Imagining the Internet Project

  Responses in reaction to the following provocative future scenario were assembled from a select group of internet stakeholders in the 2006 Pew Internet & American Life/Elon University Predictions Survey. The survey allowed respondents to select from the choices "agree" or "disagree" or to leave the scenario unanswered. Respondents were encouraged to provide a written elaboration to explain their answers; they did not always do so, but those who did provided richly detailed predictive material. Some respondents chose to identify themselves with each answer; many did not. We share some - not all - of the responses here. Workplaces of respondents whose reactions are shared below are attributed here only for the purpose of indicating a level of internet expertise; the statements reflect personal viewpoints and do not represent their companies', universities', or government agencies' policies or positions. Some answers have been edited to share more respondents' replies. This is a selection of the many carefully considered responses to the following scenario.  
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descriptionScenario Five:  Virtual reality is a drain for some...
By the year 2020, virtual reality on the internet will come to allow more productivity from most people in technologically-savvy communities than working in the "real world." But the attractive nature of virtual-reality worlds will also lead to serious problems for many, as we lose people to alternate realities.

Compiled reactions from the 742 respondents:
56% agreed
39% disagreed
5% did not respond

Below are select responses from survey participants who agreed to be identified with their statements. To read reactions from anonymous participants responding to this question, please click here.

The real and virtual are converging. And anyway, addiction is a disease for which we will soon find the cure; just a matter of suppressing the expression of a few genes here and there. - Bob Metcalfe, Ethernet inventor, founder of 3Com Corporation, former CEO of InfoWorld, now a venture capitalist and partner in Polaris Venture Partners; internet user since 1970

The social costs of too much information, vs. not enough knowledge will only continue to rise. - Steffan Heuer, U.S. correspondent, brand eins Wirtschaftsmagazin; internet user since 1994

VR, like email, IM, blogging, gaming, is a new and interesting technology that competes for time and like the others, may become addictive. It will still be up to the individual. - Gordon Bell, senior researcher, Microsoft; computing and internet pioneer; internet user since 1986

All human problems derive from problems the individual has with him/her self. Virtual reality will allow people to avoid the need to face, acknowledge and overcome these personal issues. It will keep them safe and therefore they will prefer it. - Amos Davidowitz, director of education, training and special programs for Institute of World Affairs, Association for Progressive Education; internet user since 1994

Addiction to virtual worlds is already a big issue; some of these worlds even have their own currency. There will be more diversity in interfaces with computers and data, and VR will certainly be commonly used in business. - Michael Steele, internet user since 1978

Such ambivalent effects are typical of all great historical changes. - Mark Poster, professor of film and media studies, University of California-Irvine; studies the ways social communications have changed through the introduction of new technologies; internet user since 1983

Various kinds of computer-mediated business models/productivity models/configurable electronic workspaces will be key productivity enhancers. All of these, however, have connections to, and payoffs from, the real world. I agree that there will be an increasing problem with people "disconnecting" during their so-called leisure time and immersing themselves in purely virtual realities for entertainment purposes. We've already seen how these can be addictive, and, by 2020, the technological capability for them might be near ubiquitous - leading to perhaps an entire generation "opting-out" of the real world and a paradoxical decrease in productivity as the people who provide the motive economic power no longer are in touch with the realities of the real world. - Glenn Ricart, executive director, Price Waterhouse Coopers Advanced Research; member of the board of trustees of the Internet Society; internet user since 1968

By 2020, the term virtual reality will be outdated. The Internet will become more sensory, attracting more applications that will appeal to end-users. The Internet will be surrounded by more applications, where it will become more stimulating. In turn, more productivity will be driven from the new ideas originating from such stimulation. - Richard Yee, competitive intelligence analyst, AT&T; internet user since 1995

