Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality? A short introspection into the VR technology

Even if we are witnessing just the early stages of progress in the area of Virtual Reality (VR), the science and the industry that is being built around it seems to be very impactful. And so are the caveats related to its ethical framework. Futurists and developers speculate about the extraordinary potential of VR to become a technology of intersubjective enlightenment for humans, facilitating shared experience and social connection. In a recent speech, futurist Jason Silva called VR technology an engine of empathy, because of its possibility to offer us a trancendental overview on how diverse and complex life is and make us experience and emphathise with the world in the way it is faced from the perspective of other humans.

Besides giving us the opportunity to float at the edges of perception, VR technologies have already been successfully applied in branches like special education, experimental learning, recruitment, medicine, rehabilitation therapy and content creation. For instance, in a recent journal researchers Albert Rizzo and Gerrard J. Kim published an article outlining how VR is making advanced contributions to recreate recovery environments for patients with brain injury. VR offers the possibility to recreate immersive simulations of functional real-world environments that can be used to rehabilitate cognitive and psychological processes in conditions that are not easily controllable in the real world (Rizzo & Kim , 2005). Also, compared to other alternatives, VR interventions seem to be more time and cost-effective.

Despite the progressive applications of the VR technology, questions about its long-term effects and resistance in regards to its integration in our life-style are present. One of the biggest issues with VR and its prolonged use are problems related to mental-healt, particularly social isolation and negative escapism. The exposure to a highly-technologised and mediatised world sometimes has a strong affect on the way people fulfill their basic needs and some scientists, like David Carr in an article for The Atlantic think that VR might only excerbate this problem. Because humans are transitioning to a stage where a sense of belonging can be found in virtual environments, it is easier for many to satisfy such social needs online and withdraw from the physical society ignoring its potential opportunities. Whether this ends up being a good or a bad thing for an individual is a somehow subjective topic.

In his book ‘Escapism’, Yi-Fu Tuan mentions that ‘escapism appears to be a natural behavioural mechanism, the mind must have need for it’. And indeed, as a result of the inability to face facts—the real world, our mind seems to be constantly escaping its current state of reality by developing filters of perception. We impose cognitive biases upon our experiences, creating cultural operating systems and religious beliefs that give us a sense of safety or belonging. Looking at it from this perspective, are not all realities virtual anyway as long as the raw experience can’t be really defined? At the same time we have been able to create languages to write novels, poems and songs for centuries, telling stories that can take us on journeys of escapism, see the world from new perspectives and feel something new while being rooted in a feeling of presence. As VR technologies can have an incredible potential power to change our experience of presence, It is important to build the right psychological framework for using it and focus on its ethical structure.

References:

Rizzo , A.S & Kim , G.J. (2005). A SWOT analysis of the field of virtual reality rehabilitation and therapy. Presence , 14(2), 119-146.

Davis, N. (2016). The Guardian. Retrieved 17 December, 2017, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/mar/19/long-term-effects-of-virtual-reality-use-need-more-research-say-scientists

Silva, J. (2017). YouTube. Retrieved 17 December, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO4k2Rvs94I

Walsh, K. (2017). Emergingedtechcom. Retrieved 17 December, 2017, from http://www.emergingedtech.com/2017/06/real-uses-of-virtual-reality-in-education-how-schools-are-using-vr/

Yi-fu, T. (2000). Escapism. England: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Advertisements

The Impact of Online Dating on human behaviour

To our regret or maybe maybe fortunately, the days when Vivian Ward meets Mr. Lewis randomly when he parks on the side of the road and they end up in a burning romance are less and less probable. People transitioned to more sophisticated ways to find partners based on computer algorythms and using their best pictures. With Match.com, Tinder, Plenty of Fish and an endless list of portals becoming online outlets of love, in search for a potential date, some people end up finding what they are looking for and others emotionally shattered. No matter the outcome, one thing is clear, online dating is changing the way in which people go about deciding what partners would be appropriate for them.

