Over the past several decades, there has been an exponential growth in technology that humans use to make their lives easier and more efficient. One of the newest and most interesting technological developments in recent time has been virtual reality technology. While many probably see this as just a new way to play video games and explore virtual worlds, many believe that the virtual world can be the home of future workplaces and schools. While this would be a remarkable advancement in the way our society functions, there are numerous reasons why I do not believe this advancement is feasible quite yet, including issues concerning physical and mental health, reliability concerns involving the virtual reality technology itself, and concerns about the economic impacts of metaverse work and school. For these reasons, I believe that virtual reality technology is not yet ready to be widely used to take the place of traditional workplaces and schools, but hopefully will be in the near future.
On the surface level, using virtual reality to take the place of in-person work and school sounds like a remarkably innovative idea that would make these institutions more widely available, especially for those in remote areas of the world that are not in close proximity to many important industries that provide large numbers of jobs and great educational opportunities. For example, the African country, Niger, which is listed as having the worst education system in the world, with only about 15% of adults being able to read and write, might greatly benefit from the introduction of school in the metaverse (O’Neill, 2016). This would allow the people of Niger to access education without having to travel long distances, which is why many cannot access education. Many people, including myself, were very captivated by the introduction of this “metaverse” idea by Meta (Facebook) founder Mark Zuckerberg, and while it is an amazing idea that is without a doubt the future of communication in our society, there are problems that make it hard to imagine the widespread use of the metaverse in the immediate future. For example, there are obvious health concerns with using virtual reality headsets for several hours at a time, as would be required on a day of work or school. Many virtual reality users experience motion sickness when using virtual reality headsets, sometimes even after only using a headset for a short period of time. From my own personal experience, I had a childhood friend whose parents got him the original PlayStation VR for Christmas one year, but he ended up being unable to use it because he experienced severe motion sickness after using the headset for longer than a few minutes. Additionally, another major concern that exists with using virtual reality in work and school is that since it is such as new idea, it is still hard to predict what the effects will be mentally on individuals after working or going to school in the metaverse for a long period of time. An important aspect of the work and school experience is being able to build relationships with co-workers and classmates in order to develop a healthy social life. Will the people be able to build these same relationships in the metaverse? I do not believe there has been enough testing to definitively prove that this is the case. We can use experiences from online school during the COVID-19 pandemic to get a sense of what kinds of effects metaverse schooling could have. From conversations I had with multiple educators, academic performance declined during online school and students were less engaged when they returned to in-person school. Several of my peers described my school as somewhat of a ghost town when quarantine was lifted. So one could only imagine what effects metaverse schooling and workplaces would have on people’s real-life, face-to-face, communication skills.
Another major concern I have with the expansion of virtual reality into work and school is the reliability of the technology itself. It seems that right now, much more work needs to be done to improve the reliability of the equipment. Just the other day in Studio X, the headset that I chose to use was not working. When I turned it on it was just stuck on a black screen even though I could hear the audio coming from the headset. This makes me ask the question, what is one to do if this happens when they are about to have an interview in the metaverse or have an important virtual meeting with their boss? Developers of virtual reality technology need to be certain that their technology will be able to run for hours without malfunctioning before we start using this technology in professional and educational settings. Furthermore, another topic of discussion is the economic aspect of virtual reality technology. I am nearly certain that virtual reality developers are on the cusp of developing a cutting-edge headset that could be used in work and school right now, but it surely will be unaffordable for most of the general public. A study that was conducted to test metaverse workplaces recently intentionally did not acquire the best headsets for the participants to simulate the experience for the average person who cannot afford a highly expensive headset. The study showed increases in rates of anxiety, perception of workload, and frustration with the inability to complete work, as well as a decrease in productivity (Bove, 2022). If these are the average individuals’ consequences for using metaverse technology, then it is obvious the technology is not yet ready for widespread use. This disparity in quality of virtual reality equipment would only worsen the existing divide in education quality in rich and poor areas, as well as aid the productivity of large corporations while making it more difficult for smaller businesses to keep up.
For the reasons stated throughout this blog, including concerns about physical and mental health, reliability of the technology, and economic impacts, I believe that virtual reality technology and the metaverse are not yet ready to be used in a widespread manner to replace the traditional workplace and school. However, I do believe that with increased research, regulation, and quality, we will be able to make the use of the metaverse in professional and educational settings possible in the near future.