Каталог :: Психология

Сочинение: Virtual Reality

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Liza Mirkovskaya
Professor Shaffer
English Composition 3
7 December 2003
      Impact of Virtual Reality on Human Identity and Relationships      
It is impossible to imagine contemporary civilized society without well-
developed computer technologies, which were created to ease all kinds of
human activity as well as to enhance human identity and relationships with
the society. However, as with any essential life phenomenon, virtual
technologies have detrimental effects. Last decade of the twentieth century,
as well as the beginning of the new millennium, produced new diseases of
civilization, resulting not only from air pollution and urbanization, but
also from total “virtualization.” How can we explain the disease of
“virtualization”?
People who became acquainted with the virtual reality are not capable of
stopping to use it because it gives the illusion of enormous opportunities to
an individual. In her essay, “Who Am We”, Sherry Turkle argues that such
people would agree that virtual reality allows people to “express unexplored
aspects of the self” (678). She means that if there are some aspects of
individuals that they are shy to demonstrate, they can do so by resorting to
virtual reality, where they can act without a fear of judgment. Therefore,
she argues, people can overcome shyness by simply spending time in virtual
reality. Virtuality also allows people to be creative by crafting multiple
virtual selves.  By covering under these multiple selves, people can quickly
achieve success in romantic relationships, which would take a lot of time and
effort in real life. Generally, frequent Internet users might argue that
virtual reality is beneficial because it takes people away from their
difficult problems. However, these defenders of virtual reality do not
realize that running away from the tough “real” world does
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not solve existing problems; on the contrary, it aggravates them. Resorting
to virtual reality does more harm than good. By disconnecting people from the
real world, virtual reality leads to such psychological problems as
isolation, loss of social contacts and communication skills, sense of false
reality, and depression. The relationship between isolation and other
psychological troubles is circular: the more isolated the person is, the more
psychological disorders he possesses.
Recent developments in technology, especially Internet, have isolated people by
breaking their connection with the physical world. The virtual reality that
traps Internet users requires them to pay full attention to the computer screen
in order to follow what is going on there instead of concentrating on real
events and people. Internet users usually do not communicate verbally with
anyone because that takes their attention away from the virtual reality. While
using Internet, people spend their time sitting alone in front of their
computer.  All they have to do is to stare at the screen and move their hand a
little to navigate the mouse and type responses in chat rooms. A film The
Matrix provides an effective example of such isolation. The movie starts by
depicting Neo’s room, which is full of digital gadgets. The room is messy and
stuffy. It is dark – the absence of sunlight shows how isolated Neo is from
natural environment. In the scene, Neo is asleep in front of his computer, with
his headphones on. The sound of music does not disturb his sleep. However, when
a message pops up on the screen of his computer, he wakes up. It shows that Neo
is so connected to the virtual reality that he does not respond to natural
environments anymore. It is noteworthy that Neo’s apartment number is 101 – the
numbers that digital systems are made of. This is representative of how
strongly Neo is tied to the virtual world of computers and Internet. Neo wakes
up tired – most likely he has spent a long time in front of his computer and
has not
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talked to other people. Therefore, Neo’s persona shows that physical
separation leads to mental isolation from others. Losing contact with other
people, Internet users usually become
more and more drawn into virtual reality. These people start to forget the
events that happen in their surroundings since what matters more is the
virtual reality of the chat room. Their interests shift toward the computer
reality. It is as if an invisible screen is built between these people and
their environments. As time goes on, frequent chatters are preoccupied more
with “friends” they have met online that the real friends they possess. They
start perceiving the “real” world as just a chair and a table, on which there
is a computer and a mouse with a pair of speakers. To prove this isolation,
Clifford Stoll, in his essay “Isolated by the Internet”,  refers to a study
that shows that “greater use of Internet was associated with [.]
statistically significant declines in social involvement.”(650).
Clifford Stoll also mentions that “.The best predictor of psychological
troubles is a lack of close social contacts” (651). Isolation leads to
numerous social problems. Isolated people lose contact with family,
neighbors, and friends much easier, thus losing an essential support system.
As Stoll describes it, “the effect of electronic communication is to isolate
us from our colleagues next door” (654). He cites an example of two
colleagues who communicated extensively online but failed to recognize each
other at work, although they sat only five feet from each other. Although
this example may seem paradoxical at first sight, it truly reflects the
reality of online communication, which takes away the human aspect of
communication, making it impersonal and remote.
As Internet users become more and more isolated from society, they lose
communication skills that are crucial for “real-life” interactions. Nowadays,
e-mail messages substitute a lot of human interaction. However, “E-mail [.]
prevent (s) us from learning basic skills of dealing with people face to
face” (Stoll, 651). E-mails “allow” people
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to communicate precisely what they need by giving them a chance to think over
what they want to write. Nevertheless, precise communication includes not
only expressing thoughts in
clear words, but also intonations, facial expressions, and gestures. E-mail
messages cannot possibly provide all of these human means of communication.
Therefore, there is an atrophy of normal communication skills and emotions
that most human beings possess. When Internet users have to interact with
others in real life, they experience difficulties because they have already
lost their communication skills and abilities to communicate by expressing
emotions. Failure to communicate expressively causes a natural reaction of
withdrawing further from the society, which leads to even greater isolation.
