During Netsmart’s annual user conference we had a virtual reality pod for people to come and experience a different type of computing. Our intent was to introduce and challenge views on how we might compute as we think forward. For years we’ve seen many gadgets come our way. We’ve also seen the struggle to move beyond the initial hype and get to meaningful usage as we all experiment with tangible value for the user. As it often happens, just when it seems the technology world has reached the pinnacle of creativity and innovation, we begin to see how things might be. Products like Microsoft's virtual reality HoloLens are just beginning to develop their potential in turning the computing world, and our society, upside down.
A recent CBS This Morning article showed how virtual reality devices allowed seniors in an assisted living center to virtually revisit their homes. Those seniors who took the virtual trip home found the experience very meaningful and emotional. The potential to allow those with health issues or the aging to access the outside world through virtual means is as yet fairly untapped, but ripe with possibilities. The seniors also delighted in taking virtual trips to places like Yosemite National Park and the French countryside and enjoyed exploring the depths of the ocean. By opening up the entire world, albeit virtually, to those who for one reason or another have difficulty experiencing sights and sounds firsthand, gives individuals another avenue to feel as if they are truly engaging in life.
Another fairly obvious use of virtual reality is to increase the learning experiences of young people still in school. With virtual reality, students can take trips to locations all over the world rather than simply reading about historical sites from a textbook. There is unlimited potential to engage students in new learning experiences. Rather than showing students a film about the universe or, oceanography for example, they could experience (virtually) what it is actually like in space or deep within the ocean.
When technology can help us change the world we see, we will be able to move beyond simple computer screens and smartphones to an untold level of experience and learning. I’m not sure we will move beyond the keyboard and mouse during my tour in technology, but I believe we will get close.