… and sofas you could hose down! It’s always entertaining to consider our future thinking of yesteryear with 20:20 hindsight. So as we await our ‘guest hosts’ who are going to usher in our own new era, we thought we would peer back into the archives of the Digest and The Psychologist to see how our consideration of technological advances has stood the test of time.
Winding the clock back to 1999, we find this piece from The Psychologist claiming that although VR had been described as ‘a solution looking for a problem’, there were in fact several important research questions in psychology that it was poised to answer. And does indeed seem that it is in the field of research where virtual reality has proven most prolific, with everything from replications of Milgram’s famous study to providing Digested gems such as ‘athletes more skilled at crossing the road than non-athletes’. Immersive virtual environments were also used in a (failed) attempt to reduce racial bias.
But a decade later, it could be argued that the early promise of virtual reality had faded and the focus was on online ‘virtual worlds’ rather than necessarily going for the fully immersive experience. We considered the issue in both The Psychologist and the Digest. ‘If you remain undaunted,’ Christian Jarrett wrote in ‘Get a Second Life’, ‘[psychologist Simon] Bignell says the first place to start is to download the free SL software from the internet. “Get yourself an avatar, customise it and then just take the plunge.”’ But did many psychologists heed that advice? Despite marking its 10th anniversary last June, Second Life has seen a considerable drop in its user-base and workforce in recent years. Perhaps such environments will remain a very distant second best.
At the risk of falling into the ‘Alan Sugar iPod’ trap, I would like to make a prediction of my own: that 3D television will prove to be a passing fad. I’m not convinced the predictions in our 2001 article on immersive television have really been borne out, and there is research to suggest that 3D films are neither more enjoyable nor more psychologically arousing than their 2D equivalents. Life happens in 3D anyway, and perhaps most people manage to immerse themselves in the experience psychologically just fine without the help of expensive and cumbersome technology. Now those sofas would be much more useful…