In a way, social media is a form of virtual reality. You portray a version of yourself, but that representation isn’t exactly you. You have to leave some aspects of yourself out, and people often add in pieces that don’t exist in the real world. People tend to show only the best parts of their lives, while leaving out the negative and unexciting parts. Some day soon, that virtual version of yourself will become much more realistic, but still it won’t necessarily represent what you really are. Virtual reality technology, which is already becoming a part of the conversation surrounding social media, will enable this shift.
FB and VR
In 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus Rift, one of the world’s leading virtual reality companies. FB recently launched the beta version of a social virtual reality app that allows you to communicate with people through the use of avatars in a virtual but 3D environment.
This leap into VR wasn’t a sudden development for social media. Social media has slowly been becoming more realistic and engaging. Social media has transformed from using just text, images and video to today’s iterations where users can stream live videos and upload “360 videos,” which allow viewers to pan and tilt their view to see the video from any angle. Virtual reality will take these interactive and real-time trends to the next level.
Facebook has signaled that it’s just beginning its expansion into VR. It wants to make the technology into a new form of communication where people can virtually meet up with friends and communicate with them in realistic ways from the comfort of their VR systems.
A Tale of Two Worlds
What would this virtual social world look like? In its perfect form, a lot like reality. Except that in a virtual world, you can do things you couldn’t do in the real world and be anyone you want as well.
You could create an avatar that looks like you do in reality. At some point, technology may allow you to generate a digital version of you that’s indiscernible from the human version. This would enable you to share your world with your friends in a much more comprehensive way and hang out with them in virtual worlds.
Many users, though, would likely create avatars that are nothing like their real-life selves. Why stick to what you’re like in your daily life when you can be anyone one you want in a multitude of realistic virtual worlds?
VR may one day become even more engaging and seemingly more meaningful than real life. Designers develop VR experiences that play to our senses. We might experience things in a virtual world, but these experiences can cause real emotional reactions.
Combining human-like avatars with the precision of a computer program could yield powerful results. Did you know that if someone mimics your movements, you’re more likely to agree with them? Humans can do this subconsciously, but it’s difficult to purposely mirror someone’s head tilting and hand movements in a natural-looking way while maintaining the flow of conversation. A computer-powered avatar, however, would have no trouble with this.
As virtual reality becomes more and more realistic, how will we be able to tell the difference between the digital world and the physical world? How much of a difference will there even be? If we can have sensory and emotional experiences in the virtual world, does that make it, in a way, real?
What this would mean for society is a fascinating discussion. Some people might end up spending more time in the virtual world than out of it.
As social media becomes increasingly integrated into our lives, the question of what comes next looms large. According to social media and tech industry leaders, the answer seems to be the merging of social media and virtual reality, and the thinning of the line between the physical and digital worlds.