When Social Networks and Virtual Reality Collide: What Kind of Future Should We Prepare Ourselves For?

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When social media first began to gain the momentous popularity that it enjoys today, the psychologists trumpeted the dangers. Words like “alienation,” “narcissism,” and “ withdrawal” popped up in the headlines. They cautioned us, but we steamrolled ahead, and now our path has lead us on a collision course with the kind of reality that once only existed in science fiction. Social networks and virtual reality are joining forces, and it could permanently shift the way in which humans perceive and interact with the external world

Virtual Reality Technology

Once the exclusive realm of video game enthusiasts, virtual reality technology has recently gained the attention of the big kids of the internet playground: Google and Facebook.

Google’s Glass project is available to the public already (at least, those of the public who want to put their name on a waiting list and shell out $1,500). At its current stage in production, Google Glass has a foot in the virtual reality pool, and a foot out of it. Glass wearers can interact with the every day world, while simultaneously maintaining a real-time connection with social networking outlets. While Google Glass does not yet technically fit the virtual reality bill (Glass overlays rather than augments reality), this is just the beginning for Google, and as the Glass technology evolves, so will the reality shift for Glass wearers.

Not to be outdone by Google, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has paid out $2 billion to purchase Oculus VR, creator of the Oculus Rift. The Oculus Rift is spectacular piece of virtual reality technology that uses eye tracking technology to augment the virtual reality experience. Zuckerberg’s plans for Oculus are both impressive and terrifying. He plans to extend the capabilities of the Rift from gaming to reality, giving users the ability to explore the world without leaving home. Think courtside seats at the basketball game of the year, virtual class attendance, sensory space exploration.

Virtual Reality and the Future

A collision between social networking and virtual reality could mean greatness for humanity, or it could mean disaster. It all depends upon whether we as a species utilize or abuse the technology. Already children today spend 50% less time outdoors than their parents did, thanks to social networking, internet and gaming technology. It’s quite possible that a future in which virtual reality is more sensory than reality could have far-reaching ramifications for our health, for why go outdoors when we can bring the outdoors to us? And, of course, big brother, already too prevalent in our lives, will be ten steps closer.

Can the combination of social networking and virtual reality be a good thing? Yes, but only if we use it the right way. Amidst all of the withdrawal and narcissism that Facebook is accused of, it also connects humans across the globe in a way that once was impossible, promoting human rights awareness and unification. Could a virtual network bring us even closer, raise compassion, advocate peace? If we’re careful, maybe, but when virtual reality technology comes to your living room, my advice is to proceed with caution.