When it comes to technological advancement, there are always a few unexpected side effects. And while the cons may not outweigh the pros when it comes to technology’s growing pains, they are important to acknowledge, and treat. Especially when you consider that a new frontier of medicine will also, in some ways, create a new frontier of issues we’ll have to deal with.
The goal of virtual reality technology is to immerse us into another world so that everything feels real. Whether it’s being used for entertainment like movies and video games, or for more practical purposes like physical therapy or business meetings, the point is to make someone feel like they’re really there. Even though they aren’t, it tricks the brain into thinking they just experienced something… because that’s all experiences are; electrical impulses fed to our brains via our senses.
So even if we are tricking ourselves into feeling things, we still feel them. Which can have repercussions.
As an example, realistic enough virtual experiences could still cause people post-traumatic stress. We see this already with military drone operators. Even though the pilots themselves were safely on the ground, they were still flying a combat mission, with all the mental stress and strain that comes with that. Though they were never in any physical danger, that doesn’t mean they didn’t experience something that could still give them a disorder. And as virtual reality grows more advanced, and as it’s used in even more applications, this kind of psychological response may become more common. Because your brain can’t tell the difference between the real world, and the fake world you’ve tricked it into thinking is real, as Medical Futurist
Addiction has been an issue for the entire length of human history, and as the experts have so often pointed out, addiction is just as much (if not more) in the mind than it is in the body. So there will be people for whom reliance on technology, and the worlds it opens up to them, becomes a serious psychological dependency.
While we’ve seen this talked about in fiction with novels like Ready Player One
, it’s also a reality in some ways already. There are individuals who begin to feel anxious or depressed if they haven’t logged on to see what’s going on in the world. People who will play video games for hours and even days on end, ignoring the responsibilities in their lives in favor of the hits of serotonin they get from leveling up or completing a level. And as technology grows more advanced, and what was once thought of as science fiction becomes part of our daily lives, we’ll need to learn how to deal with the impacts it has on us, our minds, and our social constructs.
Technology doesn’t always create new conditions on its own… sometimes it just exacerbates conditions that already exist. It’s been argued, for example, that the widespread use of in-home entertainment has contributed to America’s obesity epidemic. People who have used unregulated vaping juices have been grievously injured or killed as a result. The list goes on.
However, it’s important to remember that for every problem there exists a solution. Whether it’s modifying the technology to correct a flaw, or studying how it affects us as users over time, we can overcome these new challenges. And, in some cases, we may simply need to do it by inventing alternative technological approaches to deal with our issues.
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