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Virtual Reality: Danger Will Robinson?

By: Sabrina M.

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend Social Media Week Chicago for a weeklong discussion on Reimagining Human Connectivity. Among the dozens of highly informative and engaging sessions, there was one called Virtual Reality Newbies. Hosted by our friends at Ketchum, the panel centered around four individuals who had just experienced virtual reality for the first time. Their enthusiasm was catching; everyone in the audience lit up as we watched a 5th grader, a personal injury lawyer, an undergraduate videographer, and a nutritionist enigmatically describe how amazing it was to be in this new realm of reality.

“You can’t lose with this!”

“It’s a revolution.”

“This is better than hanging out with my friends.”

“The possibilities are endless…”

Indeed they are. For much of the session, panelists and audience members alike shared opportunities for virtual reality to play a big role. For instance, VR could change the face of the way our children learn. Rather than reading a dull history book, they could experience iconic moments in history, learning by ‘doing’ and ‘seeing’ as opposed to passive reading. The face of retail marketing could change entirely. Shoppers may never have to set foot in stores again when they can try on clothes, browse stores, and place orders with a literal turn of the head or intentional blink of an eye. The trend is already growing. Last week, we published a post that talked about our favorite brand usages of virtual reality. Our own client, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, is using virtual reality to help patients recover from catastrophic injuries like strokes.

Image courtesy of Eric Moran Photography 

Virtual reality is still in its infancy, which means that the foreseeable negative ramifications for use are just being discovered. From an individual’s standpoint, here are the potential red flags:

  • Physical side effects – people who have used VR for more than ten minutes at a time have reported effects of nausea, dizziness, and headaches. Using VR devices for an extended period of time could have negative effects on one’s eyesight.
  • Disorientation – immersing oneself in a situation that mimics reality but isn’t real can cause extreme confusion, especially when used for extended periods of time. Users could start to experience a blur between what’s real and what isn’t.
  • Desensitization – with video games being one of the biggest new opportunities for VR, the danger of becoming desensitized to violent crimes is real.
  • PTSD – as an alternative to desensitization, people that play particularly violent or scary video games using VR devices could experience trauma triggered by the realistic immersive nature.
  • Social isolation – with all new technological developments (TV, radio, social media), the risk of social isolation is prevalent. Hearing firsthand from an 11-year-old that she would prefer to spend time with her friends via virtual reality certainly pushes us one step further into this particular drawback
  • Addiction – as with TV and social media, users could get addicted to this new form of technology. The risk here becomes much greater as we perceive potential ramifications of people losing touch with what’s really “real” and what’s virtually real.
  • Lawlessness – virtual reality is a space that is not currently governed by law and order. There have already been instances of sexual assault in a virtual space. The experience for those being attacked is much more visceral than if these moments were occurring on social media because there is no sense of separation between the attacker and the victim.

While the above issues aren’t necessarily related to brands or agencies, here are some that are:

  • Costly investment
  • Integration with current technology
  • Potential for lawsuits
  • New territory that needs to take into account all potential negative ramifications

As marketers, it is our responsibility to recognize, acknowledge and grapple with the potential pitfalls of virtual reality as fast as we do the possibilities. Only then can we ensure the ideal brand experience for users and ourselves alike. But, my heart is still with the people in that Social Media Week Chicago session, excited for a future filled with new possibilities, better connections, and amplified experiences.

11.22.16   The Biz

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