Cambrian: Opinion

Virtual reality changing the face of everything from football to health

When people ask what my older son does, I generalize and say he’s an IT guy. He now borders more on engineering, as he was sought out to put together a technology system for some company there in Portland, Oregon, that is on the cutting edge of virtual reality training, with brand new Microsoft equipment and grants. It’s a long story. Suffice to say, this 29-year-old dude was pretty thrilled.

He just so happens to have his own VR system, which he acquired recently.

“Yeah, I’ve got to move some of the furniture around though, because I keep running into things as I’m jumping off cliffs and stuff.”

That’s my boy. Lo and behold, I open the latest issue of Utne Reader, and there’s a long article on VR research and development (“The See Change,” Summer 2016).

For those of you who don’t know what VR is, but may have heard of “flight simulators” or remember the “America the Beautiful” ride at Disneyland, well, it’s that times 100. One puts on a special headset that encloses the top of your head. Suddenly, you can step into another place, time, world — and experience it with your whole body, as it were. While most people use or consider the prospect of this technology for gaming purposes, some folks have bigger and better goals for it, as the Utne Reader article outlined and as the company my son is developing the system for is working toward.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer credited VR for his career season last year. By being “dropped into” the field among players with specific plays programmed in, he could “feel” what was going to happen, rehearse the moves to be made, understand more deeply what he needed to do. While it didn’t physically prepare him to get sacked or having to run 80 yards, mentally, his body was programmed to be responsive.

Howard Rose, a Stanford residential fellow and CEO of Deep Stream VR makes an app called Cool!, “which is designed to immerse patients in a virtual world so thoroughly that they can manage chronic pain without drugs. Imagine a burn victim taking a virtual walk through a snowy forest.”

“Health care and education and design and architecture and training for doctors — the uses are much more significant and widespread than just entertainment,” Rose said.

As the article goes on, comparisons are made between radio, television and the internet, claiming this will be the next big tool in communication — a transformational way of experiencing life.

From the article: “Indeed, VR has been embraced by documentary filmmakers who have used the medium to bring viewers inside uncomfortable environments, helping them relate to urban hunger, domestic violence and forced migration. ‘It connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before,’ said filmmaker Chris Milk in a 2015 TED Talk.”

This was all very interesting given that a couple of articles later in the magazine was a touching story of IDPs (internally displaced persons), living underground in Syria, unable to afford to become refugees but unable to live among the violence and bloodshed in their homeland, living on bread and tea with mortars being dropped on them by the hundreds every day by rebels or Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“Caught between a vicious regime and the opposition: disorganized 20-year-olds with T-shirts and rifles, not only don’t they have any plan for the future, the problem is that they don’t even have rules for the present. They only think about themselves. They confiscated the granaries, the flour and left everyone to starve, saying that the front took priority. That they need energy to win. To liberate us. But to be liberated, we must be alive,” said 31-year-old resident, Ahmad Haj Hammoud in the article.

I wonder if a trip in VR Land in these shoes (or catacombs or…) might change the outcome of any of the tragedies playing out around the world?

Dianne Brooke’s column is special to The Cambrian. Email her at, or visit her website at