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Virtual Reality (part 3): Moral panic & other media

What will it mean for society as Virtual Reality (VR) gradually becomes more mainstream? In the final part of our three-part series we ask our panel of experts: ‘what will this mean for TV?’, ‘what will the wave of moral panic around this topic be?’ and ‘what else do people need to know?’

How will VR be used: Is it a replacement to TV?

“I see VR headsets being used anywhere you'd currently find a computer. On the scale of mainstream usefulness, VR probably sits close to the tablet. By this I mean way less popular than mobile phones, but close to TV and tablet adoption with at least one per home or office.

VR is essentially just another way of interacting with the virtual world that is more revolutionary than new screen sizes and way more powerful than add-ons like 3D glasses or 4K TV. This is about enjoying content in a completely immersive and attentive way to the point where you may feel like you’re somewhere else.

The big question isn’t about where and when people will use the technology, but about what brands and broadcasters are going to produce. We hope it means more immersive and engaging content that will change people’s perceptions and expectations.”

-          Ian Hambleton, Creative Partner, Allez! Studio

 

“VR will never replace TV. It is technology that supports a new form of media and people will always be looking for supplementary entertainment. Much like the historical arguments of TV supposedly killing off radio after its introduction - it nearly did, but there has been a recent resurgence. In a similar way I see VR sitting alongside other forms of entertainment in the home. TV is a very social device - compared to VR. Can you imagine sitting round the dinner table, eating Christmas dinner watching the Queen's speech wearing VR helmets? Augmented Reality is another matter, which could be quite social, but many technical challenges need to be resolved prior to its adoption.”

-          Warren Lester, Engineering Product Manager at Vicon


“I don’t think VR will be a replacement for TVs. Historically, if you look at the introduction of new media formats, they never replaced one format over another. Instead, they’ve created a new way for artists to express themselves. For instance, photographs didn’t mean the end of painting, and TV didn’t mean the end of the cinema going experience. VR will be no different. And always, the onus is on people creating content - to ensure it’s high quality and engaging.”

-          Jon Wadelton, Chief Technology Officer, The Foundry

 

We’ve seen ‘sexting’ and ‘cyberbullying’ emerge in the wake of mobile technology. What will the next wave of moral panic about this one be?

Mild panic (mainly from the mainstream media) will ensue when adoption levels rise to mainstream proportions. Issues like sexting and cyberbullying aren't a particularly new problem, however these new tech advances could potentially produce more harmful effects.

The main concern will be around how comfortable people are with immersing themselves in another virtual world and how they handle that balance. We’ll be confronted with things like acting as another person, which whilst it’s not a new possibility in our digital era, will now allow more opportunity for people to be completely distracted from their actual lives. Ultimately though it will all settle down and people will use it as another fantastic way of communicating and enjoying seamlessly integrated experiences.

-          Ian Hambleton, Creative Partner, Allez! Studio

 

“I think the fear will be that full immersive VR allows you to completely disconnect from the real world, which in turn, could have the impact of creating a society ill-equipped for real life human interaction. There’s talk of people staying in their homes, and visiting virtual bars, or virtual restaurants with virtual friends.

But let’s think about other technologies. Phones, email, text, videoconferencing. Some raised concerns that people would become more distant. But in fact, it’s brought us closer, both in our personal and professional lives.

Also, if you look at technologies in recent years, with every moral panic we’ve seen incredibly powerful impacts. Right now, you have groups like Stanford University and its Virtual Human Interaction Lab. One of its experiments right now is ‘Empathy at Scale’. The research uses virtual reality simulation to let people experience another person’s life - someone of a different ethnic background, someone with disabilities or someone in a different age group. So absolutely, there are the negative impacts that any technology can have on society. But there are some that are equally, if not more, positive.”

-          Jon Wadelton, Chief Technology Officer, The Foundry

 

“Privacy will be an aspect but not being able to experience what others are, will be the most controversial moral issue. You can see people arguing that overuse could lead to detachment and a tendency for sociopathic behaviour, as users become more detached from reality. It’s already widely recognised that this type of behaviour is being exhibited by individuals within virtual communities, so as the virtual world expands we can expect the same type of ‘moral panic’ to begin to occur within VR in the next two to five years. But like other immersive experiences - from computer games to TVs - most people will separate the virtual from reality.”

-          Warren Lester, Engineering Product Manager at Vicon

 

What else needs to be said about VR?

“I don't think people realise how big a deal VR is yet, although that is common with new technology. Whilst it’s not quite as life altering as 3D printing, which will change the world, it’s like a teleportation device you can use without physically going anywhere. Don't think VR is just about playing games and enjoying films. Think about meeting distant friends from social networks in virtual places and families that are separated across the world being able to be get together again. VR will be one of the first technologies that could make online communication feel more seamless and ultimately more human.”

-          Ian Hambleton, Creative Partner, Allez! Studio

 

“While the discussions around the gear providers is important, I think we need more discussion on how high quality content that will capture and hold people’s attention, imagination and engagement. The headlines revolve around Facebook and Google, Oculus Rift and Samsung. And all of these companies are doing pretty cool things. But without that high quality content, the novelty will wear off and people will move on. I think that’s what is so fundamentally different about VR this time around versus years ago. There’s an ecosystem looking at all elements of virtual reality and that collective will make it succeed.”

-          Jon Wadelton, chief technology officer, The Foundry

 

“The current day to day uses of VR tend to get completely swamped by stories about the huge potential of consumer applications. However, VR has already had a massive impact on our lives. When we drive a car, fly in an aeroplane and even use a washing machine, our experience of that product and in most cases the cost of using it has been positively impacted by VR.”

-          Warren Lester, Engineering product manager at Vicon

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