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Immersive Single Tasking: Virtual Reality and the Coming Age of Hyper-Productive Work

May 18th, 2016 · 13 comments

kings-hall-600px

Ready Thinker One

Earlier this month, I demoed the HTC Vive virtual reality system. I was impressed. The Vive uses wall-mounted sensors that track your movements as you walk around a virtual space and interact with it using handheld wands.

The effect can be quite immersive.

At one point in the demo, I found myself in a small science lab. I could walk around and explore whirring gadgets on shelves. On a whim, I crouched down and peered under a sink and examined the pipes underneath.

It’s a scene straight out of Cline…but with less Dungeons and Dragons references.

Yesterday, however, I had a revelation about this technology. After giving a speech about deep work, I participated in a discussion with local entrepreneurs. Someone asked me what role virtual reality might play in supporting deep work.

A light bulb went off in my head. The answer was clear: potentially a lot!

Immersive Single Tasking

The appeal of virtual reality is the sense of immersion it creates. It takes you out of your normal world and places you somewhere new.

In my book, I talk a lot about the power of using special locations reserved only for deep thinking. With the help of virtual reality, this idea could be pushed to an extreme.

Imagine, for example, that when it comes time to…

  • …work on a math equation you can transport yourself to Kings College Hall (see above) to work on a giant whiteboard anachronistically added to the scene.
  • …tackle a new chapter in your science fiction novel you can place yourself in a quiet room in a space station with a rotating view of the galaxy twinkling outside your window.
  • …reflect on a major professional decision you can sit quietly at a Himalayan monastery and watch the breeze flutter prayer flags.

In other words, if used to enable the type of immersive single tasking described above, virtual reality has the potential to unlock massive amounts of deep work-fueled productivity.

Put another way, perhaps the best way to combat the addictive appeal of inboxes and feeds is to make the act of thinking hard even more appealing.

13 thoughts on “Immersive Single Tasking: Virtual Reality and the Coming Age of Hyper-Productive Work

  1. Well, maybe thats true. but think how many people will used it for education/learning?. VR is more like gadget/smartphone. you usually only ask for question, not the process. makes people less smart. and more dumb. sorry.

  2. Duncan Smith says:

    Related: researchers at the MIT Media Lab are using a VR headset and brain-computer interface device to see how people can improve their ability to focus. (http://fluid.media.mit.edu/node/425).

  3. Teekatas says:

    Cal, Thank you for this thought provoking blog post, because somehow I just overlooked this potential of VR completely and that amazed me why I didn’t think of it before. It looks so simple…,yet so obvious when you think about it. Maybe it’s just my crude initial reaction to automatically dismissed any new ‘hype’ technology or maybe everything I’ve seen to this day about VR is just for gaming and entertainment purpose more than environment for productive thinking.

    Even just thinking about it made me really excited!

  4. dave says:

    You’re on to something here. Could be perfect for getting down to deep work when away from home in say, a hotel room, where it can be impossible to concentrate. A VR view of the desk at home, your usual spot in the library or wherever else you work best could make settling down to some decent deep work an awful lot easier. Has the potential to be more effective than my current method of headphones and “work” play-list.

  5. Plein Aire Goddess says:

    Awesome idea! Quite thought provoking…

  6. Kishor Nayar says:

    I’d be more concerned about how VR could make our world even more distracted. A doubled edged-sword of sorts. Imagine if everyone uses VR to stay hooked on Facebook, in a virtual world that gives incessant dopamine kicks; deep work could potentially be harder to do.

  7. Tim Ludy says:

    Great potential use of VR! I agree with some of the other comments about how it will primarily be used for gaming and entertainment but more practical and productive uses like this are what is getting me excited about the technology. The idea of being fully immersed in one thing will be a huge draw for some people. Until they add different tabs and popup notifications to your headset…

  8. Deep-Work RO says:

    This is interesting. I find myself using my noise cancellation headset in crowded places (like airport lounges) to do deep work. Many times, I don’t even have music playing since I find music distracting when I am doing extreme deep work. Using VR for deep work may be worth a look since it may potentially take isolation one step further.

  9. ZenBen says:

    Way to think outside the box, Cal. Done some VR-related research but had not thought of that. Provided it doesn’t make you sick you should be much more “in the mood” for whatevs. Some people have an imaginary place of power (or “happy place”) they can go to. Would be nice to go there during any bad time or affirmation. Kind a “New Age” (rhymes w/ “sewage”) but seriously, life can be hard so what’s the harm? As long as you don’t realize that you are actually a bio battery to power The Matrix, then you should feel much more “centered” and “mindful.” I don’t even know myself whether I am serious at this point. Fitzgerald said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time,” so hopefully that describes this post rather than “idiotic.” I better stop before this gets sillier.

  10. David Welch says:

    Cal,

    I agree. In fact, I would argue that VR (and soon AR) will provide us unique opportunities for productivity not only because of their immersion, but also because their interactivity will afford us new, previously-inconceivable representations of thought and expression.

    If you have the time, I’d encourage you to watch a talk by technologist Bret Victor about how the medium in which we work determines the limits of our productivity:
    https://vimeo.com/115154289

  11. Anne says:

    I like this idea and also wonder if certain VR settings could enhance focus. I have started to see studies emerging about how landscape and other scenic views can enhance performance. One such, but there are many others: https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/314736

  12. phred says:

    The first step to having a holodeck.

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