s usage for computerised and web enabled spaces, it also pertains again to a
kind of technology attempted before but never successfully realised. The academic
attitude to IVR in 2013-14 is arguably akin to that toward a completely new technology.
For the first time since the 80s, IVR is broadly understood to be feasibly applicable in
2013-14. The persistence of uses of virtual to denote online and computerised spaces
however provides a context to virtuality missing in the 80s. This time there is a wellestablished body of virtual worlds and environments already in existence. IVR, therefore,
may be seen as an extension of those worlds, a new point of access, or a new means of
experiencing extant virtual space. IVR in 2013 and beyond is no longer just a tool for
experiencing computer-generated spaces. It is a tool for entering, interacting with, and
experiencing the plethora of extant virtual worlds.

The Public Eye

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

TH E P U B LI C E Y E

Journalistic coverage of virtual technologies is sparse across the early history of VR. The
overwhelming usage of virtual until the present day is the vernacular virtual as
supposition. The first mention of virtual hardware seemingly comes in the Nashua
Telegraph in 1970, which is when the RCA 3 and 7, early computers with virtual
hardware, were introduced to the consumer market.90
A fuller technical explanation of the workings of virtual memory came two years later, in
the Albuquerque Journal among others, as IBM introduced virtual memory to its main
range of commercial machines.91 This usage was clearly new, always appearing in
inverted commas. The term became increasingly popular, and it appeared in more and
more news sources and advertisements.
Usage of virtual in the context of a virtual reality persists far into colloquial antiquity,
appearing in newspapers since at least 1888.92 There it meant supposed reality, or reality
in practice, rather than synthetic or imaginary space.
The first usage of virtual to mean computerised virtual reality appears in 1988, the year
after Laniers coining of the phrase. It was mentioned briefly as an area of expertise held
by Doctor Brenda Laurel, a pioneer in virtual reality theory and gender equality in game
development.93
Books and film concerning virtual space also developed in the 80s. Whilst Gibsons
Neuromancer had been the first novel to publicise the notion (but not the name) of
90 Sayre, 56-60; and also Commercial Computers Introduced, Nashua Telegraph (16
September 1970), 14.
91 IBM Memory on Big Computer Could Bite Small Firms Income, Albuquerque
Journal (3 August 1972), 59.
92 Auspicious for Galveston, The Galveston Daily News (10 September 1888),
section The Daily News, 11.
93 Beato, G, Girl Games, Wired, 5/04, April 1997, 2123; and also Bloom, Stephen,
Nerds, Santa Cruz Sentinel (28 February 1988), section D, D1, D6.

The Public Eye

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

virtual reality and of networked virtual spaces like the internet in 1984, he wasnt the
first to conceive of a networked virtual environment. That was, arguably, Eye in the Sky,
by Dick in the 1950s.94 The early 80s did however see several films exploring concepts
of simulation and virtual space, at a time when home computing and the internet began
registering in American cultural consciousness. Lisbergers Tron, Badhams War Games,
and Cronenbergs Videodrome all dealt with virtual existence and virtual space.95
Growing internet use, coupled with Laniers virtual reality in the late 80s and Trenchs
documentary Cyberpunk in 1991 (featuring both Gibson and Lanier), drove notions of
IVR into the American Weltanschauung, particularly film.96 The first film to clearly
discuss VR was Leonards The Lawnmower Man, in 1992, followed in 95 by Longos
Johnny Mnemonic.97
Following Laniers popularisation of virtual reality, journalistic mentions became more
common. In 1996 the Indiana Gazette ran a small piece explaining what virtual reality
means, because people talk about [it].98 Virtual reality was identified as a technology
using computer generation to replace the real world with something realistic or
unrealistic.
However the mid-90s also see a significant change in attitude towards IVR. IVR games
and theatres had tried to push into the American market, but were let down by the high
contrast between performance and public optimism, which itself had been fuelled by
marketing hype, advertising, and popular news sensationalism. Failure (overwhelmingly
in the case of the Nintendo Virtual Boy) to meet these expectations in turn fuelled
pessimism about the future of IVR technology, increasingly considered in many popular
sources to be a pipe dream towards 2000.
In those years, magazine and newspaper coverage continued, though more slowly than in
the early-to-mid-90s. Films including the Wachowskis The Matrix and Cronenbergs
94 Hapgood, Frank, Simnet, Wired, 5/04, April 1997, 811; and also Gibson, William,
Neuromancer (London, 1986); and also Dick, Philip K., Eye in the Sky (New York,
1957).
95 Badham, John, WarGames, 1983; and also Lisberger, Steven, TRON, 1982; and
also Cronenberg, David, Videodrome, 1983.
96 Trench, Marianne, Cyberpunk, 1991.
97 Leonard, Brett, The Lawnmower Man, 1992.
98 NIE Q&A, The Indiana Gazette (4 February 1996), section Leisure, E6.