Economists believe that a rational person behaves according to rational choice theory by calculating the potential costs and benefits of each decision before they are made (Scott, 2000). It makes sense to think that in an online environment people would base their estimation of potential benefits on the available information, which can creeate an incomplete reflection of the reality even in the circumstances when the person on the other side of the screen is completely truthful with the information they present. However, especially in a ‘mate selection driven environment’, the social desirability bias, or peoples tendency to answer questions in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others, is the cognitive factor that makes people present themselves in a more glowing light to others. For instance, an analysis effectuated on the dating portal OkCupid concluded that men lie about their height, reporting, on average, that they are about two inches taller than they are. Also, people exaggerate their income, on average inflating it by about 20 percent.

An advantage of the progress of online dating is the decreased stigma towards the idea of using technology to interact with people. Rather than being unpredictable and dangerous as sometimes stereotyped, internet dating can actually keep people safer, as they have more control over the kind of people they can potentially match or meet with. Compared to traditional dating, which involves some degree of uncertainity in regards to ones background interests and details of their personal life, internet dating is facilitating matching of people with similar interests (Eastwick, Finkel & Eagly, 2011).

While it is almost impossible to analyse and evaluate all the costs and benefits of dating someone online or just having to swipe left/right on their profile, the people you meet this way are unlikely to enter your life in any other context. As long as people stay open to possibilities and are flexible in their communication and attitudes towards each other, the possibility to connect to each other and find meaningful relationships is practically endless.

References:

  • Eastwick, P.W, Finkel, E.J & Eagly, A.H. (2011). When and Why Do Ideal Partner Preferences Affect the Process of Initiating and Maintaining Romantic Relationships?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 101(5), 1012-1032.

One click away. The era of Consumer Cyberpschology, Good or Bad?

With the ascension of the internet era, humans consumation of goods and human behaviour have been exposed to new possibilities. The instant gratification world allows us to reach our necessities and desires with just a few clicks. Researchers in new age branches of psychological sciences like behavioural economics, cyber behaviour or neuromarketing are studying consumer behaviour transition to the online environment. New constructs that facilitate acceleration of percieved usefulness of goods, ease of use and complexity of experience for consumers are constantly incorporated. As the historian Yuval Noah Harari expressed in one of his speeches, It seems like the supreme commandment that guides the modern society is ‘Buy!’. So are we really becoming slaves of our own desires? How is consumerism affecting our neurological wiring and what can we learn from what we know about our consumption behaviour today?

Professor James Twitchell mentioned that “Getting and spending has become the most passionate, and often the most imaginative, endeavor of modern life”. The actual data confidently confirms this as we saw a world with 10 billion Internet connected devices in 2008, growing towards 50 billion by 2020, according to Cisco estimations. Our desire to obtain products excceeds our basic needs. This tendency is gradually moving us towards a world where networks of diverse items embedded with electronics, software and network connectivity can connect to each other and gratify the consumer. Scientists predict that by 2020 sales related to the Internet of things will reach $9Trilion.

And if 20 years ago some mayonnaise brand was the most popular and loved product, nothing exceeds consumers love for technology in the XXIst century, with iPhones topping the list (Rooney , 2010). We love things that excite our brains, and it is not questionable that the evolution of the culture of consumption made our experience and standard of living better. We are better connected, more self-aware, have more acces to information and we live longer. However, despite the possitive effects, according to a 2012 psychological study, Dr. Monika Bauer and her colleagues concluded that consumerism may also lead to depression, antisocial behaviour and affect our long-term happiness and relationships (Bauer et al., 2012). Moreover, falling back into the subject of privacy from the previous article, with a growing number of hacks and breaches, more consumers know their private data is at risk. Therefore, cybersecurity anxiety is a new concept of our time describing the psychological perception of mistrust and instability towards which consumer culture can push us.