By 2020 the main industry will still be Distraction. The distractions will be richer, more expansive and at least as engaging relatively as television or today's video games. The minimum production values of all distractions will increase proportionate to the technology available and production costs of the top tier distraction experiences. Addiction to distraction will continue to become more acceptable. The absolutely trivial will continue to undermine social, civic and political sensibilities. Alternate realities of 2020 will likely make our "Halo 2" console game look like a pair of dice. - Sam Punnett, president, FAD research (consultant on strategy, marketing, and product-development issues related to ebusiness); internet user since 1988

While area codes might still define geographic locations in 2020, reality codes may define virtual locations. Multiple personalities will become commonplace, and cyber psychiatry will proliferate. - Daniel D. Wang, principal, Roadmap Associates (coaching and advisory company); internet user since 1995

Virtual reality will one day (by 2020) merge with "real reality" in that some activities will be predominantly virtual, while others will be real. A new term will probably be coined to describe real reality. When this merging of the two realities happens, addiction problems will not be a concern because, a) the novelty wears off, b) virtual reality REQUIRES participation in real reality, and c) virtual reality will become part of the daily lives, as much as the telephone or e-mails has become part of our everyday routines. - Clement Chau, research assistant and program coordinator, Tufts University-Developmental Technologies Research Group; internet user since 1995

Process addictions like sex and gambling will be replaced by virtual-reality sex and gambling, gaming and "traveling." - Michael Collins, CEO, internet user since 1996

This is happening already. I wonder whether we live with the pleasant illusion that we share the same "real world." I think that perhaps in the year 2020 the prevalent mode of thinking will be that we all live in virtual realities and have done so all the time. The trick is to bring those realities together in productive and pleasurable ways. - Charlie Breindahl, external lecturer, University of Copenhagen, IT University of Copenhagen; internet user since 1996

This issue is very primary for me as I am an "addictionologist." I have studied addiction for 36 years. We already have tons of addicts in the world who STERB. That is, they use Short-Term Energy Releasing Behaviors, to feel better. We already have millions who are addicts. The issue is not to regulate them but to offer a life in which such behavior is not needed and that too can be accomplished on the internet. We need to create valuable and helpful communities on the web that will allow millions to connect. - Walter J. Broadbent, VP, The Broadbent Group; internet user since 1994

The distinction between "real" and "virtual" realities will continue to blur. We already see a category of addictive behaviors with all the clinical symptoms of other addictions. Our definitions of what is "real" will be tested and changed. - Martin Kwapinski, senior content manager, FirstGov.gov, the U.S. Government's Official Web Portal; internet user since 1997

Absolutely. This is already a limited problem with video gaming; just wait till the first really good online sexual-encounter application. - Cary Curphy, operations research analyst, U.S. Army; internet user since 1989

We currently have many individuals in our society whose cognitive abilities allow them to function at the margin of "reality" and hold jobs in our society with the aid of medications. If you consider their mental capabilities as falling along a continuum, then at some point in the future the virtual world will appear to be so real that relatively normal people will have relationships with avatars and engage in abnormal relationships with nonexistent entities. If the recent suicides of Japanese boys heartbroken over not being able to possess Lara Croft are any indication, we have much to be concerned about. I also personally am more concerned about the erosion of basic skills in children - boys especially - who play video games incessantly yet cannot figure out how to repair the most basic devices. Parents have left machines to raise the children, and they are being molded (or worse crippled) by their experiences or lack of parenting. - William Kearns, assistant professor at the University of South Florida; internet user since 1992

What people refer to as "virtual reality" is still an aspect of all of our reality - it's not a separate reality any more than books, movies, video games, or our imagination is a separate reality. Saying someone is addicted to virtual reality will one day sound as ridiculous as saying some people today are addicted to books. - Patrick B. O'Sullivan, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, Illinois State University; internet user since 1987

Having worked on, for, with, within and around virtual worlds for 10 years, I disagree with any large-scale doom prediction surrounding virtual reality addiction. However, such addiction will progress very much as addictive drugs do. Right now, we see this with the large corporate-based virtual worlds which are like cocaine for some - expensive to produce and to consume. As the tools for creating such places become cheaper and easier to access, we will see lower-quality virtual worlds that will have a wider reach to people with less disposable income (starting with the middle-middle classes and working down). We can see the very beginnings of this progression with the many free social-networking services. Some people will be completely sucked in and their lives ruined, much as what happens for drugs now. However, the toll will still be far less than the damage to lives and communities that chemical drugs can do. - Scott Moore, online community manager, Helen and Charles Schwab Foundation; internet user since 1991

