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Virtual reality is used every day in a number of fields, from physical therapy to entertainment. As much as the advantages of what the technology might one day achieve are, the disadvantages of virtual reality will need to be considered, as well. Some aspects, such as the technology that is used, pose significant problems to developers and cause restrictions in attempts at widespread use and distribution. Other concerns deal with the software implementation of virtual environments and the limits of what can and cannot be achieved. Finally, there are concerns about the social impact that immersive environments can have on people, as well as the psychological effects of prolonged usage.
One of the largest disadvantages of virtual reality is that the technology required for an immersive or natural experience has remained elusive. Haptic systems that provide physical feedback or allow a fully articulated presence within an environment are clumsy and can cause problems during use. The type of hardware that even simple head-mounted displays use can break the sense of immersion as adjustments to the device need to be made and components such as wires and headphones turn into obstacles to natural movement.
Even the most basic virtual reality hardware and software highlights another of the disadvantages of virtual reality, namely the cost. Any system that attempts to provide an immersive experience requires some type of display that will try to fool the human senses. These systems are very costly and can be problematic to use, largely because so few people have the technical knowledge to repair or maintain them. Additionally, most virtual reality systems are not readily interchangeable with different hardware, increasing the cost and reducing the long-term value of an initial investment in such a system.
Socially, some of the disadvantages of using virtual reality as entertainment have already started to surface, even without an experience that fully removes a person from his or her surrounding stimuli. One issue is social isolation, in which the user of virtual reality relies more on interactions that take place in a virtual world than on experiences in the real world. This lack of true, physical interaction has the potential to create incorrect associations that are not part of real social settings. The isolation could eventually cause depression, disassociation and other conditions, if it is severe enough.
Another of the possible psychological and social disadvantages of virtual reality is desensitization. If some users were to use virtual reality for entertainment extensively, then they could run the risk of failing to recognize the true consequences for actions in which they are taking part or are viewing. When translated to the real world, in an extreme case, this could cause a lack of understanding of the effects of some actions when performed outside the virtual environment.
I'm not sure the technology is yet there to create a realistic, virtual reality experience. In a couple of decades, the stuff we've got now will look as primitive as the Nintendo Virtual Boy does today. Count on it.
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