Consumption: Virtual ‘Reality”
According to the Merriam-Webster definition, virtual reality is “an artificial environment which is experienced through sensory stimuli… provided by a computer and in which one’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment” (“Virtual”). Also called “near-reality” by the Virtual Reality Society, the term “virtual reality” is normally in reference to a type of computer generated reality emulation (https://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/what-is-virtual-reality.html). Through the internet, users of virtual reality can download environments to experience alone or in the company of other users. Focusing on the online network capabilities of virtual reality, I will discuss the limitations of the technology and consumption of, and possibilities for the future with associated risks.
As with all technology, virtual reality is limited by the development of computer parts and network capability. Similar to the equilibrium between size and function with smartphones, virtual reality is limited by the current design that allows for augmentation. Currently, virtual reality is accessed through a computerized headset. The headset is often a stand-alone unit, although may be connected to a computer, that sits on the user’s head to display a three-dimensional environment. This immersion is often enhanced with the use of sound using built-in speakers. Virtual reality is limited in its power by the technology associated with the headset, but also by the development of online functionality.
Because the technology has recently entered the homes of consumers, although it has been a concept for over 100 years, the functions are limited to what the headset can run and what developers have created. One of the earliest examples of virtual reality is the stereoscope, developed by Charles Wheatstone. Modern VR has added the third-dimension as well as sound, but the future may hold scent or sensation emulations. This technology comes at a price, however, as VR headsets can cost upwards of a thousand dollars for consumer products. The military also utilizes VR in flight simulations, including things such as wind and vibrations to add to the realism. Users that can afford the headset, an internet subscription, necessary accessories, and option software can experience tens of different environments and play games that allow for things impossible in reality. The of VR is limited by the mobility of the device and price of the components. Thus, the online functionality of VR is limited by the number of users that may access it. What’s the point of an online chat if no one else can afford to join it? Bandwidth is also a large issue with the functionality of VR because if it escalates to a wide scale degree, the breadth of the internet wouldn’t be able to handle every person’s needs online.
In regards to cultural studies, the “Circuit of Culture, by Paul du Gay et. al, introduces a way of thinking about a concept in terms that emphasize the intersectionality of the different components. Although I’m focusing on consumption alone, it’s impossible to discuss consumption without regulation, representation, identity, and production becoming a part of the conversation. Consumption refers to the purchase of a good or service, the way the consumer uses it, and how the meaning of the product changes in the way that it’s used. The “Circuit of Culture” illustrates how something infiltrates society and becomes associated with culture, both literally and abstractly.
Media loves to theorize about the future of technology, especially in outlandish science fiction. Shows like Black Mirror and Sword Art Online have implemented virtual reality in a full body experience with complete immersion. Both pieces of media, however, show the dangers of letting a technology dictate your environment and control your neurology. Software such as VR Chat, a virtual reality chatting service, is where I see the internet playing a large part in the future of this technology. The COVID-19 pandemic created isolation, and subsequently the fear of, and led to the development of online social software. VR Chat places the users in a setting of their choice with strangers on the internet. Creating an artificial environment to reflect how people naturally meet is the future of virtual reality.
I theorize that because of the rapidly increasing human population to an unsustainable degree, pandemics and other disasters will continue to force society into isolation. Virtual reality will act as a medium to experience real life in the comfort of the home. Soon, everyone will have a headset so that they may meet with their friends and experience different environments together at a much lower cost than once before. No longer will individuals have to risk the dangers of outside; they will instead work to experience things impossible in reality or things possible only once. Virtual reality sex, virtual reality food, virtual reality life. Despite all the warnings from fictional media about becoming addicted to the internet and allowing it to have too much autonomy over people, people will always go too far rather than not far enough.
Subscription services have become largely popular in the entertainment world today. I believe that in the future, households will be subscribing to certain clubs and platforms where they experience virtual reality at an exclusive level. For example, a breakfast bar location where you can experience an atmosphere and clientele of like-minded people may cost a certain amount a month to allow for access. Exclusivity is a large part of what makes people feel special and how to earn capital. Services such as these would act similarly to country clubs; providing the rich a place to flaunt their richness and the poor a feeling of envy. Anything with a semblance of “reality” will reflect the status quo of the current world, so I believe virtual reality is not an exception. I think it will further this division and make the internet a place even more elitist than the “real” world. People with attempt to emulate reality when what was once reality is impossible to achieve, letting the real-world rot from going too far.
“Virtual Reality Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/virtual%20reality.
“What Is Virtual Reality?” Virtual Reality Society, June 30, 2017. https://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality/what-is-virtual-reality.html.