What We Lose with Virtual Reality

I’m excited but …

Virtual reality (VR) holds great promise and power for the world by being able to transform any environment into another. It opens possibilities like being able to explore the Amazon rainforest from your living room or more precisely controlling objects (physical or virtual) by matching 3D inputs with 3D visualizations. Classic hand-eye coordination at work… virtually. However, it also reminds me of Good Will Hunting and, specifically, the difference between experiencing something virtually vs. in reality.

As the internet and technology take over more of our everyday lives we’re finding that their benefits don’t come for free. Just as social media makes it easier for us to connect, it also makes us more isolated. We don’t need to leave our living rooms, even our beds (!), to connect with people. We don’t need to see each other or talk face-to-face when we have messaging apps to stay in touch throughout the day. I mean, what do you even talk about with someone when they’re up to date on your Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and various SMS/messenger conversations?

So what happens when the experiences technology provides go beyond communication and entertainment, as well? What happens when we don’t need to go to the Amazon to immerse ourselves in the rain forest? For that benefit, that value, we lose something. We lose an experience. We gain the entire world at our doorstep, but we lose something.

Even if you design the most perfect virtual reality with all 5 senses — sight, sound, touch, taste, smell — we would still lose something. We lose the excitement leading up to that travel. We lose the trials and tribulations that come with the adventure of just getting there. We lose the people and experiences we encounter from the oddities of life along the way. We lose what happens when you wake up and decide to take chances of what life will throw at you when you leave the house that day.

This isn’t a judgment whether it’s worth it or not. Whether VR is going to be the destruction of the fabric of society or just some other niche technology. This is an acknowledgement that technical advancement isn’t for free and as we integrate it more deeply into our lives and into our experiences it comes at a cost. We’re losing something.

We need to be aware of these losses. Think about them carefully. And make the choice, individually and collectively, whether it’s worth it.