“Mary, where are you?” I gently asked the daydreaming student who was obviously not with the rest of us in analyzing Wordsworth’s poetry.
My voice did not really awaken her since she murmured back, “On the beach”.
The laughter of the class awakened her and she blushed to the roots of her hair. That was many years ago, but I thought of her again as I read two articles this week about the next “newest” and “most important” invention: Virtual Reality.
I can’t say I understand it, but I have grasped a few points. One need no longer daydream like poor Mary. She, in this new world, could have donned a bit of technology that would literally create that beach world for her. She could stand on the sand and so escape the teacher bent on explaining rhyme and meter.
One author spoke of the refreshing benefits of going to another world, virtually, and then returning,renewed, , to reality. There seem to be no limits on the number of such “escapes”, so one could gradually drift completely away from the task at hand, it seems to me.
For those of us who have lamented the loss of active imagination as bits of technology: emails, text messages, music, fill our free moments, this is a new threat to creativity. I won’t have to imagine the streets of Paris. I could now virtually walk them. Will it recreate the battlefield at Gettysburg or the Pilgrims reaching Plymouth Rock? Will virtual reality reinforce the old falsities of some historical moments or will it correct our imaginings?
I confess to bewilderment as I imagine both its possibilities and its threats to the human imagination’s reach. Anything that short circuits our use of our own powers always worries me. My inattentive student had to work a bit to escape my lesson on poetry. She was mentally doing something. Now a pair of glasses will do it for her. Is this progress?
At this point I can only cling to the words of another poet, Alexander Pope: “Be not the first by whom the new is tried nor yet the last to lay the old aside”. If I ask you to join me on the beach will we virtually land on the same sand or will they be separate beaches? I can’t wait to find out.