The Public Eye

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

eXistenZ in 1999 stimulated popular discussion of VR, though in these, IVR is


subversive, not empowering (perhaps due to the contemporary growth in online fraud,
identity theft, and internet addiction).99 Usage of virtual reality in late 90s and early 21 st
century journalism and magazines increasingly pertains to science fiction, film and video
games, not IVR itself, a technology broadly considered impractical or impossible.
As VR moved toward science fiction and away from real-world use, virtual spaces
(particularly on the World Wide Web) were moving into the popular sphere. Books
concerning internet safety, or explaining what the internet was, became more popular. 100
With these, virtual in popular media linked increasingly closely with online spaces and
computerised activities.101
IVR continued in popular journalism, particularly in specialist applications and
futurology.102 Whilst there was hope for IVRs future, its present remained unfeasible.
Since 2012 newspaper, magazine, and online journalism concerning the advantages and
potential benefits of contemporary IVR has grown.103 Specialist uses are almost invisible.
99 Wachowski, Andy, and Wachowski, Lana, The Matrix, 1999; and also Cronenberg,
David, eXistenZ, 1999.
100See Reese, Jean, Internet Books for Educators, Parents, and Students (1999); and
also Gralla, Preston, How the Internet Works (1998); and also Young, Kimberly S.,
Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction--and a Winning
Strategy for Recovery (1998); and also Raatma, Lucia, Safety on the Internet (1999)
for examples.
101 Beliefnet.com Seeks an Interfaith Niche amid the Internet Maze, The Daily
Herald (1 January 2000), section 5, 3; and also Buck, Graham, Virtual Surgery May
Become a Reality, The Daily Herald (1 January 2000), section 5, 1; and also Calucci
Is on Bloomsburg Universitys Deans List, Standard-Speaker (8 January 2000), 20;
and also W, Cyberspace, the Health Frontier, The Salina Journal (12 January 2003),
section USA WEEKEND, 8.
102 Rippey, Gail, Schools Compete with Innovative Science and Computer Projects,
Tyrone Daily Herald (14 March 2000), 8; and also Holm Warda, Valerie, Up, up and
Away, Ukiah Daily Journal (9 January 2000), section A-5, A5.
103See Kuchera, 2014; and also Wingfield, Nick, Oculus Rift Headset Aims for
Affordable Virtual Reality, The New York Times, 18 February 2013, section
Technology <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/18/technology/oculus-rift-headsetaims-for-affordable-virtual-reality.html> [accessed 30 August 2014]; and also Hands
on: Oculus Rift Review, TechRadar
<http://www.techradar.comhttp://www.techradar.com/reviews/gaming/gamingaccessories/oculus-rift-1123963/review> [accessed 30 August 2014]; and also Stark,
Chelsea, Watch Surgery on the Oculus Rift, But Maybe Do It After Lunch, Mashable,
2014 <http://mashable.com/2014/08/14/watch-surgery-on-the-oculus-rift-but-maybedo-it-after-lunch/> [accessed 30 August 2014]; and also Schroeder, Stan, Report:
Facebook Wants to Bring Oculus Rift to Hollywood, Mashable, 2014
<http://mashable.com/2014/08/08/facebook-oculus-rift-hollywood/> [accessed 30
August 2014]; and also I Flew Like a Bird Using Oculus Rift, Gizmodo
<http://gizmodo.com/i-flew-like-a-bird-using-oculus-rift-1617189423> [accessed 30
August 2014]; and also I Wore the New Oculus Rift and I Never Want to Look at Real

The Public Eye

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Until late 2012 - early 2013 most sources discussing IVR derided it as a gimmick or
pipe dream, but this has decreased since then.104 Optimism concerning IVR seemed to
return.
Usage in popular journalism seems slower to change, and more general in scope than in
academia. The popularity of virtual as VR waxed and waned with product releases and
the market research of Hollywood. In 2014, virtual in the context of IVR seemed to be in
its second ascendancy, as IVR once again seems credible.

Life Again, Gizmodo <http://gizmodo.com/i-wore-the-new-oculus-rift-and-i-neverwant-to-look-at-1496569598> [accessed 30 August 2014]; and also Heaven, 20; for
examples.
104 The Prophet of Virtual Reality, Kotaku <http://kotaku.com/the-prophet-ofvirtual-reality-1545804458> [accessed 30 August 2014]; and also Wingfield, Oculus
Rift Headset; and also Orland, Virtual Reality That Doesnt Suck.