Hard to agree or disagree, since it's hard to tell what the point of this question is. I don't think that virtual reality will be so real that it will be addictive in the same sense that alcohol or heroin is addictive. - Stewart Alsop, investor and analyst; former editor of InfoWorld and Fortune columnist; internet user since 1994

First, I am not convinced that virtual reality will be so advanced in 15 years. Second, a section of society is always addicted to something, whether it be drugs or the latest fashion craze. This group does not threaten the larger community. - Adrian Schofield, head of research for ForgeAhead (focused on ICT research and consulting in Africa), South Africa; a leader in the World Information Technology and Services Alliance (WITSA); internet user since 1994

Those who wish to escape reality have always had escape options (reading books, staying in bed) this will not increase "bad" escapism, but merely provide a different avenue. Many such "game" environments are already becoming serious media for economic and political interaction. - Bruce Edmonds, Centre for Policy Modelling, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK; internet user since 1992

As some people are already now becoming predominantly thinking addicted, losing conscious contact with their emotions and body, this is likely to happen. - Pekka Nikander, Ericcson Research, Helsinki Institute for Information Technology; past member of the Internet Architecture Board; internet user since 1987

Again, the way the question is worded embeds some assumptions that I question. I have a serious addiction to reading. Is that a social problem? Has the world "lost" me? - Howard Rheingold, internet sociologist and author; one of the first writers to illuminate the ideals and foibles of virtual communities; internet user since 1990

VR is cute, and fun, and great for computer games and various ISOLATED applications. But I do not envision it as becoming widely deployed, other than in very limited areas, such as games and entertainment. - Jim Warren, internet pioneer (founding editor of Dr. Dobb's Journal), technology-policy advocate and activist, futurist; internet user since 1970

As virtual reality gets better, people's ability to see through it gets better. Novels were the dangerous VR of their own day, just as TV was for us as kids, and computer-simulated realties will be for our own kids. – Douglas Rushkoff, author of many books about net culture, teacher, New York University; internet user since 1985

Of course it is totally arbitrary as to who gets to call whom an addict. - Fred Hapgood, technology writer

There is no such thing as virtual reality. To say that a discussion one has with another human being using a chat program is virtual is like saying that the music one listens to from a CD doesn't exist. Addiction to worlds that involve stronger imaginary components has always been, and will always be, a potential social issue. At least the internet, apart from RSI (repetitive stress injuries), poses a lesser health risk than many alternatives. - Robin Berjon, W3C and Expway; internet user since 1996

The way this is stated it is hard to disagree with, since is says "for some" and clearly some people are having addiction problems right now. However, the implication is that this will be a problem of considerable concern. There are always lots of ways to get addicted, and the list changes with time. I think it is very unlikely that this source of addiction will have any magic power that others don't. - Roger Cutler, W3.org, senior staff research scientist at the Chevron Information Technology division of Chevron U.S.A.; internet user since 1994

Virtual reality is overplayed. The Internet is creating a new reality for so many people that "virtual" won't be necessarily in high demand. - Michael Gorrell, senior VP and CIO for EBSCO; internet user since 1994

We will not able to separate "virtual" worlds" from "real" worlds; both will be the same reality. - Carlos Fernandez, CCRTV, telecom company in Barcelona, Ph.D. student

More people will become addicted, but the problem will be minor and self-correcting. - Willis Marti, associate director for networking, Texas A&M University; internet user since 1983

