Alternate realities can’t become permanent realities

Hyper-realistic technology has the potential to change the idea of reality as we know it, but not without a cost to the physical world.

The introduction of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to game culture, healthcare, educational institutions, social media and even pornography is rapidly replacing the physical world with a digitally fabricated one. 

VR uses software-generated images to produce new realities, which are accessed through a headset device, such as Oculus Rift. AR, on the other hand, overlays software generated images on to the physical world, combining the real and digitally fabricated — examples of this include Pokemon Go and Snapchat filters.

While the proliferation of VR technology may be inevitable, we should be wary of the consequences. Ultimately, these technologies can’t fulfill essential needs such as verbal communication and physical interaction, and as a result can cause us to become socially isolated and neurologically displaced. 

Prolonged living in VR potentially replaces our desire for physical and emotional connections, affection or acceptance, for instance, with digitally fabricated experiences and relationships that are built on deception.  

With VR, users can construct convincing and impenetrable guises to interact in virtual spaces, such as in video games like World of Warcraft, but there’s a difference between something seeming real, and being real. 

Regardless of how vivid it seems, VR and AR will never completely satisfy or fulfill our essential need to feel, touch and see the physical world and other human beings. 

In an article about VR in The Atlantic, writer Monica Kim cites a self-imposed isolation as a consequence of a life spent in virtual realms. “In 2004, Zhang Xiaoyi,” she said, “a 13-year-old from China, reportedly committed suicide after playing WoW for 36 consecutive hours, in order to ‘join the heroes of the game he worshipped.’” 

VR and AR technologies manipulate users into believing life lived online is better than the real world, threatening their overall happiness and success. 

With a hyper-realistic virtual world constantly improving through VR and AR, the danger for self-jeopardizing addiction will only be heightened.  

As the targeted users of these technologies, we — the future developers, workers and users of VR and AR — must encourage the use of these technologies responsibly and appropriately. 

VR and AR are appropriate where they enhance certain environments, not replace them, such as in healthcare, where it’s used to practice surgeries or new methods.

As a generation that witnessed and participated in the exponential growth of technology, we have the responsibility to make informed decisions that won’t hinder future generations from a successful life that is not dictated by VR or AR technologies. 

Today, we are dabbling with technology at younger and younger ages.  This is the new reality, but we can’t let new forms of reality-bending technology let us forget who we really are — human.  

Erika is The Journal’s Arts Editor. She’s a fourth-year English major.

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