How virtual reality will change our world

Photo illustration
Photo illustration

What this new technology means for the masses

By Shea O’Grady, Contributor

By now, most of us are familiar with the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality (VR) headset that changes your field of vision along with the movements of your head and provides users with an intense visual and audio experience. But what are the true implications of this technology? At the moment, most virtual reality headsets are fairly expensive and not used for much else other than gaming, but as the technology becomes increasingly mainstream firms have begun experimenting with other exciting possibilities. This is why I want to personally go on record in 2016 with my prediction that this is the future of the Internet and the new face of our social media.

The possibilities for VR are literally endless. Perhaps one of the most interesting VR projects to date is the work being done at the University of South Carolina, where researchers are using virtual reality technology to treat PTSD symptoms in American Veterans. The technology allows therapists to expose soldiers to a lifelike combat environment in a controlled setting. This study demonstrates the creative possibilities and power of this tool by asking us to imagine ourselves in a digital environment that we can navigate in the most human way possible, similar to the way we do in the real world.

But how will this technology affect the masses? The first answer is social media. Oculus Rift was acquired by Facebook in March of 2014 with the intention of pairing this technology with their social platform. Last month, Facebook announced a partnership with Samsung, who has developed their own VR headset that can be used in conjunction with mobile devices.

Imagine a form of Internet powered by Facebook in which you can find yourself in a 360-degree environment. You can interact with other people in the same environment as you, and do it all in real time. This means socializing online could look something like it did pre-Internet. A group of people actually getting together and communicating in the same room, having a normal conversation.

Another fascinating opportunity for Facebook and VR is the business implications. A platform like this has the potential to obliterate Skype and enhance the ease of virtual organizations. You could meet with clients or coworkers in a digital boardroom and give a presentation with the tools literally encoded in to your environment. Or perhaps businesses may open VR internet stores. Picture the future of Amazon and e-commerce being a similar experience to walking through a store in the mall, looking at products and displays.

Although most VR headsets carry with them a hefty price tag, it’s interesting to see how the technology is increasingly becoming mainstream and adapting to the mobile marketplace. Beyond the Samsung Gear VR which is built specifically for Samsung mobile phones, Google has created a product that can turn almost any smart phone into a virtual headset. Google Cardboard is a sort of VR headset and origami hybrid. The incredibly simple cardboard headset features a compartment similar to a phone case. The simple construction and inexpensive materials of this headset means that it has a price of about $6, making it accessible to the masses and easily integrated with the mobile phone market.

Who knows how things will look 5–10 years down the road. We would all be wise to keep an eye on VR as it develops. We might soon find ourselves using it in our daily lives and wondering how we ever lived without it