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Anna’s Anachronisms: Philo Farnsworth meets a VR Chamber

Walking down the narrow, neon-lined corridor, I clutched my headset tightly in my hands. The bewildered gentleman (who I guided along by the elbow) flicked his confused glance between his headset and the red door at the end of the hallway. In a thick Utah accent, he cleared his throat nervously before asking. “So, where are we going?” “I’m taking you to see what your inventions eventually allowed the creation of…” I giggled coyly. “Have you ever wished to see other world, Mr. Farnsworth?” “Please, call me ‘Philo”,” The man interjected before answering. “I suppose so, that’s why I invented the video camera tube. So many people around the world who cannot travel for themselves are left clueless to the true beauty of our planet, and all that happens on it.” I smirked silently as we came upon the door, and I twisted the thin silver arm to push the door gently open, revealing a blacked-out room lit only by a green laser grid bathing the whole room. “Time to put your headset on,” I piped as I fastened the strap under my chin and slipped on the accompanying gloves. In the VR eyepiece, a sprawling city laid out past the door. A thin catwalk of planks jutted from the doorway, creating a boxy-C shape like a hollow balcony. I heard the whispering of fabric pulled over Philo’s head, then an amazed gasp. “What in God’s name is this??” He exclaimed with awe. “This is called Virtual Reality. Thanks to video camera tubes and image dissectors, television evolved way past just the 2D plane of a screen… we can now build entire virtual universes that people can hear, touch, interact with.” Reaching to the side, I squeezed the man’s hand gently as I continued. “The gloves your wearing mimic pressure, texture, and temperature. Stick your hand out the door.” I had to pull his wrist up after a few moments of hesitance, but Philo eventually gave in and did as I’d asked. “Wow! It almost feels like a cool breeze…” “Isn’t it incredible? Now, step out onto the board.” In the VR space, I watched his avatar lean forward and peer over the edge before the faceless head shook in a rather resolute way. “Uh, I don’t like that. I’m gonna fall.” “You can’t fall, we’re only walking around a room. It just looks like we’re on a boardwalk.” “I know that! Just… my brain doesn’t know that, at the moment.” “Here,” I churred as I stepped out onto the boardwalk while pantomiming walking on a tightrope. My hands, only visible in the VRsphere as white gloves akin to that of a Disney cartoon, stretched out of my side in a feign of keeping balance. Dropping my arms to the side, I confidently side-stepped off the board– hearing an abhorred gasp and seeing the instinctive lurch forward Philo made triggering a fit of laughter as my avatar hovered mid-air a foot away from the plank. “See? It’s just an illusion. The game isn’t programmed to look like that. It’s just meant to be an experience.” “Well, I can experience enough standing where I can see the solid ground!” Philo growled, shakily edging back off the plank to the threshold of the door frame. “I don’t trust this one bit.” “C’mon, Philo, where’s that American bravery?” I teased as I skipped back on the board and jokingly pretended to struggle for my balance. “Fine!” He huffed. Keeping one hand outstretched towards me, he ambled forward step-by-step until he could rest his hands on my shoulder as he surveyed the scene around him. “I must say, this really is quite incredible. This is what my technology is used for?” “Way, way, way after your time… yes, we use technology that you pioneered to create beautiful programs and graphics like this.”

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