In many respects today the novelty of virtual reality and interactive technology has captured many people's imaginations and certainly anyone who can be addicted could be addicted to something like virtual reality as well. However, by 2020 virtual reality will become an integrated part of our lives, not just for technos and gamers. It will be as commonplace as using e-mail, surfing the web and cell phones are today. When the handheld calculator and then the personal pc were introduced they were a novelty, but they were also tools and as such have become intrinsically integrated into our lives. Virtual reality will be just another way that we interact and go about our daily lives. - Tom Snook, CTO, New World Symphony, internet user since 1967

Huh? We lose some folks to gambling and drugs now. And if drug addiction isn't an alternative reality I doubt I know what is. I doubt that this will be a serious problem. - Joe Bishop, VP business development, Marratech AB; internet user since 1994

We've already seen this happen, so it's not really a prediction. Of course, we've also seen it happen with every previous technology. Teenagers spend huge amounts of time on the telephone; TV is everybody's whipping boy; radio led to that jungle music rock and roll; even books led to porno addictions and modern propaganda. Some of these things have since become generally accepted; others we try to deal with and forge ahead. - John S. Quarterman, president InternetPerils Inc.; publisher of the first "maps" of the internet; internet user since 1974

This is already the new reality for many youth. Instead of dealing with the challenges and fears of teen identity definition more and more youth are creating multiple "virtual" personalities and losing themselves to each of those game scenerios. Who the "actual" individual becomes or emerges as from such vivid role playing is unclear to me. Do we end up with much more mature, experientially compassionate people, or even more anxious, fearful, and disassociative personalities? It seems that even minimal intervention at appropriate stages of virtual personality creations could dramatically improve positive over negative long-term outcomes. – Ed Lyell, pioneer in issues regarding internet and education, professor at Adams State College; internet user since 1965

I'd introduce a qualifier: anything that relieves people from their awful "real" realities may become an addiction. But, some people will really be weathered and weary by 2020. - Alejandro Pisanty, CIO for UNAM (National University of Mexico); vice chairman of the board for ICANN; member of United Nations' Working Group for Internet Governance; active in ISOC; internet user since 1977

Thirteen years ago we said the same thing about VR - today, we're still saying the same thing, but with no directional evidence to support it. It's an interesting contention, but way too far down the field to act as any sort of a compass. - Ross Rader, director of research and innovation, Tucows Inc; internet user since 1991

Only a relative fringe of users will spend enough time in VR environments to be adversely affected. - Cliff Figallo, online communities architect, SociAlchemy; internet user since 1985

We should acknowledge and embrace this as a challenge and look for solutions and remedies, and safeguards. Everyone creates their alternate realities, and thank goodness, they are all segments of day-to-day life – usually. It is the losing touch part that is scary, and threatening. VR also offers a great deal in educational approaches: in "training," in preparing a solder for battleground real-life experiences; in preparing a health care professional for a trauma experience; for a family to deal with a truly stressful health emergency. We should not deny the value of the advances of technology because of the harm; we should embrace the technology and study and seek to provide any appropriate awareness and safeguards, harnessing technology/and managing it effectively. To benefit, and not to harm humankind is the next frontier, isn't it? - Marilyn Cade, CEO and principal, ICT Strategies, MCADE, LLC; also with Information Technology Association of America (business alliance); internet user since 1986

There's no evidence that those who become unable to distinguish between real and virtual worlds will be any more of a burden on society than alcoholics, who don't need electronic stimulii to reach their states of confusion. Good legislation will make it obligatory to identify virtual objects and environments to users so that there can be no confusion between the real and the apparently-real. People who go off the "deep end" will have done so NOT because of the technology but because of their own individual psychological configuration. - Fredric M. Litto, professor, University of Sao Paulo; president, ABED-Brazilian Association for Distance Education; internet user since 1993

I don't think that excursions to alternative realities will be a serious social problem. People "check out" in all sorts of ways, and this form of escape is at least social. - David Clark, internet pioneer, senior research scientist at MIT; now working under a major National Science Foundation grant to rethink the architecture of the internet; internet user since 1975

Agree, this is already the case in immersive gaming environments and virtual reality will be even more addictive. Policy and regulation will move increasingly from physical space into virtual space with analagous rules. - Robert Shaw, internet strategy and policy advisor, International Telecommunication Union (ITU); internet user since 1987