There is no doubt that the consumer society is going to become more regulated, purposeful and complex with time. The choices that we make at an individual level in regards to how we percieve and consume cyber-goods or material goods through cyber-environments may not seem to affect the bigger picture, our views amounting to no more than a drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops (Tykwer, T, 2012). We must not forget that we have the power to decide the course of our own lives and keep in mind the multifaceted beauty of life, trying to educate our psyche to find a balance between the online and the off-line existence in the society without jeopardising the collective morality and happiness.

References:

  • Monika A. Bauer, Galen V. Bodenhausen, James E. B. Wilkie and Jung K. Kim. Cuing Consumerism: Situational Materialism Undermines Personal and Social Well-Being. Psychological Science, 2012
  • Zheng, Y. (2012). Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior. (2012 ed.). : IGI Global; Three Volumes edition.
  • Tykwer, T. (Director). (2012). Cloud Atlas. [Feature Film]. : Wide Release

The giant truth teller

An article from The Economist cites that the web will revolutionise social science just as the microscope and telescope transformed the natural sciences. Indeed, the use of internet evoluated from scientific and military fields (Howie, W., 2016), to everyday life niches, facilitating a better life-style and satisfying our needs and the growing number of necessities. However, this change involves significant exposure of private information, or at least information that we think is private and has a strong impact on our behaviour. In what ways does internet change our self-perception, collective perception, what are a few implicit problems and what do we learn from the giant truth-telling machinery?

To start with, we are witnessing an evolution of the concept of privacy as the access to the on-line world spreads its influence deep inside our lives. From gps devices, text messages, health tracking apps to google searches and enabling browser cookies, we are constantly leaving traces of behaviour online in exhange for a dose of gratification or some sort of utility. Consequentially, the purpose of the internet to be a vechicle of communication and data exchange (Ryan, J., 2013), seems to be fulfilled and its growth is constantly expanding. In presence of the given circumstances, one fundamental trait of human behaviour is heavily exposed – the practice of communicating untruths or defend ourselves with false or incomplete information.

90e02dd91d1a0b277deb70f147b4914bThe idea is that the advancement of technology gives us the possibility to discover new perspectives on behaviour. It also shows us how our interaction with each other is influenced and sometimes impeded by our idea of holding on to a specific set of beliefs and social norms, even with the price of the truth. For example, data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, spent four years analysing anonymous Google data. An article summarising his findings mentions that despite mainstream popularity of ideologies like racial or gender equality or a heavily sex-driven society, people’s internet searches show that in their ‘private lives’, people are still a long way from overcoming prudices and stereotypes and be representative of the ideas they advocate. For example, of all Google searches starting with “Is my two-year-old…,” the most common next word is “gifted”. But this question is not asked equally about boys and girls. Parents are two-and-a-half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted? Parents are also one-and-a-half times more likely to ask whether their daughter is beautiful than whether their son is handsome (Stephens-davidowitz, 2017). Even if there may be some uncontrollable variables in the equation, it is quite evident that some biases are deeply ingrained in our psychology more than we’d care to believe. And in this situation it is the big scale internet data that helps us see the bigger picture and make us think about those problems.

Meanwhile, as our actual concept of privacy is challenged and also misused by poor social media communication, scam projects and commercial outlets, it leads to problems related to personal feelings of insecurity, uncertainity, and an accentuated psychological need for protection. While many opportunities to extend our range of possibilities are born with the expansion of our cognitive arsenal into technology as (Silva, 2017), there is a prominent need for reciprocal understanding and compassion in order for the technological evolution to have a constructive impact on our society.

Even if at an initial glance, the data we get access to is constantly showing us that the world is worse than we have thought, the great value of it is its ability to lead us from problems to solutions. We will probably keep hiding different aspects of our personalities or ways of thinking for some time but the internet showed us we are not alone in our desires even if at times this can be uncomfortable to accept.

References:

  • Ryan, Johnny. A history of the internet and the digital future. Reaktion Books, 2013.