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Despite mass media interest from publications like , the technology wasn’t there—or it was too expensive—and the audience was a tad too niche.
Save for some fruits of its early research, purchased in sum by Sun Microsystems, VPL’s sole legacy has been its popularization of the term “virtual reality.”Thirty years have passed since then, and the landscape has finally shifted in virtual reality’s favor.
As the futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted, somewhat hyperbolically, in 2003, “By the 2030s, virtual reality will be totally realistic and compelling and we will spend most of our time in virtual environments ...
We will all become virtual humans.” In theory, such escapism is nothing new—as critics of increased TV, Internet, and smartphone usage will tell you—but as VR technology continues to blossom, the worlds that they generate will become increasingly realistic, as Kurzweil explained, creating a greater potential for overuse.
Critics like Sherry Turkle often point to how screen-saturation has negatively affected the way we fulfill those needs, while others like David Carr have explored how virtual reality might only exacerbate the problem.
Ignoring the fact that VR’s future applications also include the potential to connect with real human beings around the world—“this is really a new communication platform,” Zuckerberg noted—it is not impossible to find love and belonging online, let alone on an immersive 3-D platform.
“To some degree, this has already happened with the Internet and social media,” Aboujaoude says, “where we can have a ‘full life’ [online] that can be quite removed from our own.” It is possible, however, that virtual reality may drastically change a person’s social and emotional needs over time.
“We may stop ‘needing’ or craving real social interactions because they may become foreign to us,” Aboujaoude explains.“Who is to say that a virtual life that is better than one’s physical life is a bad thing?” If someone is able to fulfill their basic human needs in an immersive virtual world, who is to say that they shouldn’t? Elias Aboujaoude, a Stanford psychiatrist and author of , immersive 3-D will only be the latest manifestation of technology’s heavy role in our social lives and well-being.Aboujaoude notes that people who report much more fulfillment from virtual scenarios often have underlying conditions, such as untreated social anxiety, and those cases should not be taken lightly.It is not, however, the reason why all people choose to immerse themselves in other worlds—whether it’s through a book, a TV show, or a 3-D video game., Yi-Fu Tuan writes about society’s feelings on the titular subject: “Escapism has a somewhat negative meaning in our society and perhaps in all societies.“The proliferation of affordable [VR] will dramatically increase the size of the population for whom more highly immersive perceptual and psychological experiences are available.” Blascovich is careful to note, however, that these immersive escapes are not necessarily a bad thing.