Friday, December 29, 2006

Shaping Youth

There are many people who decry the seeming "addictive potential" of virtual reality, and who are afraid of the most banal uses of the medium -- for chatting and pseudo-erotic encounters. I believe that this not only reflects a lack of imagination, but a misunderstanding of how basic human drives (for communication, for sexual gratification, for specific exploration and diversive exploration) in turn drive the development of any given technology. Obviously, if we adhere at all to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we can see that people will generally satisfy their most basic needs first and then attend to the more esoteric. Since virtual environments do not yet provide the affordances that are most basic (food, water, shelter), people will tend to start with the few most basic affordances they do provide: communication and sexuality. And because of these two basic drives, time and money and effort will be invested by an enormous number of people into developing the technologies so that the virtual environment can supply these affordances at a higher quality and with lower transaction costs. But in the creating of the virtual environment and equipping it with the capability to provide these affordances, a very realistic and robust interface between humans and technology is evolving very rapidly that can satisfy a great many other human needs.

To decry the fact that many people are "indulging" in virtual reality to satisfy their more "base" needs is to miss the point of "the environment" and "the psychology of behavior", which is the subject of this course. In my view, the key difference between the real environment and the virtual environment goes back to the old Nature vs. Nurture debate and the battle between those who believe in genetic determinism and those who believe in environmental determinism. I maintain that virtual environments give us a better chance to understand the nature of nurture by giving us the chance to directly shape our environments.

Amy Jussel, on her Shaping Youth Beta Blog, does a great job of exploring how the metaverse is affecting the psychology of young people.

Greenhead Media.

No comments: