Campus Spotlight: Jonathan White

Photo by Brenda Lin

The concept of virtual reality has been around for longer than one might think. Since the origin of realistic paintings and other art forms, innovators have been attempting to create an experience that allows the consumer to feel like they are a part of a scene when they physically cannot be. In fact, art and storytelling are at the heart of modern virtual reality (VR) technology.

Jonathan White, fourth-year CM, is working right at this intersection of art and technology. He became interested in virtual reality when he realized that this area of the market in particular is growing exponentially and that if he was a part of it, he would get the chance to make an impact.

“No one knows where it is going to go right now, so everyone is a pioneer,” White said. “The reason I’ve gone into VR is that it’s a huge opportunity, and with the trends that we see in the market, people have the chance to do more expressive things.”

Currently, many large companies are working to develop virtual reality technology. Some are working on what’s called Native Virtual Reality, which encompasses gaming.

In addition, corporations like Mozilla are working to create a space where people will be able to browse the Internet virtually. Instead of scrolling through pictures of an exotic place, people will soon be able to be there virtually and walk around, experiencing everything first hand.

“The other day, I flew over Hong Kong with Google Earth View. I was able to stand on the streets of Hong Kong in VR, and I was able to walk around the city,” White said. “People are creating entire worlds within VR.”

White began blogging about his experiences with front end development and design and accumulated a million views and thousands of followers in a little over two months. He thinks this is because he is an honest writer, although it is obvious that in terms of VR, he knows his stuff.

“Before this, I wasn’t very public about what I did. One of the reasons why I started writing is because I realized one of the things I was most afraid of was people judging my work. I started writing my thoughts on design, my thoughts on how do you move your career forward.”

White found that people were receptive to his open discussion of his work, and he quickly began working with companies such as Mozilla, Chrome VR and Widescreen VR.

In addition to his work outside of class, White had internships with Airbnb and Yahoo, even helping them to visualize the experience that they are giving to their customers.

White is interested in the possibilities that VR will provide in the near future. In addition to experiencing other geographical locations, it has the potential to help users perform medical procedures, visualize math problems in 3D, work in the office from home and view media content or art.

However, many have strong reservations about virtual reality. Is it making people too tied to technology? Is it dehumanizing and preventing people from having true human interactions?

In fact, White feels that VR will allow people to be more expressive and lift some of the limitations that prevent some from interacting with others.

“There are opportunities for people to become more human. What humans should be able to do is be expressive. What VR does is lift some of the physical limitations,” White said. “It is no more isolating than Skype, because now all of a sudden you can be in the same room as someone who is in China, and you can form tribes of people that you resonate with within digital environments.”

White’s degree in Computational Media is allowing him to explore both the liberal arts and the technology that compose his interests in design and VR.

“I think that the most important thing that CM can teach a person is how to tell stories,” White said. “The one thing that humans are consistently fascinated with isn’t marketing campaigns or new shiny things. It’s stories. What CM does is teach you how to tell a story through a product, a film or writing.”

Hopefully,  people around the world will see more stories told, science explored and art created with Virtual Reality in the next few years.