Back in the nineties, there was a movie called Disclosure, which was the first time I remember virtual reality as part of the story in a mainstream movie.
In the movie, Michael Douglas dons a headset that looks remarkably similar to the VR headsets of today and walks around a virtual office. He eventually makes his way to, of all things, a filing cabinet, where he discovers digital versions of incriminating documents in what turns out to be a major plot point in the film.
While the use of virtual reality in this twenty-year-old movie may seem a bit clunky nowadays, back in the 90s, it was pretty crazy and futuristic.
Kinda like this video of a virtual eating concept called Project Nourished:
I often think about how time changes our concept of things. Things that seem crazy and futuristic now may seem kitschy and dated in just a few years. I can’t tell if this Project Nourished video is one of those things that won’t age well.
But what I can tell you is no matter how this particular vision of virtual eating stands the test of time, the concept of virtual eating is something I think will become increasingly interesting because there are lots of different applications where I think it makes sense.
Granted, the concept of virtual eating is still in its early days, but as Ashley wrote last week, there is research underway today that can already take us beyond just seeing and smelling virtual food but helping us to taste it as well.
If we assume this research progresses and gets to the point where a virtual eating experience can help us think we’re eating, here are a few areas I think this becomes interesting:
Virtual Food Tourism
If you can’t afford that trip to Italy, maybe the next best thing is to take a virtual tour of the place. And anyone who travels knows that food is a major part (if not THE major part) of experiencing a new place for the first time. Virtual food tourism could take the form as a night out for culinary hobbyists or something akin to a modern day version of Epcot Center. I could also envision it in more serious applications like readiness training for missionaries working in third world countries.
If you want to look for an industry that will grab hold of pretty much any new idea and package it up as a new product, it’s the diet industry. But instead of hypnosis, lap bands or the hot dog diet, this time they would be selling the idea of virtual eating to consumers who need to control their caloric intake or have special dietary restrictions. Imagine loving the taste of peanut butter but having a peanut allergy? Maybe you can bite into that virtual PB&J to satiate those cravings.
While immersive multimedia experiences like a virtual reality sporting event sound cool, it’s not truly immersive unless it involves all the sense. Take sports. I’m the type of guy who usually wanders off around the third inning of the game to hit the hot dog stand. If you could deliver the baseball game with the ability to eat at the ballpark, that’s a ticket I would buy.
There are probably dozens of other potential use-cases for virtual eating, including distance learning, food advertising and distributed collaboration in a variety of fields. Whether or not the technology continues to develop to the point where it’s compelling -- and not just kitschy -- is something we’ll no doubt figure out in the future.
The one thing I’m pretty sure of is it won’t take two decades before we find out.