Social media truly propelled humanity into a futuristic reality that none of us were ready for but we took to it like ducks to water. It fueled and satisfied the needs of our very nature: needing to be heard, seen and validated by giving us a platform to express ourselves and in return, receive the interaction that we so crave for. Social media has given life to a whole new industry of social media influencers and marketing tactics. People have taken to optimizing their Instagram bios and TikTok accounts in order to get as much information out there as possible in as little words as they can.
Along came the pandemic, which was the push that tipped the scales permanently in favor of online interaction. Aside from frontliners and essential workers, most of us were forced to work from home. This has increased the amount of time that was spent online, as well as increasing the advancements of digital technology. Due to the enormous amount of time we are spending online, it seems natural that virtual reality is the logical next step.
Social VR has been around for a while now. There are games and platforms that allow users to create their own avatars to explore a virtual world that has been set out for them.
"Second Life" is one such instance. The game encourages users to form a detachment from their avatars, offering them fantasy-based skins and avatars so that they don’t overly-immerse themselves in the virtual world. This is a far cry from what many social media platforms are currently doing, which is to encourage users to use their real names and to put up accurate information about themselves.
Facebook also offers their own virtual reality platform under the Oculus products, called Horizon. The entire concept of Horizon is “to create meaningful connections between people and foster a strong sense of community for everyone who joins Horizon.” However, it is currently in beta mode and operates on an invite-only mode.
The company has recently undergone a rebranding and is now known as “Meta”, a direct reference to the metaverse that they are currently building.
Is social media a prelude to virtual reality? In many ways, it is already a form of virtual reality itself, since our online personas are a direct representation of who we are and the content that we choose to share are also punctuated by the truth in our lives. The only distinction is that we’re still living our lives offline, whereas virtual reality will replace part of our offline lives and we will be able to interact in real-time, directly, with anyone who is in the vicinity of our virtual selves. We would be able to do things together, such as quests, or holidays, and even meetings.
Augmented reality, or AR, is almost the opposite of virtual reality. It offers users a virtual reality alongside our real-world environment. Pokemon Go is one such game that takes advantage of this technology. People are encouraged to go outside in search of Pokemons in their cities.
In social media, this is prevalent in the filters that you use on Instagram or Snapchat whereby users can change their appearances or add visual elements to their surroundings. This adoption of AR, like social media, went largely unnoticed and has now become hugely widespread.
Social media platforms have previously partnered with huge fashion and makeup brands in order to allow users to try on cosmetics or clothes through their social media app. This streamlined method of e-commerce has the potential to increase sales and reduce return rates.
Virtual reality will truly open up doors like never before. Previously, social media influencers or celebrities will have to hop on a plane to fly to an event but with virtual reality, anyone from all over the world will be able to attend. This will give precedence to influencers and celebrities that are most fitting and relevant to the event’s demographic instead of whoever is most convenient to attend.
In the past, geographic presence used to matter, but virtual reality will remove those boundaries once and for all. People from all walks of life and time zones can cross the divide and be in a virtual space together in spite of being miles away from each other. This will also extend to family members and colleagues.
With the demolition of geographical boundaries, the world will be one step closer towards the ideology of equal opportunity for everyone. Now, all that’s left is to make it accessible publicly so that those without access to the internet or the technology required to log on, will also be able to join this whole new world of virtual communities.