For most of us with loved ones across the shores, the various video-chat platforms at our disposal keep us connected, lags and connection problems notwithstanding.
Things have already progressed beyond simply talking to faces on screen – parents connecting with kids over online games such as Minecraft, or lovers streaming the same programme while communicating over webcam.
Virtual reality is about to take things one step further. VR, which we originally imagined being the mainstay of the solitary gamers transporting themselves into their private worlds, has now become the focus of developers who realise its potential to take global connections to another level.
“When it comes to communicating with loved ones, there’s a ton of potential in immersive technologies,” says VR expert Lucas Rizzotto, who is developing the Where Thoughts Go project, specifically designed around connecting people intimately over the web.
For families living in different countries, she says, the revolutions in VR tech don’t simply promise a more pleasurable way of keeping in touch, but the chance to literally add a new dimension to their relationship.
“Virtual Reality is the medium of presence and it allows us to create memories together that are in many ways indistinguishable from how we form memories in real life – but unlike the physical world, we’re not tied to its limitations and laws of physics,” Rizzotto tells Huff Post. “In VR we can go on fantastical adventures with the people we love, have surreal exchanges that defy our understanding of intimacy, and bond over experiences we never thought were possible to make.”
One of the leading lights in the trend of shared VR experiences is the project Chorus, essentially a music video, but one where VR players take part in a virtual journey by stepping into the role of one of six female warriors to battle evil together, with haptic feedback in the responsive suits making all involved literally feel the music.
Other notable innovations in social VR include Zikr: A Sufi Revival, which allows connected users to experience a spiritual recital together, and VR_I, where the immersed spectators are invited to participate in a dance performance on an intergalactic scale.
These technological advancements open up a world of possibilities in terms of connecting with people back home: going on a virtual date, taking a family member to see a live concert, even virtually going out to dinner together.
This will not only ease the pain of being apart from loved ones, says Rizzotto, but will in fact add new and unexpected colour to relationships. She reveals: “VR’s biggest untapped potential comes not from its ability to replicate real world connections, even though it’ll do that very well – but from its ability to create entirely new ways for relationships to grow and blossom.”
Virtual Reality (fully immersive) and Augmented Reality (digital elements layered over the physical world) are not only changing the way we see the world, but the very way we communicate. It is at the heart of making us all more connected globally.
The United Nations uses VR as an ‘empathy generator’, allowing the public to virtually experience the plight of the people they’re being asked to help. Businesses are gearing up to organise meetings in interactive VR spaces, travel agencies are already offering try before you fly VR deals, and Facebook 360 suggests social media and VR being interlinked will soon become the norm.
And with 5G tech – crucial for processing the data required to fully experience the complex mechanisms of VR – all set to be launched next year, the future of global communication is upon us, from exchanging goods and service, to gaming and entertainment. These are exciting times for both developers and users, says Rizzotto.
“VR, AR and other immersive technologies will all play a role in redefining human connection. These are not just devices and not even just new mediums – they are the beginning of a new age of 3D computing that’s been a long time coming.”
• Lucas Rizzotto is an award-winning immersive VR & AR creator. Follow her on Twitter