On October 28, 2017, The Guardian published “Virtual reality headsets could put children’s health at risk.”
Scientists studied children aged 8–12 playing 20-minute games. Here’s what they discovered:
Researchers have warned that virtual reality headsets could pose risks to users, particularly children. The scientists, based at Leeds University, believe continued use of VR sets could trigger eyesight and balance problems in young people unless changes are made to devices.
They aren’t the first researchers to study VR and its impact on users.
From the Association for Psychological Science (February 2014): “Virtual avatars may impact real-world behavior”
“Our results indicate that just five minutes of role-play in virtual environments as either a hero or villain can easily cause people to reward or punish anonymous strangers,” says lead researcher Gunwoo Yoon of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
College students demonstrating sadistic and sociopathic behavior within 5 minutes of VR role playing? That ain’t good. Have you watched the news lately? Most would agree that we don’t need more people punishing anonymous strangers.
Back to The Guardian article: This Leeds study was conducted in close collaboration with British VR companies. They state: “It was also one of the first to be carried out into the impact of virtual reality sets on users.”
Perhaps they don’t know about the 2014 VR studies on University of Illinois undergraduates. Now that I know about it, this statement is burned into my psyche:
just five minutes of role-play in virtual environments as either a hero or villain can easily cause people to reward or punish anonymous strangers.
Back to The Guardian article:
The warning comes as major companies including Facebook and Google outline plans to expand heavily in the field, while hardware companies have started promoting devices that turn mobile phones into head-mounted VR viewers.
That’s all we need – devices that turn mobile phones into head-mounted VR viewers. We don’t have enough devices? We don’t have enough problems with digital addiction?
More from The Guardian: “The tech world wants us to believe that virtual reality will unlock human understanding on a global scale.”
What a lovely gesture. Of course, what else could we expect them to say. Everybody’s got to make a living. We have all enjoyed and benefited from some of the technology they have already designed for us. They want to sell us more. That’s business.
But the promise to “unlock human understanding on a global scale” sounds eerily similar to what hippies said about using psychedelic drugs like LSD. As we know, some people fare better than others through drug experimentation. And the Tech Industry wants to produce and sell VR products to children as well as adults. They have already used VR in some schools and promoted it as being “educational.”
So let’s get real right now.
First we all know that achieving “human understanding on a global scale” isn’t something that requires VR or psychedelic drugs. Reading books and volunteering for charitable causes have also proven to do the same thing. It’s encouraging that many of us still see evidence of this in our daily lives as well as on the news.
More from The Guardian article: “Establishing the scientific evidence base on safe usage is important if we want to ensure that children benefit.”
Second, we already know it’s highly unlikely that Silicon Valley parents will be provide these products for their kids. So continuing to market VR as a benefit to children is gross and creepy.
New York Times 2011: “A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute”
New York Times 2014: “Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent”
If Silicon Valley parents don’t want this stuff, why should the rest of us?
More from The Guardian: “Failure to address the issues could lead to physiological damage in children, which in turn could limit take-up of VR devices.”
Like everything else, manufacturers will only stop making these products if we stop buying them.
Ultimately it’s up to consumers to decide whether VR products are worth the risk
If you feel that VR is something that would enhance your life though, you are in luck:
Virtual reality is expected to be a dominant force in domestic and industrial technology over the coming decades as engineers and scientists envisage a future in which people interact through headsets that appear to offer three-dimensional views.
I currently interact with enough people without using a VR headset. This already occasionally gives me headaches and sore eyes. I prefer not using products that could cause me to punish anonymous strangers or anyone else. What the world needs now is more love not more sociopaths.