Virtual Reality: Social Impacts


Virtually the Same as Real Life

With the release of Sony’s virtual reality (VR) headset last week, many organizations are asking if they should wait and see how the technology develops or act now to create content and partnerships. The answer depends on how and why your organization would want to apply VR — regardless it will be important to keep in mind the possible social impacts of VR, some of which we’ll discuss here.

If you want to reach out to the 140 million plus videogame-obsessed players and fans that will soon start adopting VR, it is imperative to start now. We wrote about “eSports: The Rise of Professional Gaming” last year and have strong ties within the gaming industry if your company wants to get involved – from league partnerships to advertising opportunities to non-profits that use gaming to further social causes. Contact us to discuss this further.

Tens of millions of VR headsets are projected to be sold before the end of 2016. As the price of the technology drops in coming years, VR is likely to proliferate, and exercise a steadily growing influence on society.

Like no technology before it, VR is immersive, putting users in the middle of the action, making them active participants rather than passive watchers. And because it feels like a real experience, bridging the gap between users and their digital avatars, early research suggests that VR has a deeper and more long-lasting psychological impact than other media.

Thus far, VR games have captured much of the public and media attention. Yet the applications of VR go well beyond game-playing. In coming years, VR will become an increasingly important tool in education, healthcare, sports, architecture, the marketing of real estate and other products, pornography (of course), and much more.

Here we look at a few potential negative and positive social impacts of VR.

Possible Dangers of VR

Cybersickness. Studies have already shown that VR has physical side-effects that can include nausea, eyestrain, neck strain, and headaches—a nexus of symptoms that has been dubbed “cybersickness.” VR headset makers are attempting to improve motion tracking and increase frames per second in an effort to reduce associated motion sickness. In the meantime, Samsung and Oculus both advise users to take breaks every half-hour or so. Among children, VR may also produce dizziness, seizures, and possibly poor hand-eye coordination.

Damaging intimacy. The focus of much concern in this regard centers on the impact of VR on sexual relationships. Many critics worry that the ease-of-access and gratifying nature of VR sex (by design) and the absence of emotional entanglements might make actual, real-world physical contact less desirable for many users. Since pornography (including VR porn) focuses solely on the individual user’s self-gratification, the mutual pleasure (ideally) involved in real-world sexual relations may seem less appealing, more difficult, and even alien to a VR user’s experience.

The inevitable growth of VR porn begs such question as: Will VR sex alter (and some would say warp) users’ expectations of what real-life sex can and should be? Will VR sex train users to see sex solely as a means of self-gratification, regardless of the needs of the other? Should virtual sex be considered infidelity to one’s real-life partner? Will all these possible consequences lead to a weakening of marital and familial bonds and a rise in the divorce rate?

Possible Benefits of VR

Coping treatments. VR provides an opportunity for patients to practice new coping strategies in situations that cause them anxiety. In one experiment, VR treatment helped users combat depression and anxiety by increasing their self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-confidence while reducing their self-criticism. The program allowed users first to comfort a distressed child and then to take the place of that child, becoming the recipient of their own compassionate words and gestures.

VR has also been used successfully in treating such afflictions as post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, drug addiction, and a variety of phobias ranging from spiders and flying to crowds and public speaking.

Pain management. VR also has a palliative effect—perhaps due solely to the intensity of the distraction it provides. It has demonstrated its effectiveness in significantly easing the pain of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy as well as burn victims undergoing treatment and rehabilitation. Since the reduction of pain can boost survival rates, this palliative effect may be one of the greatest benefits VR can provide.

Positive behavior tool. VR has the demonstrated ability to increase empathy—for both others and for the users themselves.By increasing empathy toward oneself, VR can powerfully influence behavior. One experiment, for example, found that college students whose VR avatars were altered to look like their 65-year-old selves were willing to save twice as much money as those whose avatars were unchanged. Similarly, by showing users the impact of poor health choices on their future selves, VR avatars proved more effective in conveying health messages.


Given the immersive nature of VR, brands have an opportunity to strongly engage consumers, offer tangible benefits, and leave a lasting impression, but they must also police themselves from negatively impacting consumers.

