Will Social Engagement Save Virtual Reality?

The rise of the internet didn’t originate from search engines, news sites or web browsing. In a time where dial-up connection and computers were expensive, mass adoption of the World Wide Web was predominantly motivated by forms of social engagement: chat rooms and email. People were rushing to get online to interact with one another.

VR and plants

Virtual reality right now faces a similar predicament the internet did in its early days: how do you get people to adopt to a new medium? As history has proven, it won’t be through games, films or other forms of entertainment. Until we can incorporate social media and social engagement into the VR space, this industry may remain a bit obsolete on a mass scale.

Geek.com recently published an article,‘The Dream of Virtual Reality is Dead for Now,’ throwing quite the gut punch to the VR industry. The article’s author, Will Greenwald, states that until higher quality headsets are more affordable, the industry won’t prevail. What he’s missing in his argument is that companies like Oculus predict it will take five or more years for mainstream adoption of VR. Sony, Samsung, Google and other players in the VR industry are all taking similar approaches: they’re in it for the long haul.  

How do you turn a singular experience as stark as putting a VR headset on into a communal or socially engaging activity? Harvard professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski has spent years studying user behavior on social media platforms. What has he concluded? It’s all about pictures, voyeurism and cloaked engagement. Users spend hours online looking at funny photos, gawking at the lives of their friends or acquaintances, getting furious over the latest political debate recap and messaging with friends and family.

AltspaceVR & Netflix

AltspaceVR & Netflix

How can VR take from Piskorski’s learnings? Perhaps the future of VR is chatrooms like AltspaceVR, where your avatar engages other avatars? Maybe Skype will transform into a virtual arena? Or maybe we’re looking in the wrong place? Perhaps AR will trump VR and we’ll someday wine and dine with holographs of our favorite mythical creatures as teased out by Magic Leap?

If virtual reality is to make the splash we all hope it will, it has to find ways to connect us as humans. Through stories, social media platforms or other forms of human engagement we may find the key to unlocking mainstream VR.  


This article originally appeared on VRforEveryone