Virtual reality will help humans connect: experts

If you didn’t know that Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum has one of the finest fish and Chinese art collections in the world then Dr. Kim Veltman said it’s clear how virtual reality will affect your life.

Veltman, a former University of Toronto professor, is now scientific director of the Netherlands-based Masstricht McLuhan Institute and co-ordinator for the newly created European Network of Centres of Excellence in Digital Cultural Heritage.

He has devoted a large part of his life to helping create universal strategies to access culture on-line. And during a press conference at the PRECARN-IRIS Conference held earlier this month in Toronto, he said virtual reality can help those who don’t live in the world’s great cities access art and culture.

That includes the fish and Chinese art collections at the Royal Ontario Museum, much of which is currently stored in the basement due to a lack of display space. But Veltman said such collections could be viewed in a virtual environment.

“Somewhere between 90 and 96 per cent of most museums are in basements,” he said. “One of the visions is that this 95 per cent that is all in our basements, and that all these books which are spread throughout the world’s great libraries, could be available to every person around the world, and it no longer will matter if you’re born in some tiny village,” he said.

Another virtual reality expert, Bruce Damer, president and CEO of Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Digital Space Corp., said the technology has the potential to make people around the world more aware of the human condition.

To highlight the point, Damer talked briefly about his plan to help a group set up a virtual environment where visitors can see what it is like for a Kosovar Albanian child to live in a refugee camp.

Both Veltman and Damer concede that too much time spent in cyberspace, like too much time reading books or watching television, is something to be concerned about, particularly when it applies to children. But Damer believes the benefits of virtual reality outweigh any risks.

“It may be fair to say that any medium that allows human beings to connect with each other in new way is probably beneficial for the future of our civilization and our planet.”