The Selling of Virtual Reality: Novelty and Continuity in the Cultural Integration of Technology

, ; Turner, Fred
Communication, Culture & Critique

Since the spring of 2014, the consumer virtual reality (VR) industry has once again been racing to reach the public, providing an opportunity to track an emerging medium’s cultural integration in real time. We examined three sites on the sales chain that stretches from the laboratory to the living room: industry developer conferences, industrial prototypes, and end-user experiences. At each of these sites, marketers renegotiate VR’s novelty in order to sell it to specific constituencies. Paradoxically, these negotiations reveal how VR, typically presented as a disruptive innovation, has been called upon to stabilize and ensure the continuity of the past: that is, of particular cultural forms and of the industrial and technological infrastructures that sustain them. We argue that the enculturation of VR demonstrates that the processes that summon new technologies and construct them as novel also reinforce existing—and often unspoken—agreements about the ways that culture should be organized.