Isolation from the real physical world forces people to shift their lives
toward the virtual world, in which they create different personas and use
those to communicate with other Internet users. Therefore, there is a false
sense of reality in the minds of these people. Plunging into false reality
causes people to lose control of their real world, where they live and
interact with others. It is true that this virtual reality might seem
comforting because people are able to construct it in a way that pleases them
the most. However, people have to return to their everyday reality in order
to stay in control of it.
Thus, the inner and outer harmony of an individual is distorted, and
psychological problems appear. One of them is depression.  By definition,
depression is a clinical condition, in which external factors cause an
individual to have prolonged feelings of helplessness, sadness,
worthlessness, and internal pain. Usually people who resort to virtual
reality already possess some mental problems, such as low self-esteem, fear
of judgment, and feeling of worthlessness. In the virtual reality, especially
in the MUDs, they create a world that seems comforting and secure for them.
When people get off Internet and realize that the sweet reality of
imagination is over and they have to deal with the harsh reality of their
life, they
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tend to feel disoriented and helpless. Clifford Stoll refers to a study that
has proven an “increase in depression by about one percent for every hour
spend online per week” (649). Stoll also cites an example of a Pennsylvania
college student, Steve, who spends most of his time online in the MUDs. Steve
confesses that when he is playing online, he is “in control of my [Steve’s]
character and my [Steve’s] destiny in this world” (qtd. in Stoll). However,
when he is not online, Stoll writes, “he’s held back by low self esteem. Shy
and awkward around people, he’s uncomfortable around women and doesn’t fit
well in school” (652). Therefore, Stoll’s example proves that people who
resort to virtual reality to escape their problems tend to feel even more
depressed after returning to the “real” world. Sherry Turkle writes that
“players [in the MUDs] commonly try to take things from the virtual to the
real and are usually disappointed” (682). Since resorting to the virtual
world is their escape from the difficult real environment, how do they deal
with the realization that escaping reality does not take away the problems?
For human beings, especially for insecure individuals, returning to a harsh
environment creates additional stress, which elevates the levels of
depression. Each time individuals are brought back into the world where they
feel left out, the symptoms of depression become worse. They realize that
they have wasted time online enjoying themselves in the fictitious world, but
they have not addressed their problems. They feel that they are losing
control over their real world, which causes them to feel sharp inner pain.
They feel worthless; however, they might not have anyone to talk about their
feelings since they have already become alienated from their friends and
family. Therefore, virtual reality traps people into a vicious circle: the
more time they spend online in chats, the more isolated they are and the more
depression and loneliness they experience in their real life.
Sherry Turkle cites another example of a typical victim of virtual reality,
Stewart, who spent most of his time in the MUDs. Stewart decided to resort to
MUDs because he realized
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that his “real” social life was not satisfactory. He viewed himself as
worthless and unimportant to others. However, he created a totally different
image of himself in virtual reality. He depicted himself as outgoing,
romantic, and brave. Nevertheless, Turkle says that “for Stewart, playing on
MUDs led to a net drop in self-esteem.MUDdnig did not alter Stewart’s sense
of himself as withdrawn, unappealing, and flawed” (681). Turkle’s example
proves that resorting to virtual reality is not a way out; on the contrary,
it is a source of mental problems, such as depression, lowering of self-
esteem, and further withdrawal from the society.
My own virtual reality experience allowed me judge the difficulty of
returning to the real world from comforting imaginary reality. I was not
indulging in using virtual reality to escape from my “problems”; therefore, I
did not experience any signs of depression or loss of inner harmony when
returning to the real world. However, it was fairly hard for me to get back
to the real world because my virtual self was different from my real self. My
virtual self, Annette was a twenty-year-old girl that had already achieved
success in the field of psychology at such a young age. She was a confident,
intelligent, and self-satisfied individual who was living in harmony with
herself. She had a chance to spend a lot of time doing what she really
enjoyed: thinking, talking to friends, and travel all around the world. Since
I created my virtual persona to be someone of my dreams, I felt like my
dreams had come true. Each time I finished writing my post, I felt that I was
being deceived by the two realities. I realized that I have to deal with the
difficult “real” reality, but all my hopes and dreams were realized in
another, virtual, reality. Therefore, my own virtual reality experience
proves that resorting to the fictional world elevates the feeling of
discomfort, and, more often, depression.
How do current technological developments change people’s lives? It is true
that they benefit the society by speeding up communication and allowing
people to create
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different personas online and act upon them without fearing others’ judgment.
However, development of Internet and virtual reality has also isolated people
from the real world, thus subjecting them to such psychological tribulations
as depression and loss of connection with others. By intending to help
people, digital technologies make people’s lives miserable. People, whose
inner harmony was destroyed by excessive Internet use, are no longer able to
be active and creative members of the society. The world we live in today is
not perfect; there is much injustice, war, poverty, and hunger to be
eradicated. People who have plunged into the virtual reality are so isolated,
depressed, and disconnected from others that they are lost for the society.
These Internet users are not able to solve everyday problems and improve life
around them. Our society is in danger of falling into the abyss of
virtuality. If people do not understand this and move away from the abyss,
the human society will fall apart.
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                                   Works Cited                                   
     The Matrix. Dir. Larry and Andy Wachowski. Perf. Keana Reeves, Laurence
Fishborne, Carie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving. Videocassette. Warner Bros.,
1999.
Stoll, Clifford. “Isolated by the Internet”. Mind Readings: An Anthology for
Writers. Ed. Gary Colombo. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002.
648-655.
Turkle, Sherry. “Who Am We?” Mind Readings: An Anthology for Writers.
Ed. Gary Colombo. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. 675-687.