VR is no different than offline temptations. - Robin Gross, executive director, IP Justice, civil liberties organization that promotes balanced intellectual property law and defends consumer rights to use digital media worldwide; internet user since 1988

This will happen, but it is not new, and we needn't fear it. We will survive to discover new horrors beyond VR. The history of media is a history of addiction for some, and moral hazard for others. Remember that half a century ago, Cervantes' Don Quixote was driven to windmill-tilting madness because he read too many books. Flaubert's Emma in "Madam Bovary" got into a jam for the same reason. A century ago, parents lamented that kids were spending too much time inside reading. In mid-century the same fears were transferred to paperbacks, movies and then TV. Now it is videogames and the web. VR is clearly next, and its seductive hyper-realism will be seductive indeed. But one generation's outrage is the next generation's mainstream tool. I will bet that in 2020, parents will be lecturing their children that they can't go out and play until they finish their VR-based simulation games. - Paul Saffo, forecaster and strategist, director, Institute for the Future; serves on many boards, including the Long Now Foundation; Internet user since 1978

Call this the "Holodeck bogeyman." There was a good "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode with the above as the plot ("Hollow Pursuits"). It's just a TV screen. Reminds me of a joke told at MIT:
Desaad:Master, I have found it! "Doom" plus "Magic" plus "IRC" plus netnews plus MUDding!
Darkseid: You cringing fool! That is not the Anti-Life Formula, it is the No-Life Formula

- Seth Finkelstein, anti-censorship activist and programmer, author of the Infothought blog and an EFF Pioneer Award winner

I'm not sure if addiction is the right word, but the shift of people's attention to online information, media, entertainment and communities will erode culture and bring into being a colder if more efficient world. - Nicholas Carr, independent writer and consultant whose work centers on information technology; internet user since 1987

I use the Internet to accomplish a lot. However, as powerful and important as the Internet is in accomplishing what I need done, I still travel to all continents except Antarctica on a regular basis for face-to-face meetings. For this to change, human dynamics have to be altered in a fairly fundamental way, and it's not obvious to me that this can be done in anything less than generations. - Fred Baker, CISCO Fellow, CISCO Systems, Internet Society (ISOC) chairman of the board; Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF); internet user since 1987

I think that we can see this happening now. The question is, whether this is really a bad thing? Personally, I think it is, but I'm not sure I could defend that view philosophically. - Hal Varian, professor at University of California-Berkeley; Google; internet user since 1986

This prediction is very hard for people in my generation (baby boomers) to judge. Younger generations are more in touch with the facts on the ground, and can sense how far role-playing and virtual reality have penetrated. - Andy Oram, writer and editor for O'Reilly Media; internet user since 1983

Addictive personalities needing escape will, I'm afraid, be lured into this as an alternate reality - same as they can be to other activities /behaviours. - Cheryl Langdon-Orr, independent internet business operator and director for ISOC-Australia; internet user since 1977

The signs are already there. Check out what the military is doing with simulations, VR collaborations, and game-based learning. Also check out the consumer sphere, with Second Life and others. Anyone who has read "Life on the Screen" knows that even in its pure textual days, the Internet was a place for exploring alternate realities. - Joel Hartman, CIO, University of Central Florida; internet user since 1970

This has already happened, with MMORPGs being an obvious example. The people that "inhabit" these worlds are able to become more powerful than anything they might hope to achieve in the "real world." They can amass vast virtual fortunes online that happen to have real dollar value as well, often generating enough to actually make a living from. However, while this activity will expand, there is little chance in it becoming pervasive, as virtual reality in the next 15 years, while becoming more immersive, will still remain the realm of online gaming. - Philip Joung, Spirent Communications (wireless positioning products); internet user since 1989

I think there needs to be significant research into VR and its likely effects on the human psyche. From current observations, a VR world could be a dangerous place indeed. - Rajnesh J. Singh, PATARA Communications & Electronics Ltd., Avon Group, GNR Consulting, ISOC Pacific Islands; internet user since 1993