Patterns of Force

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

CHAPTER 4: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE HISTORY OF


VIRTUAL REALITY

PATT E R N S O F F O RC E

Variations in public attitude, and the influence they have on the consumption of IVR
technology are revealed through this semantic study of virtual. A divergence from the
broadly accepted history of the technology can be seen through this study and explained
below.
Semantic changes in the usage of key words therefore, including changes in distribution
and association as well as cognitive meaning, can be seen to bear a close and, in
academic contexts, rapid correlation to the development of technologies or concepts with
which that word can be associated. Technological innovations in recent years have
allowed a prototype IVR device to function far better than any of its predecessors, and
the impending technological reality of IVR is reflected in the usage of virtual, much as
it was during the aspirational technological reality of the late 1980s and early 90s. As
will be seen below, discourse concerning virtual can be seen to reflect and add nuance
to elements of the history of VR technology.
The mid-to-late-1960s saw little academic literature using virtual. It was mainly
connected to the virtual particles of physics, and only occasionally to virtual hardware in
computers. Virtual therefore held several meanings, including virtual hardware, but not
virtual environments. The reason for this can be seen in the history of the technology, as
IVR wasnt marketable at this time. Computers and software were too rudimentary and
too expensive, spatially and monetarily. Usage of virtual at the time can therefore be
seen to mirror the technological state of IVR; nascent and impractical, barely meriting
mention. Minimal usage matches minimal technology, and IVRs early stunted growth.
In 1966, virtual wasnt even directly associated with Sutherlands notion of what would
later become virtual reality. Associations with virtual hardware however can be

Patterns of Force

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

associated with technological development in computer science, suggesting a correlative


(potentially causative) link between word usage and technological development.
A computer with four times the power of one in 1966 could be built by 1970. 105 This rate
of development continued, as such, computer science literature grew through the 1970s.
Literature on simulated spaces and virtual experience remained minor. This dearth of
literature follows Schroeders lull in IVR development: following The Ultimate
Display the technology remained undeveloped as Sutherland moved on to computer
graphics, and remained that way until the 80s. 106 Much like Schroeders lull, this pause
was caused predominantly by technological limitations, as IVR was far from the
contemporary Zeitgeist.
The 1970s saw marked changes in the use of virtual, becoming more common within
computer science, which in turn saw publication numbers grow. By the mid-70s a large
range of disciplines were using virtual for specialist terms. The growth of publications
concerning virtual hardware at the time may have driven this change. 107 In 1977 the first
personal computer with graphics, the Apple II, was introduced. Whilst expensive at
$1,298 ($5,103 in 2014), it helped domesticate computer graphics, and thus notions of
virtual space.108
The American Department of Defence, continuing development of computerised flight
simulators, was the source of most IVR research at this time. Simulator sickness was
extremely common in the 60s-70s, prompting considerable medical literature. However,
simulators were semantically different to Sutherlands display and later VR, and
notwithstanding remained a small minority.

105 Moore, Gordon, E., Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits,
Electronics, April, 19 April 1965, 11417.
106 Schroeder, 20.
107 Kurzweil, Ray, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human
Intelligence (2000); and also Kurzweil, Ray, The Law of Accelerating Returns, 2001
<http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns> [accessed 4 September
2014]; and also Smart, John M., The Transcension Hypothesis: Sufficiently Advanced
Civilizations Invariably Leave Our Universe, and Implications for METI and SETI, Acta
Astronautica, 78 (2012), 5568.
108 Orange Micro, Introducing The Grappler: The Only Interface That Makes
Computer Graphics as Easy as Apple Pie, Byte, 06/08, August 1981, 141; and also
Wozniak, Stephen, The Apple-II, Byte, 02/05, May 1977, 3446; and also Apple,
Introducing Apple II, Byte, 02/06, June 1977, 1516.

