Reveling in early-adopter culture

Silicon Valley is a known mecca for technology development. This unique bubble of early adopters and entrepreneurs is filled with self-driving cars, security R2-D2-looking bots and virtual reality experiments on every corner.

The area, once filled with not much else but fruit trees, was named originally in honor of its growing computer-chip manufacturing companies in the 1970s.

Fun fact: Silicon is a chemical element used in semiconductors, which make up electronic devices. Although it makes up over a quarter of Earth’s crust, it cannot be found free in nature. Instead, it’s produced by heating silica and carbon.

Now, tech is not just an industry here. It’s a way of living.

This reality hit me as soon as I exited Route 1 and started approaching the San Francisco Peninsula in my rented Dodge Chrysler minivan almost exactly six months ago. (I can’t believe I’ve already been here for half a year!)

The first thing I noticed are the self-driving cars. They’re everywhere. There are the cute tiny, white Waymos, aka Google’s self-driving creations. Then there are the sleek black SUV-sized Uber cars. General Motors, Tesla and a whole set of other major auto companies have also unleashed some of their test vehicles onto California’s streets.

The self-driving car race is on.

A Waymo caught in its natural habitat in Mountain View. (Alex Shashkevich Photos)

I was also introduced to R2-D2-looking security surveillance bots on the parking lots of Microsoft’s offices in Mountain View, where my dad works.

I still squeal with joy when I see them now and again when I give my dad rides to work. There is something so funny and cute about them. The sounds they make are just adorable.

A post shared by Alex Shashkevich (@ashashkevich) on

But the coolest technology highlight for me so far came about a week and a half ago when I had the privilege to test out the HTC Vive Virtual Reality headset and immerse in the world of Minecraft for a couple of hours on a Sunday evening.

It was an overwhelming experience. Minecraft is a Lego-like survival game, where you constantly have to move around. In the virtual reality mod of the game, you use two wireless controllers to teleport block to block.

Because of the tedious nature of the game, you can be sucked in it for hours, doing things like killing animals for food, mining blocks for resources and building shelter and other items from scratch, block by block.

In the virtual reality version of the game, you, for the most part, stand in the middle of the room, lifting hands up and down. So it gets physically tiring after a while. Looking back, I didn’t really achieve too much in the game for the amount of time I spent playing it. I made some basic tools, a picture and built a wall out of wooden blocks.

I guess it takes a bit of time to adjust to the new controls and to the new virtual reality experience. But I also will be the first one to admit that I’m in no way an experienced video gamer of any kind.

It felt briefly disorienting after I took off the headset and exited the game. (What is reality anyway, right? What is the meaning of all of this? Ah, let me just stop that there.)

But I loved every moment of it.

The first video game I fell in love with as a kid was Doom, the pixilated, now outdated, first-person shooter, considered to be pioneering when it came out in 1993. I was so amazed by the level of fear a set of simple images on a screen would instill in me and my best friend. My friend would only watch me play Doom. She closed her eyes every time monsters suddenly popped up in the game. I wasn’t much braver. I remember I would freeze up when something scary happened and my character would frequently die because of my indecisiveness.

To go from that to actually being inside a video game, embodying an avatar, is just unbelievably cool.

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