Possible Worlds: The Social Dynamic of Virtual Reality Technology

By Ralph Schroeder | Go to book overview

7
Virtual Worlds and the Social Realities of Technology

Virtual reality technology is still at an early stage of development. Yet within a short time, VR systems have gone from Lanier's unwieldy prototype to a variety of devices used in everyday settings, including products aimed at the consumer market. This book has examined the genesis of this technology and a number of contexts in which it is used. One of its central arguments has been that, to get a sense of the social implications of new technologies, technological and social change must be examined conjointly at several interrelated levels. It now remains for us to draw these levels together and to return to the significance of this study for the understanding of new technologies.

First then, to connect these levels, it may be useful to give a brief summary of the career of VR technology. VR systems have congealed into several types of devices with a specific range of capabilities. This does not mean that the shape of this set of artifacts will remain on a predetermined track: advances in research, new design options, as well as the contexts of application will all continue to shift VR in different directions.

But from the vantage point of the sociology of technology, certain tracks of VR development have already become more pronounced than others. This pattern, whereby the technology has become refined in certain ways, allowing for certain types of manipulation of the world, cannot be explained by reference to "social shaping" or to the economic "pull" of markets alone. Instead, a number of scientific and technological advances, such as the increasing speed of computer graphics processing and enhanced position-tracking accuracy, have facilitated improvements in VR technology. These advances, however,

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