When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was buying Oculus VR, a lot of people expressed skepticism. With over a billion users, what need does Facebook have for what a lot of people think is a mere gaming platform, to enhance the social media experience?
Many points have already been raised against social media - how it has made people unsociable, conversations more curt (or at least within a word count), and feelings, objectives, and intentions more filtered. Now with apps aiming to enhance social media interactions using VR, the question seems to be: will it make online interactions more fractured, or will it actually bring people closer?
The advantage of avatars
On the flip side, anonymity has allowed many social media interactions to become bolder, opinions louder, and in extreme cases, incendiary. Putting a face on these interactions using profile pictures and avatars help to "humanize" the interactions somewhat. Avatars and the best-looking head shots in your stash of digital photos have now become a sort of first-impression armor - the facade that can either solidify your online persona or make it hard to take seriously.
With VR avatars, the subtleties of someone's persona are more noticeable. These virtual versions of one's self, once let loose on a VR social networking platform, will become representatives of an online persona that aims to be more "tangible" in a way that a montage of travel, food, and OOTD photos and cryptic posts can't achieve.
Real time still matters
The term "seen-zoned" was born from the inadvertent hurt feelings caused by Facebook and other social media platforms' notification settings. A message was sent, delivered, "seen", and ignored - but a lot can be said about the amount of time people spend online, and a significant portion of that time not responding to a message.
Apps that will contribute to virtual reality social media promise virtual destinations, hang outs, selfies, and all manner of interactions with other avatars. The difference is that these interactions will happen in real time, regardless of the "unreality" of socializing in a virtual world. Personal spaces are still defined, and social codes are set in place. Perhaps the bottom line is that physical presence is still required to interact in this new virtual space.
New frontiers in interaction
Then there are the infinite possibilities of deeper social interactions using virtual reality. For instance, a group of students from Barcelona created BeAnotherLab, a project that let male and female experiment participants swap bodies and visualize the experience in real-time. Called "The Machine to Be Another", the participants were given VR headsets which projected their counterpart's POV camera images, while asked to follow the same set of instructions. The experiment allowed people to explore another gender's experiences and identity while still maintaining boundaries to personal spaces.