Patterns of Force

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Whilst physics remained the dominant subject, the spread of computer technology led to
rapid growth of computer science literature. Early internet use, and the spread of
homebrew software and discussion, helped establish notions of computer graphics as
gateways to increasingly complex virtual environments. This in turn drove usage of
virtual in relation to computerised space and immersive virtual environments.
The growth of virtual in academic usage hides a plateau in IVR research, corresponding
to the slowing of VR research in Schroeders lull, and revealed through changes in the
usage of virtual away from immersive environment contexts. Growth in usage of
virtual within computer science suggests correlation between the development of
computer technology and incidence of virtual in computer science literature. Changes
in discourse reflect the history of the technology.109
Into the 1980s, usage of virtual concerning digital space, including the internet and
computer simulation became more common. This is seen in books and film as well as
magazines and journals, and follows technological developments in the same area.
Computers at the time were increasingly fast and affordable, similarly developments in
screen technology allowed smaller and brighter screens to be manufactured at lower cost.
Simultaneous innovations in motion tracking and computer programming allowed new
developments in IVR technology.110 The advancement of the component technologies of
IVR not only drove research, but discourse, and this can be seen through the usage of
virtual at the time shifting towards virtual environments and computer-generation.111
Multiple factors contributed to considerable growth of research into virtual worlds in the
early 80s, and this is mirrored in increased usage in academic and popular media. Usage
of virtual was simultaneously increasingly tied into computerisation and this is
mirrored in the history of the technology. Rapid expansion of the computer game design
industry contributed heavily to IVR research, as many experts came from a games
background, particularly from Atari.112 Military research made the most of advancements
in other technological sectors, and in 1983 the first networked virtual space was created
109 Rheingold, 1992; and also Schroeder, 1996.
110 Schroeder, 20; and also Biocca, Communication Within Virtual Reality; and also
Biocca Virtual Reality Technology.
111 Rogers, Everett M., Diffusion of Innovations, 4th Edition (2010), 14-5
112 Schroeder, 23.

Patterns of Force

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

in the form of SIMNET.113 This allowed participation and interaction in a computerised,


immersive virtual environment, and could be set against the dark background of growing
cultural awareness of sinister generated worlds marked in the popular media of Gibsons
Neuromancer and Cronenbergs Videodrome, both in the following year.114
Growth of usage of virtual in popular media (largely with connotations of empowerment,
entertainment, and escapism), especially the developing usage of virtual to mean
computerised simulation at this time, is especially revealing, as it highlights a cultural
awareness of the possibility of technologies like IVR. At the same time, there was a
growth of usage of virtual in academic contexts. A wide variety of new terms using
virtual were being used to describe old and new concepts alike in a wide range of
disciplines, but similarly the 1980s also saw the first growth to statistically significant
numbers of publications dealing with virtual worlds and the potential of IVR itself.
It is in the late 1980s and early 1990s that this study begins to highlight deviations from
the broadly accepted and visible history of IVR technology.
Usage of virtual follows not only technological development in IVR, but its place in
greater cultural awareness in America at this time, and the rapid growth and
multiplication of IVR companies, particularly in Silicon Valley.115 Jaron Laniers VPL
Research was one of many companies which, by the late 1980s, had functioning IVR sets
on the market. Laniers coining of the term virtual reality to denote this kind of
technology led to a boom in usage of virtual in both academic and popular contexts.
Usage of the word virtual as expression of virtual reality grew rapidly in the late 80s and
early 90s, and this can be seen to follow attempts to popularise and commercialise IVR.
Something clear from both popular and academic writing at the time is the great
optimism with which most people viewed VR. Whilst this optimism is perceived as a
continually growing and reinforcing element in the ascendency of IVR technology seen
in the work of Schroeder and others, there can also be seen a growing disillusion with the
technology from the 1990s onwards. Increasing numbers of popular and academic
sources discussed the shortfalls of virtual reality technology, particularly the persistence
113 Hapgood, Simnet; and also Miller, D.C., and J.A Thorpe, SIMNET: The Advent of
Simulator Networking, Proceedings of the IEEE, 83/8 (1995), 111423.
114 Schroeder, 22-3; and also Gibson, William, Neuromancer (London, 1986); and
alsoCronenberg, David, Videodrome, 1983.
115 Schroeder, 23.

Patterns of Force

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

of lag and the visual incongruity between computer simulation and the real world. The
poor quality of graphics at the time led some users of VR to experience what Masahiro
Mori called The Uncanny Valley (a term originally from the realm of robotics)
meaning a sensation where things seem familiar, but are still obviously synthetic. It is a
sensation which some IVR users found disturbing to the point of instinctual revulsion. 116
These flaws in the face of high public expectations seemed to damage the credibility of
the technology as they failed to be met time and again. IVRs growing unpopularity is
both revealed and given context by the changing distribution and usage of virtual at this
time.
Publication on IVR slowed as overall publications continued to grow rapidly in the
second half of the 1990s. The rapid, unparalleled overall growth in academic
publications seems closely tied to the fast spread of internet access in 1994 and 1995 by
the development of the World Wide Web. The cause of the tapering off of publications
specifically concerning IVR seems tied to the growing popular disillusion with the
technology. This seems primarily to have developed as IVR failed to meet popular
expectations. It resulted in an increasingly visible sense within academia that
applications of IVR may be more limited than originally thought in the late 1980s.
In a few years, the future of IVR seems to go from golden, to a mixture of doubt,
desperate hope, uncertainty, and frustration.117 The prevailing issue of simulator sickness
116 Mori, M., K.F. MacDorman, and N. Kageki, The Uncanny Valley [From the Field],
IEEE Robotics Automation Magazine, 19/2 (2012), 98100.; and also Moore, Roger K.,
A Bayesian Explanation of the Uncanny Valley Effect and Related Psychological
Phenomena, Nature, 2 (2012)
<http://www.nature.com/srep/2012/121115/srep00864/full/srep00864.html>
[accessed 10 September 2014]
117See Fisher, Lawrence, Pilots: Simulator Sickness Worries Military, The San
Bernadino County Sun (20 February 1989), section A, 1, 12; and also Mavor, Anne,
Living in a Virtual World, Indiana Gazette (26 December 1994), 2; and also New
Technology Moves Clemson into 21st Century, The Index-Journal (13 February 1994),
section 5, 5C; and also Fowlkes, Jennifer E., Robert S. Kennedy, Lawrence J.
Hettinger, and Deborah L. Harm, Changes in the Dark Focus of Accommodation
Associated with Simulator Sickness, Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine,
64/7 (1993), 61218; and also Kennedy, Robert S., Norman E. Lane, Michael G.
Lilienthal, Kevin S. Berbaum, and Lawrence J. Hettinger, Profile Analysis of Simulator
Sickness Symptoms: Application to Virtual Environment Systems, Presence:
Teleoper. Virtual Environ., 1/3 (1992), 295301; and also Kolasinski, Eugenia M.,
Simulator Sickness in Virtual Environments., May 1995; and also Kennedy, Robert S.,
Norman E. Lane, Kevin S. Berbaum, and Michael G. Lilienthal, Simulator Sickness
Questionnaire: An Enhanced Method for Quantifying Simulator Sickness, The
International Journal of Aviation Psychology, 3/3 (1993), 20320 for examples.

Patterns of Force

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

being the most damaging as, for most, it prohibited prolonged use of IVR expected in the
manner of, for instance, a television programme or a video game. This shift in attitude
towards IVR as a possible future technology rather than one of the present is not visible
in earlier histories, but is reflected in the shutdown of numerous IVR companies in the
early 90s, not least of which Laniers VPL Research, as well as in the changes in usage
of virtual, both academic and popular.
The first attempt to domesticate IVR came against this background of pessimism with
regards to IVR, in the form of Nintendos 1995 Virtual Boy games console. The lack of
optimism surrounding it at the time can be seen in the popular response to it in America.
It was universally panned for its unconvincing graphics and selection of games. The
Virtual Boy didnt cause simulator sickness for most as, unlike most headsets, it had to
be mounted onto a flat surface and didnt move. It was still rejected by the public though,
not on account of technological bottlenecks (particularly latency and simulator sickness)
but on account of a lack of appetite for the technology from a public increasingly
convinced that IVR was a pipe dream. 118 Its rapid removal from shelves in less than a
year marked the end of mass-market IVR. Shortly following that, academic and popular
discussions in IVR slowed even further, the tone becoming less and less aspirational and
more disappointed in popular media. Publications attenuated to predominantly niche
applications and business journalism, leaving it a gimmicky technology for those of a
nerdy persuasion.119 This popular perception of IVR as a technology that recurrently
failed to live up to its expectations contributed towards the decline in public appetite for
IVR devices and promises in the early-to-mid-90s, and is an element almost completely
ignored in existing histories, which remain overwhelmingly optimistic as late as 1996.
Usage of virtual shifted again in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and this can be seen to
reflect the technological history of VR. In academic writing, virtual as referring to IVR
continued to be represented in literature, but increasingly in highly specialised contexts,
such as medical and military training. Similarly IVR use moved from the mainstream at
this time and into highly specialised contexts, particularly medical education. Incidences
of IVR being discussed as popular entertainment or a viable medium for consuming
118 Orland, Kyle, Virtual Reality That Doesnt Suck; and also Rubin, The Inside
Story; and also The Prophet of Virtual Reality, Kotaku.
119 Bloom, Nerds.

