Augmented reality & Virtual reality: a step change in the way we connect

We are on the move again in how we experience each other.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are developing apace. AR enhances what we see via smart glasses which overlay 3D, contextually aware graphics on to our view of the real-world environment. Whereas VR will completely immerse us in an alternate, 360-degree world, either live action or computer animated, using a headset that tracks head movements. With AR, users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual objects around them. With VR, the user is isolated from the real world while immersed in an environment completely fabricated. Haptic devices will allow our senses to be hijacked and stimulated to correspond with our VR view.

Made into ingeniously designed applications, these different technologies are destined to become more ubiquitous than the smartphone. It’s worth pausing to consider how immersing our minds in this way may inextricably alter our connection with our self and others – bringing a step change by way of a highly psychoactive experience. By psychoactive, this is to say altering mood, sensation and potentially impacting behaviour.

Perhaps we have had experiences where absorbed on a tablet or smart phone, time may have become mildly distorted, disassociating us temporarily from who or what is important in our world. Some find it more than a transient issue. Problematic tech use is a growing social issue which is being debated worldwide.

Increasingly people approach therapists for help when their digital endeavours have become all consuming, accompanied by changes in mood, gaming becoming preoccupation, their thoughts seemingly captured, perhaps causing them to disregard their obligations with an inability to control the amount of time spent interfacing within a digital world.

Mental-health experts disagree over whether excessive use of technology, using it in a compulsive fashion, is an addiction. Some see excessive tech use such as this a symptom of another disorder such as anxiety or depression rather than a separate entity.

The Internet of things performs unique, creative and enormously beneficial human tasks. It’s not yet easy to see how this composite view of reality will change the way we live, love and ultimately connect with each other in relationships.

We are only at the start of a necessary dialogue to understand more about what these technologies will mean for our minds.