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Rheingold, Virtual Reality (abstract) 1991

Rheingold narrates the history and development of virtual-reality (VR) technology from the 1970s through the 1990s. He explores many different applications of this new field, including those in biomedical molecular science, robotics, architecture, defense technology, prosthetics, gaming, and social interactions. The diversity of these applications is accounted for, in part, by what he terms the "convergence" of different technologies. In the case of VR technology, although people like Morton Heilig in the entertainment industry were interested in sensory stimulation as early as the 1950s, ultimately the field of computer science created the tools to make it possible, with funding (predictably) from established institutions such as the Department of Defense. Rheingold contextualizes cyberspace as we understand it today in the larger history of the development of computer technology, from the punchcard systems of the 1950s and 1960s, to the personal computers of the 1980s, to the use of the mouse and windows systems of the 1990s. He alludes to the notion of "text-based cyberspace phenomenon" (308) on the Internet, new multi-user dimensions (or MUDs) which evolved from 1980s narrative exploration games such as Adventure. Rheingold is interested in both scientific and human applications for virtual reality, and emphasizes the role of communication between people using computers to solve problems. He develops ideas about the relationship between communication and community further in his subsequent book, Virtual Community. (Kim Surkan.)

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Michael Hancher

Department of English, University of Minnesota

URL: http://umn.edu/home/mh/ebibks11.html

Comments to: mh@umn.edu

Created 31 May 1995

Last revised 17 September 1996