Patterns of Force

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

visual media were increasingly rare, and almost non-existent in popular journalism. This
too was mirrored in the move of IVR out of vogue. Virtual in the context of IVR
continued to decline as a proportion of broader academic and popular texts until 2012.
Technological innovation in IVR for the corresponding time period was similarly and
unusually slow, as social pessimism persisted.
Throughout the 2000s there was rapid development in computer technology, web
science, display technologies, and almost every other technological field. Whilst there
were some attempts at IVR headsets and kits during this time for limited specialist usage,
it did not find its way back into the mainstream and, from a popular standpoint, was seen
by many as an 80s technology. In the manner of Betamax, Laserdisc, Minidisc, and
HD DVD storage formats, it was seen as redundant, and supplanted by improved
computer displays, including 3D displays from around 2003. 120 The pessimism of the last
attempt to push IVR into popular use remained broadly in the form of disbelief. Unlike
Betamax et. al. however, IVR wasnt supplanted by an alternate means to the same end;
an immersive synthetic space, but instead non-immersive synthetic space on a screen.
Nintendos self-described spiritual successor to the Virtual Boy in 2010, the 3DS,
similarly used a 3D screen, not even hinting at the immersion that the Virtual Boy
attempted (and, incidentally, being far more successful).121
Public perceptions of IVR can be seen to lend considerable nuance to the history of the
technology, as the difference between display methods can be seen to be far more than
semantic or purely technological. Immersive displays remained a future technology; but
as computer graphics improved, the desire for immersive computer-generated experience
grew, having been piqued, and frustrated in the late 80s and early 90s. The lull in
publication and appearance in academic and popular media is tied not to a slowdown of
technological development of the component parts of the IVR technology cluster, but to
considerable public reluctance, in the face of such technologies and the disappointment
they continue to pose. IVR at the time was understood to only gain mass popularity if the
120 Iizuka, Keigo, Cellophane as a Half-Wave Plate and Its Use for Converting a
Laptop Computer Screen into a Three-Dimensional Display, Review of Scientific
Instruments, 74/8 (2003), 363639.
121 Tabuchi, Hiroko, Nintendo to Make 3-D Version of Its DS Handheld Game, The
New York Times, 23 March 2010, section Technology; and also Nintendo, Hardware
and Software Sales Units, IR Information, 2014
<http://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/en/sales/hard_soft/index.html> [accessed 9 September
2014].

Patterns of Force

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

viewer could truly believe what they were seeing; for anything less, a screen was far
preferable for economic, ergonomic, and experiential reasons.
IVR headsets were available throughout the 2000s but were prohibitively expensive for
all but institutional or state-funded projects. They also served specific functions training, education, not entertainment - and they were not sufficiently advanced to merit
such use. The appetite for a viable immersive digital experience persisted though, and it
was only when it seemed that the appetite might be realistically sated that an earnest
interest began to develop. As such, when technology start-up company Oculus pitched
their concept for an affordable, zero-latency IVR system to the public, money was
quickly donated to build prototypes, a process which continues into 2014.
Even though the device has not been released by time of writing, considerable literature
has arisen from those either using development kits or discussing the potential of such
devices which, unlike their predecessors, actually seem to work as hoped. Beyond that
however, Oculus Rift and, more broadly, the notion of IVR, was being discussed
seriously for the first time against a background of existing virtual knowledge and virtual
space. The public in general was familiar with virtual conferences, hardware, networks,
space, even sex, by 2012. This provided a fertile bed of familiarity and knowledge that
helped IVR seem not only technologically feasible, but for the first time, socially
incorporable. This has helped reduce broader public concerns as to the feasibility and
potential of IVR technology and, through not only crowd-sourcing but also fresh public
optimism, an environment for IVR is developing in which it can flourish.
IVR seems feasible to both the academic community and the broader public for the first
time in almost 20 years. This increased interest can be seen in the growth of publications
using the word virtual, and the increased usage of virtual to specifically refer to
immersive virtual spaces. Once again, the change in distributions of usage, from a small
proportion to a large one using virtual to refer to Laniers notion of virtual reality,
highlights technological developments and the resulting growth in public appetite for
such technologies. This is a trend seen before in the late 1980s, but magnified in 2013 14 by the far greater reach of the Internet, and the long accumulating and unsaturated
appetite for Laniers virtual reality, Gibsons cyberspace, and Cronenbergs gamepods to
become more than a science-fiction dream or, at best, an embarrassing gimmick.

