If only the VR (Virtual Reality) headsets we have today is as light as sunglasses for sale in the Philippines. We could bring it anywhere we want and go places or meet other people. But why do we keep inventing such complex gadgets other than it could be a source of recreation?
It all boils down to a single reason: because we are social animals. We are wired to connect and to interact with one another. As The Atlantic points out, “just as human beings have a basic need for food and shelter, we also have a basic need to belong to a group and form relationships.” So, we have devised some ways to feed the social animal in us.
Our means to communicate continues to evolve and now it thrives in the digital world. We were never content conversing through just text and email; the textual interaction is not enough. We want real-time response, so we invented instant messenger apps such as Yahoo Messenger, Meebo, and Nimbuzz. The need of being able to bond with other people was once a problem because of distance. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram break that barrier. Video chatting also emerged to have face-to-face communication.
However, despite these technological innovations, we crave for something more dynamic and immersive. We could achieve this through virtual reality. Coined by Jaron Lanier in 1987, Webopedia defines it as “an artificial environment created with computer hardware and software and presented to the user in such a way that it appears and feels like a real environment.”
The research and development of virtual reality declined in mid-‘90s. Now, it makes its comeback and the race to VR headsets is on. It started with Palmer Luckey’s Oculus Rift which is mainly used for gaming. Then it was followed by HTC Vive, Playstation VR, and Samsung Gear VR. Even Facebook sets sights on it and bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion as an investment.
How about the software? VR interaction is only in a one-on-one basis. Group sessions seem an implausible idea because of technical problems such as networking, avatars, real-time interactions, voice and video throughput to be able to render a fluid virtual environment, according to Wired.com. This dilemma will soon end because of AltspaceVR.
Social VR is now on its way thanks to this new software that only requires not oh-so-powerful specs. You can conduct business meetings via VR teleconferencing. This might solve the gap between outsourcing firms and their clients where constant and clear communication is a requisite. Imagine having a virtual office where you could gather your employees scattered all over the world in one place.
Be extra conscious in choosing an avatar though because based on an experimental research, the physical traits or appearance of your avatar may influence your behavior in the virtual world and may also affect who you are in real life. Because besides being social animals, we are also visual creatures. In the research, a tall avatar has an edge in negotiations compared to a short avatar. For now, AltspaceVR offers none at the moment. Currently, they have only two human avatars (a boy and a girl) and two robot avatars and the human avatars are of the same height.
However, some skeptics worry that VR could be an isolating experience just like what happened with Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who went unnoticed during a conference of technology reporters. One commented that it was kind of creepy.
Here are his comments via Business Insider: “Critics worry that if we spend time paying attention to that new kind of media or technology instead of talking to each other that is somehow isolating. But humans are fundamentally social. So I think in reality, if a technology doesn’t actually help us socially understand each other better, it isn’t going to catch on and succeed.”
For the time being, let us cross our fingers and hope this will not be the future of VR. Instead it will be a world where everyone can interact with one another without distance or boundaries hindering them.