Brexit Impact on the US

We asked futurist Kevin Osborn to chime in on his thoughts about how Brexit could potentially impact the US economy. Here’s what he had to say:

brexitAlthough the global (and US) hysteria—whether apocalyptic or jubilant—about the Brexit vote on June 23 may be somewhat overblown (this is not the harbinger of a global economic collapse), Brexit should also be viewed as something more than just a tempest in a (British) teapot. The realization of Brexit will have consequences, both immediate and long-term, not only for the UK and the EU, but for the US and the rest of the global economy.

The consequence with the greatest short- and long-term impact will likely be the lingering global uncertainty engendered by the Brexit referendum—and uncertainty is seldom favorable to financial markets or economic indicators. With $588 billion invested in the UK, the US is the largest single investor in Britain—meaning that any economic repercussions of Brexit will almost definitely reach across the Atlantic. Volatility in the US and global stock markets can have a negative impact on pensions and other retirement funds that rely on equities as a significant part of their portfolios—and as a result, deliver a blow to the growing but still fragile confidence of US consumers.

The drawn-out consequences of Brexit will also likelyfurther slow already sluggish US economic growth. US economic growth has long been fueled by consumption. Yet stock market volatility, as noted above, tends to whittle away at consumer confidence and depress spending. Although buying BMW Minis and other goods imported from the UK (as well as Europe and elsewhere) will become cheaper as the value of the dollar rises compared to the pound and euro, increased spending on imports is not likely to make up for growing reluctance to spend. Slowing economic growth will not be confined to the US alone, of course: In its worst-case scenario, the IMF predicted that Brexit could reduce economic growth by up to 5.6% over the next three years.

The deceleration of economic growth will likely be exacerbated by Brexit-induced job losses and a hiring slowdown. Certainly, as the UK ceases to serve as the principal gateway to the EU market, many of the more than one million manufacturing and financial-service jobs held by US workers in the UK are at risk,. But the threat to jobs applies not only to multinationals who operate within the UK and banks and other financial-service providers who have established London as the base for their EU operations. US manufacturing companies that depend on exports for a significant portion of their sales will also likely slow hiring as the growing strength of the dollar progressively shrinks export markets.

The reduction of US exports, due to the rise of the dollar (and the falling of oil prices, which are traded in dollars), will itself be an almost-certain consequence of Brexit. (Oil prices have already dropped 6% in the week since Brexit passed.) While a stronger dollar—the dollar exchange rate for the British pound has reached a 31-year low in the wake of Brexit—will be welcomed by US tourists, it will hurt US exporters.

Although US exports to UK amounted to $56 billion in 2015, just 4% of all US exports, the strengthening of the dollar due to Brexit will impact US exports to all markets. Jim O’Sullivan of High Frequency Economics, for example, has lowered his forecast for US export growth in the second half of 2016 from 2.5% to just 1%. The decrease in exports—and the increase in imports as the dollar remains strong—will likely add slightly to the US trade deficit.

One of the most significant outcomes of the Brexit decision for the US, however, is the further delay of anticipated interest rate hikes, which had already been put on hold due to sluggish economic growth and slowing job gains. (Yields on Treasury notes are already at their lowest rate in four years.) While low rates are good for homeowners, they are bad for investors—and for consumption growth (and therefore overall US economic growth). Persistently low interest rates, coupled with low productivity levels and high debt (which is, of course, fueled by low interest rates) stifle economic growth—and Brexit has locked in these stifling trends, perhaps for years to come.

As the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU take shape over the next two years, multinationals will, of course, pay heed to their European operations, with many considering relocating from the UK to Dublin or mainland cities like Paris or Frankfurt. Yet, as PwC notes, since the impact of Brexit on global trade, economic growth, free cross-border movement of labor, credit availability, and currency valuations remain unknown, companies would be well-advised also to monitor, assess, and reassess these developments as they unfold.

May 2016: Changing Values + Attitudes Around the World

Reinventing Yourself Globally: Indian-American Values + Attitudes

flickr_by M M

Indian-Americans are one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the Untied States. Now numbering nearly 3.2 million, the Indian-American population has quadrupled over the last 25 years.

The overwhelming majority of Indian-Americans — seven of every eight — are immigrants. While they are assimilating to the overall culture of the United States, most still have ties to family and friends in India and retain cultural ties to the country.

As a result, Indian-Americans are developing values and attitudes that mix those of their ethnic heritage and cultural identity with those more prevalent in the country where they now live.

Read more…