Fallout

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

CHAPTER 5: EVALUATION

FA L LO U T

This project originally set out to answer two research questions: 1) How does the
perceived meaning and significance of the word virtual change over time from 1966 to
2014, and for whom? 2) Can changes in the meaning of the word lend nuance to, or aid
revision of, understanding of the history of virtual spaces, particularly virtual reality
technology, and, if so, in what ways?
Question one could be said to have been investigated successfully. Changes in usage,
distribution, and either inferred or explicit meaning have been examined at intervals
from 1966 to 2014. Those changes have been highlighted and discussed; since the usage
of virtual has changed greatly from a broader public perspective, and is in a constant
state of flux across a wide variety of academic disciplines, in both meaning and subject.
In relation to the second question, there has similarly been progress made. Changes in
the usage of virtual can be tied in to both known histories of the technology of virtual
reality, and more broadly to computer technology. Beyond the last authoritative history
(Schroeder) in 1996, the report has been able to synthesise a general history of attitudes
to those technologies, which corresponds to the broad range of primary sources available
for study. Similarly further depth has been added to existing histories, by providing
further social context, highlighting changes in the perception of and reaction to VR
hitherto unstudied. It could be argued therefore that changes in the meaning of virtual,
and in the future other words and phrases, can add nuance to and reinforce
understandings of the historical development of some technologies or concepts. As seen
in chapter 4, linguistic analysis of sources using the word virtual can highlight phases
of popularity and disillusion with a technology or concept, and this can easily be
expanded to other areas or into a deeper historical study.

Fallout

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

Over the course of this project, a number of challenges to my initial assumptions were
revealed. The ease with which samples could be collected online was gravely
overestimated, as a basic search in any database uses a wide range of algorithms which
stack the results. This introduced bias which had to be counteracted by spreading the
sample evenly across the entire range of search results, increasing the time taken to
gather data. In addition, the rapidly changing nature of academic publications made some
extremely hard to compartmentalise by subject, and many could easily have inhabited
two or more valid subject categories. In these circumstances the final data point was
decided by the subject category of the parent publication of the article (an article on
information science in engineering, published in an engineering journal, would be
classed as engineering). This is far from an ideal method of resolution, and in future
alternatives would need to be reconsidered. A solution may be to break each sampled
article into percentages of relevance based on content (an article could be 20% medicine,
50% virtual reality, and 30% psychology, for example). Each year could then be divided
by continuous percentages, rather than discrete article counts. This method would be
extremely time-intensive however, as every interdisciplinary article sampled would need
to be read.
In addition the sources were overwhelmingly accessed online, as it is through
computerised databases that this approach becomes possible. There is therefore a blanket
level of bias introduced at the first stage: every source surveyed has to have been
digitised first. Even if the version used is in hardcopy, its flagged as relevant on an
online database and therefore needs to be listed within it. If there are intellectual property
laws of any kind preventing the digitisation of sources, those sources are not going to
appear in studies of this manner. However, as no librarys collection approaches that of
an online database, the alternative would merely be to lessen the sample size while
adding the condition sources must be available in libraries X, Y, and Z. Using physical
sources would also greatly decrease the rate of work, and the total sample size used
would correspondingly decrease without prohibitive use of people power and time.
It was hoped that greater nuance could be added to the existing history and general
consensus regarding the development of virtual reality technology through an approach
of this kind; and, to a certain extent, this has been achieved. Changing popular attitudes

Fallout

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

in particular have been able to hint at a growing sense of anxiety over whether IVR
would work in the late 80s and early 90s that wasnt plainly visible in the optimism of
existing histories or by looking simply at physical, technological evidence. However far
greater nuance to different social anxieties and mores with regards to any technology or
concept could be revealed by this technique, provided with larger samples and greater
space for study.
As a proof of concept however, the study has been a success; examination in trends of
the use of a key word have informed an historical study of a technology commonly
associated with that word. Future scholarship could benefit from adopting this semantic
keyword method for many different concepts and technologies, for instance the study of
libraries through the word librarian or a study of the American healthcare system
through the phrase health insurance. Similarly this kind of study is not only useful to
history, but to sociology, linguistics, etymology, and political science, among others. For
longer, or more detailed studies, a far greater number of samples, and more detailed
analysis, would be required.

