The author has seen the future, and it wears a headset.
Perhaps better known for his hairstyle and hippie-ish ways (“in those days, it was super rare for white people to have dreadlocks, so I was quite exotic”) than for any specific bit of technology, computer pioneer and civil libertarian Lanier (Who Owns the Future?, 2013, etc.) has two purposes here. The first is to offer a vision of what virtual reality is and the cool things it can do, while the second is an amiable tour through his life and his perhaps unlikely course through the very beginnings of VR. As to the former, suffice it to say that Lanier was a smart, geeky kid who was thinking outsize thoughts even as a child (“I was obsessed with what’s usually called philosophy, and it helped”), and he had the benefit of growing up in an eccentric household that encouraged his explorations. As to the latter, working in a state university computer lab to wrestle out the secrets of code and algorithm, Lanier writes that he got hooked early on—not just by the nerdy coolness of the computer world, but also by the outright wonder of the sci-fi things it can bring to real life. In that aspect, the author is an evangelist for the good side of VR, which now offers insights into human perception and cognition that are forcing a radical re-evaluation of who we are. That’s definitely cool stuff. In relating it, Lanier veers between the plainspoken (“the human brain is so finely tuned to watching the human face that if anything is slightly off, the strangeness quickly becomes creepy”) and the mystical (“if the whole universe is your body, then talking would be beside the point”), with lots of solid tech-manual ponderings on phenotropic systems and formulas to boot.
A spirited exploration of tech by a devotee who holds out the hope that bright things are just around the corner.