In a recent Guardian article on David Charmers new book the stance taken by David of VR in the future becoming the norm, and reality becoming the exception is a psychologically irresponsible (and a very 1st-world) one.
I am a great advocate for VR / AR. We’ve only just started scratching the surface of the overall potential of this technology. I do agree with the point that scenarios, objects and situations in VR can feel as psychologically real as ‘real-life’. It’s a phenomenon referred to as ‘Presence’. Your real-world visual and auditory sensory input is ‘overridden’ by what you are seeing and hearing in VR. While in VR, you become very unaware of what is going on in your physical environment. This is why gaming has grown exponentially in the past 2 years. It has been a great way for many to cope with stress and fear. It can be a useful temporary emotional safe haven.
However, when you remove the headset, your brain transforms you instantaneously back into life (with all its joys and worries). Suggesting that living in VR is bound to become a way of living does not consider the physical and biological connectivity that we humans need with others. We are creatures of community and social structure. We live and exist in a physical world. We always have, we always will. We psychologically need physical connectedness with others, with nature, with our food, with our interests. As much as I am a Virtual Reality advocate, I am a much greater advocate for Real-World Reality.
As a case in point – in a 2017 TED talk, Susan Pinker showcases how Social Integration via ‘close personal relationships and face-to-face interactions’ has a greater impact on a persons longevity than refraining from smoking or drinking. Having people around you that you can trust, lean and rely on (when you most need it) is part of what makes for a longer life. This is rarely the reality of virtual globally-based communities.
Another case in point – Jean Twenge, in her book iGen, demonstrates how smartphones and social media are already changing how young people interact with peers and others. The reduced social interaction of our teens is not conducive to forming and building future families.
We need to be encouraging the building and maintaining of healthy physical communities, that set a strong foundation for optimising any psychological and emotional benefits we get from building and maintaining our virtual connections. Technology should be a tool we use to optimise and improve our real-world lives, not make us slaves to them.