Against A Dark
Background

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

CHAPTER 6: CONCLUSIONS

AG A I N S T A DA R K B AC K G R O U N D

Virtual Reality technology is an extremely broad moniker, integrating within it a wide


variety of possible definitions, which have changed from person to person and over time.
This is mirrored in the development of virtual itself, and changes in the meaning of
both the word and the expression are due to a number of factors elucidated by the study
above. Technological progress and bottlenecks helped shape perceptions of the virtual
more broadly, including Lanierian notions of virtual reality, specifically immersive
virtual reality. Similarly technological obstacles in the implementation of IVR in the
1960s led to a lack of academic interest in the development of the technology, and its
return in the 1980s caused further problems. The technological hurdles, thought at once
point to be largely overcome by the late 80s, persisted in several key areas that led IVR
to be unpalatable for many. This helped generate a social environment in America in
which IVR could not easily grow.
Pervasive and growing pessimism towards IVR, fostered by the overwhelming
disappointment that the technology proved to be in the late 1980s and early 1990s, drove
IVR development into niche areas and specialist uses. Even in those areas, IVR was far
from perfect, with latency and simulator sickness hindering prolonged use, and poor
computer graphics making use unimpressive for some and unnerving for others. There
was therefore both a social and technological requirement to future successes in VR that
had not yet been met. In the 60s, the technological level was insufficient and the social
appetite non-existent. In the 80s, the social appetite was positive, but again the required
technologies werent sufficiently advanced. In the 90s and 2000s the appetite was highly
negative and, while the technology was developing, expectations were far from met.
As can be seen however by study of recent discourse concerning IVR and virtuality in
general, American public attitude is shifting again. There is renewed optimism for IVR.

Against A Dark
Background

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

There has similarly been a recent spate of technological developments, and rapid
improvements in computing, which have helped make the technology of truly immersive
virtual reality displays possible in the mass market. IVR can once again be seen to have a
potential bright future.
This project set out to chart changing perceptions and usage of the word virtual, and to
examine whether that change could be used to alter understandings of the history of
Virtual Reality technology. The nature of VR technology as a technology cluster made
more traditional history challenging, as in doing so broader popular nuances to the
reception of a technology can be lost. In the 20th and 21st centuries, and in America more
than many countries, the attitude of the public to specific kinds of technologies can
impact not only their rate of adoption in the broader public sphere but also impacts
academic and innovative interest. This is not only from an economic standpoint, but a
sociological one: if a technology seems pass or disappointing in the broader civic
consciousness the incentive to devote time to its development and study could be
lessened by peer pressure alone. It also indicates potential commercial disinterest and a
lack of demand. The need for a deeper sociological context to the history of VR drove
this study into the linguistic, socially-focused project that resulted, and it has yielded
results. Conclusions can be drawn from this study about the environments in which VR
can flourish; the need not only for technological development, but social will and,
crucially, an accurate delivery of expectation to that society.
Sociological factors hindering the widespread development, discussion, and distribution
of VR technology in the late 1980s and 1990s have been rendered visible in this study
where they werent before. Existing historical studies show considerable optimism for
the future of VR in the 1990s, an optimism which was rapidly petering out at the time;
but this only becomes visible when conducting a broad survey of discourse, only
possible through this kind of keyword history. Furthermore, the same approach could
then be used to continue the history onward up to 2014, studying semantic change of a
key word to examine changing academic, scientific, and popular attitudes to VR
technology, and tying that in to known technological developments. It seems that, at least
in some cases, this technique can contribute social context to more easily visible
technological or developmental trends.

Against A Dark
Background

[AGAINST A DARK BACKGROUND]

This kind of study could feasibly be employed in other countries, and of course in
different languages. Nations in which publishing is greatly restricted or regulated by the
state will not yield the same broad sociological information, but could in contrast provide
deeper insight into the ambitions of the state. A comparison with publication in the
USSR has the potential to be extremely interesting.
There is a great deal that the existing histories got right. Waxes and wanes in the
development of the technology are closely tied to similar changes in the frequency and
kinds of usage of the word virtual over time. The point of difference comes as the
previous studies approached contemporaneousness. This potentially raises questions
about the current study however. In the midst of events as they happen, is it in any way
possible to truly perceive changing social attitudes as they occur? It seems that it was not
in 1996 and in 2014 the rate of change and exchange is so much faster that it almost must
be impossible. It may well be that, in the case of any contemporary historical study, the
inaccuracy of the results approaches infinity the closer one comes to the present day. In
two years, Virtual Reality may yet again be a disappointment. There is further
scholarship in the history of virtual reality on the horizon from veterans in the field, and
comparison between that and this projects conclusions could be highly revealing.
Accuracy in 2014 notwithstanding, this approach has been shown to yield valuable
information for preceding years, and is especially suited to adding depth to existing
histories. The temptation of oral histories for contemporary studies is considerable; but
for the history of many technologies, ideas, and movements in the 20 th and 21st centuries
change is too widespread and too fast for any number of personal recollections to
encompass or accurately reflect change. A valid alternative, it transpires, may be a broad
synoptic study of textual discourse, pinpointed through the study of a specific word or
phrase. These may be able to throw historical events into sharp relief against the dark
background of contemporary social attitude.

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