Virtual reality is a drain in proportion to disaffection with the "real world." Although virtual reality can be culturally rich, we need people to be engaged in real-world issues like pollution, poverty, and peace. - Karen Coyle, information professional and librarian; internet user since 1983

Like all technologies, there are good and bad consequences. For some, the bad will dominate. But on the whole, I believe society will benefit. - Thomas Narten, IBM open-internet standards development; Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) liaison to ICANN; internet user since 1983

Until addiction is better understood VR will be a serious problem. – Mike Gill, electronics engineer, National Library of Medicine; internet user since 1988

The possibility is real; but hopefully we (humans) will wake up and realize that the real world is much better than the virtual world. - Sharon Lane, president, WebPageDesign; internet user since 1990

First of all, the term VR is pretty meaningless. What 99% of folks do is work and interact digitally. There are not any major installs of anything close to VR itself, so there's no way to predict what it would be like. Of course, for those of use who have worked in collaborative VR, we know that as with digital interactions, there is always a pull to the real, as Howard Rheingold noted more than a decade ago. - Jason Nolan, associate professor, Ryerson University, Canada; internet user since 1987

Virtuality reality will not become a reality by 2020. That is, it will exist, but only as a tool, not as a primary "anything." The home will have ultra high bandwidth providing for virtually any kind of communication, at a low subscription rate, but virtual reality is not going to be any kind of major factor. - Don Heath, board member, iPool, Brilliant Cities Inc., Diversified Software, Alcatel, Foretec; internet user since 1988

We lose people to online and other games today; we'll lose people to virtual reality games and communication tomorrow. Not a big deal. - John Browning, co-founder of First Tuesday, a global network dedicated to entrepreneurs; former writer for The Economist and other top publications; internet user since 1989

For professional communities, "virtual reality" is a meaningless term. Transactions made on the Internet are completely and totally real. - Charles Hendricksen, research collaboration architect for Cedar Collaboration; internet user since 1968

We will not lose people to internet VR more often or more intensely than we already do to other media - television being the classic example. Some escapism will always be necessary for most people, and to escape for good, one way or another, is an option that is already available. Media, including internet VR, will remain to generate the type and means of escapism that will be socially accepted. - Suely Fragoso, professor, Unisinos, Brazil; internet user since 1994

This has already happened in 2006. However for some people these will be seen as realities rather than alternative realities. - Mark Gaved, The Open University, United Kingdom; internet user since 1987

This scenario is only partially valid, even among geeks' communities. People will lose contact with real-realities as a result of many other factors, including the transformation of the latter is pseudo-realities, that is artificially constructed substitutes to the former and vanished real world (e.g. natural environment, true products "as in the old times", etc.). - Michel Menou, professor and information-science researcher; born in France, he has worked in nearly 80 nations; internet user since 1992

I already see many internet junkies who need a fix more than they can be present in the moment. - Tiffany Shlain, filmmaker and founder and ambassador of the Webby Awards; internet user since 1987

"Virtual reality will turn us all into shut-ins!" What is this, 1996? World of Warcraft is the new golf. The reason it's so incredibly compelling is because it's FULL OF PEOPLE! - Cory Doctorow, self-employed journalist, blogger, co-editor of Boing Boing; born in Canada and now lives in London; EFF Fellow; internet user since 1987

Virtual reality has existed since the beginning of human history. With story tellers, drugs, ecstatic experiences etc. Yes the information technology can create a more enveloping experience, but it is, by necessity of this very fact, a less personal one. The science fiction image of the 'wire' junkie, of the kid that lives in VR, requires more than just a little more computing power to become feasible. It requires a complete revolution in our existing technology. The very best created worlds, those presented by the top end computer games, are far from convincing as reality. They depend entirely on two senses - vision and sound. Our experience of reality depends on at least three other senses - touch, smell, and taste - with smell being particularly powerful in our localisation of our selves. Until there is technology that can provide stimulation of these senses as well, VR will remain a tool or a toy, it will not become an alternative to reality. – Robin Lane, educator and philosopher, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; internet user since 1990

