Since the inception of virtual reality (VR), there has been much deliberation over whether its positive effects on society outweigh the negatives. With the power to go pretty much anywhere you want, and experience anything you want, you would expect that VR has the potential to be one of the best technological advancements in modern times. However, there are a few arguments against this, which we will discover later on.
Throughout this article, I will be diving into both the positives and negative effects of VR on society and what this means for our social interaction as a whole. After all, humans are incredibly social creatures (for the most part) and our civilisation thrives off other human interactions. But how does VR impact this?
Positive Effects on Society
Socialising without leaving the house
Of course, we all know that physical human interaction is the backbone of society and how we, as humans, stay mentally healthy. However, VR offers a great alternative to this. For those who are either unable to leave their house for various reasons, VR gives them a way to link with friends and family without being physically near them. This may be through gaming or other VR avenues.
We can take the latest COVID-19 pandemic for example. Many of us were quarantined for months on end, so just like Zoom and other video conferencing tools took off, VR was also able to engage people with human interaction. This is hugely beneficial for society as a whole because it means that even though we are not physically with others, we can still connect and hear other people’s voices. This can be an easy cure for loneliness or other mental health ailments.
Treating mental health
The issue of mental health is growing with each passing year, and with good reason. With 1 in 4 of us having to combat a mental health problem at one stage in our life, there is more demand for the right help and attention. This is where VR can help.
Mental health professionals often require extensive training for years on end, and waiting for the right medical professional can also take a while, but VR can bypass this. One of the best ways we are able to beat a mental health condition is through what is called ‘in-situ’ coaching. This is where we deal with our fear head-on and get put into situations that make us feel uncomfortable, with the aim of becoming more confident when facing that situation. With VR, we can be placed into these circumstances virtually and tackle them head-on.
Also, due to the fact that it is virtual, people will be more likely to enter situations that make them anxious as they know it is only a simulation. Furthermore, it is much more time and cost-effective to repeat the treatment if it becomes too much for the person. The virtual environment can be easily tapered back to suit.
If we go back before interactive smartboards and other technological advances in education, we learnt from textbooks (and often still do). However, it is known that that is not the most optimal way of learning. As humans, we like to learn through seeing and doing. VR checks both of those boxes.
Through the use of VR, we are able to jump into situations which would otherwise be impossible to re-enact in the classroom, such as visit Machu Picchu, perform surgery, or carry out a science experiment without the right equipment. Learning by performing is our best way of retaining information which is why VR is a great solution to improve education across the world.
Of course, we still have a long way to go before there are VR headsets in every classroom, but once there are, I believe that this can only benefit the human race and society as a whole. If you’re interested in more of this topic, here is a write-up of why VR will be the future of education.
Negative effects on Society
Gaming addiction has always been a problem for society and a lot of people have had to deal with it over the last couple of decades. Now with the start of VR and environments becoming even more immersive, there is always an extra risk.
Due to the fact that VR is so immersive and the stimulus on the brain is heightened due to it being a simulation, the possibility of getting addicted does increase. If users do become addicted, this can become a major problem. Users can become isolated, negatively affecting their mental health and become dependent on the use of VR.
They can become antisocial and lose basic social skills, which can then form into social anxiety and other mental health problems. This is of course something we need to be wary of as a society.
Obviously, these are very extreme cases, and as long as VR usage is moderate and not abused, then the majority of people will be able to use VR without any problems.
There have been cases where users who have played on VR headsets for a prolonged period of time have experienced nausea or ‘cybersickness’. This is due to the fact that you may be moving in the simulation, but your body is not physically moving in the real world and your brain gets confused.
As well as nausea, users have been known to experience eye soreness. If we stare at a computer screen or TV for too long, our eyes start to strain, and this is exactly the same with VR. Ergonomic designers for VR headsets have yet to create a lens that mimics the wide-angle our eyes naturally have, so this can be a problem if used for long periods of time. The continual abuse of VR may cause long term impairment of vision, however, not much study surrounds this.
These factors are a relatively easy fix, just use VR for short periods of time and take plenty of breaks. Of course, these effects may not affect everyone and some may feel the toll heavier than others.
When used correctly, VR can be an amazing tool for various things, such as education, socialising and treatment. However, it cannot be abused. This level of technology is fairly new and studies still need to be done to show the true impact addiction and the physical ailments caused by VR has on us in the long term.
If used in moderation, there is no reason that the benefits of VR can far outweigh the negatives, and this will only become more clear when we learn how to best make use of this wonderful technology.