No, this isn’t a Philosophy 101 paper or the opening gambit of a conversation in a Paris café. Rather than being in France, I’m in San Jose, at its Convention Center. I’m here with a few hundred other visual truth seekers. And we are all trying to see reality. Virtual reality, that is. 3-dimensional style.
But my problem is that I came to San Jose to look at virtual reality and all I can see, truly see, is the Czech writer Franz Kafka.
I’m here in San Jose at the 18th annual “Electronic Imaging” Science and Technology symposium. This is the yearly get-together of the world’s greatest researchers on 3-D technology. It’s a truly global event, a United Nations of 3-D’ers, all in those retro paper glasses, peering at the big screen, searching for a technology that really allows us to see reality. It’s crazy stuff. But the “upside”, as those other cheque writers, the venture capitalists like to say, is huge. The first people to crack 3-D win the Digital World Cup. It’s the visual equivalent of replicating human thought: The Great (Visual) Seduction.
What is 3-D? Like porn, 3-D is hard to define but easy to recognize when you see it. It’s supposed to be a real-life electronic version of the world. Instead of seeing things in a single dimension, 3-D is supposed to reproduce what we see naturally through our eyes.
So what does the best 3-D look like? Last night, the symposium put on a show of the best 3-D movies. And here’s the funny thing: in my eyes at least, the more three dimensional the image, the less real it appeared. All I could see was imperfection, distortion, exaggeration. The problem – and this is the problem with all perfectionist technologies – is the impossibility of perfection. The consequence is exaggerated imperfection. Another word for this is surrealism.
It’s hard to be in San Jose and not think about Franz Kafka. Especially at a 3-D symposium packed with men in green tinted paper glasses. As I was blinking at (un)reality last night, I couldn’t help thinking that my visual experience of imperfect, distorted, exaggerated 3-D images resembled the world that Kafka presents to his readers in The Castle and The Trial. Looking at these 3-D movies establishes a parallel visual reality, one that both mimics and mocks the real world.
Or maybe, just maybe, all these 3-D images are real and it's my eyes that have been lying to me. Now wouldn't that be a strange twist of fate?