Interpersonal Communication and Virtual Reality: Mediating Interpersonal Relationships
Mark T. Palmer Northwestern University
Technological advances in the forms of human communication will undoubtedly be listed among the major achievements of the 20th century. Widespread growth in computer, telephone, and broadcast networks has generated a process by which society is redefining itself in terms of the information age. An increasingly larger share of the population is spending work and leisure hours creating, transforming, transmitting and consuming a man-made resource--information. The study of communication is becoming the science of information transfer. Yet an inescapable and essential part of social life is the formation and maintenance of interpersonal relationships.
In the information age, humans come to know one another and form bonds in a variety of contexts and through a variety of media. Individuals are finding ways to adapt the essential features of interpersonal relationships to the changing features of available media technologies. This interaction has never been so important as now when conducting personal and private relationships with others via computer-based channels is not a remote possibility, but a current reality. The advent of virtual reality (VR) promises to create a communication environment that transcends the limitations of all other media developed in the information age. This new technology will bring the immediate and sensually rich domain of the face-to-face encounter into direct contact with the imaginative, artificial, and control-oriented domain of the computer.
This chapter defines a perspective on interpersonal communication and describes how that perspective views the interaction of interpersonal communication and communication technology in general, and virtual