For quite some time I have been interested in the impact that technology is having on our interpersonal relationships, more importantly, how it is affecting how we communicate within those relationships. Of course, I am not the only person who is wondering if our relationships are becoming devalued because of the increase of technology in our lives. I am also not the only one who appreciates the advancement in technology, therefore, making this a conflicting argument not only for others to read, but honestly, for myself to write.
I started looking into how virtual reality affects our in-person relationships about four months ago. As I was new to being involved with virtual reality, I suspected that virtual reality environments, much like other social environments, are affecting our in-person relationships. What I did not know, is to what degree. Technology has allowed us to communicate over vast distances and now with the advancement of VR we can connect through technology more than ever. For example, the “game” Second Life allows you to create a whole new world and interact with others through VR. While researching Second Life I wished that I had the tools to become part of this world so I could experience it for myself, however, by reading others’ experiences I was well informed.
I learned that people are using Second Life to create avatars of themselves, most of which are not of who they are, but who they want to be or to experience something other than their real life. The more I researched about Second Life I came to find that people want to go to a place where either (1) they can experience something new, or (2) a place that will give them hope. Philip Rosedale, founder of Second Life, thinks eventually the virtual world will be used most commonly as a way for people to be together and to consume information. Quite honestly, I cannot say that I disagree, as the Internet already plays this role in our lives and in my opinion virtual reality is just an extension of it.
“I think, again, that it’s likely that in the next decade or so these virtual worlds are going to be the most common way as human beings that we kind of use the electronics of the Internet, if you will, to be together, to consume information.” – Philip Rosedale (Life in Second Life)
Something fascinating I found was that people watching avatars that are similar in looks in VR are motivated in real life situations. Therefore, VR could promote behavior change in positive manners. In fact, some of the positive benefits of VR are coping treatments, pain management and use as a positive behavior tool. In my opinion, these three positive attributes of VR are where I think VR can and should excel. If VR can be used to help those with anxiety, fears, negative behaviors, then VR will potentially be strengthening real life relationships without aiming to do so.
When it comes to romantic relationships, some question whether or not in the future if people will be less concerned with what happens in reality and more concerned with strengthening their virtual relationships. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist, argues that we retreat to digital communication in virtual places so we do not have to respond to the demands of a real-life relationship. In fact, she thinks we are losing the intimacy in our interpersonal relationships because of virtual spaces.
“Virtual places offer connection with uncertain claims to commitment. We don’t count on cyber friends to come by if we are ill, to celebrate our children’s successes, or help us mourn the death of our parents. People know this, and yet the emotional charge on cyberspace is high. People talk about digital life as a “place for hope,” the place where something new will come to them. ” -Sherry Turkle, Alone Together
Although I think VR will become an even bigger part of our lives as is progresses, I cannot help but to wonder if time spent with VR relationships online is at the expense of our real-life relationships. Many argue, our interpersonal relationships might be damaged by the use of online realities. While others, see VR as the next step in the way we communicate with one another as a positive thing. A question that I have seen Will VR be able to offer the same physical and emotional support that one can gain from a face-to-face interaction? Of course, to every side of an argument there is a counter argument, but for now I think my feelings on the matter will stay neutral until I can fully research the impact of VR on real life relationships.
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