"Serious addiction problems for many" - depends on the meaning of "many." This will be a social phenomenon, but probably limited to a small minority in the population. - Gary Chapman, director, The 21st Century Project, LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas - Austin, internet user since 1982

Virtual reality will not be used seriously except for training simulations and games, until it can provide for all 5 senses and reproduce the world in exacting detail - and that won't happen until a much later date. Much more interesting is augmented reality and ubiquitous computing. These technologies will have a major effect on human interaction with each other and the physical world, enabled by wireless embedded systems and dramatic improvements in automated sensing equipment that are already well underway (such as RFID, GPS location, and automated barcode and context detecting using mobile phone cameras). - Simon Woodside, CEO, Semacode Corporation, based in Ontario, Canada; internet user since 1992

Despite concerns in the past that the Internet would lead to a breakdown in human interaction, the opposite has proven to be true. Interaction with a virtual world may actually provide a safe environment for people with social challenges to build their confidence and skills for person-to-person communication. - Rick Gentry, acquisition coordinator, Greenpeace; internet user since 1995

As the hi-def games increase in seductiveness, I do think more players will see the 'real world' as an alternate world where they eat, use the bathroom, sleep, and perhaps work and have sex. Of course there are many real world obsessions where people may seem lost or disconnected from a well-rounded and varied set of life activities. - Steve Cisler, former senior library scientists for Apple, founder of the Association for Community Networking, now working on public-access projects in Guatemala, Ecuador and Uganda; internet user since 1989

Ithink it could be a productivity boost in cases where the people are geographically distributed but interact frequently (e.g. 3D conferencing). It could also be a boost in prototyping physical objects (aircraft, cars, etc). I think the people that would get "lost" in the virtual reality world would be few and would probably be the same people who are currently lost in the gaming world. - Rangi Keen, software engineer, Centric Software, internet user since 1989

There will be addiction, but it won't be considered a problem. Well, maybe in the way that watching television for over four hours a day is considered a problem. Losing people to alternate realities? I don't think these people would have stayed in our reality without the virtual world. - Carlo Hagemann, professor, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Netherlands; internet user since 1989

The online world is only ever an extension of the offline world with a different set of constraints. Anything that can be a problem in the physical world can be a problem in the virtual world - positive and negative. - Lisa Kamm, has worked in information architecture since 1995 at organizations including IBM, Agency.com and the ACLU; internet user since 1987

I don't believe there is a "virtual reality" for many people, neither now nor then. The internet will become increasingly important both economically, as the basis for media of communication as well as for learning and leisure; but online and offline will increasingly become integrated, and we'll learn how to manage the respective dangers and benefits. There will be no more "alternate realities" and addiction in respect to the internet than what we can see in respect to TV today. - Florian Schlichting, Ph.D. candidate, University College, London

This is not new, fantasy production is old as fantasy, novels, films, plays, etc. Just another venue, and as in the old days, somebody gets addicted or flee into their own fantasy worlds. - Arent Greve, professor, The Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration; internet user since 1983

Alternate to what realities? Phone realities? The most recent Pew study seems to belie this: those with stronger virtual social ties have stronger ties generally. – Alex Halavais, assistant professor, State University of New York-Buffalo; internet user since 1984

No, this sounds like science fiction. We won't "lose" people, but people will likely find virtual reality more interesting than the offline world. There will be a few people who don't interact much with the outside world, but there is something in human nature that craves real, physical closeness. - Randy Kluver, executive director, Singapore Internet Research Centre; internet user since 1989

I look forward to an updated version of DSM :-) - Andy Williamson, managing director for Wairua Consulting Limited, New Zealand; a member of the NZ government's Digital Strategy Advisory Group; internet user since 1990

Disagree with the addiction premise. People have always had access to alternate realities. Some people chose to avail themselves, most don't. - Sherida Ryan, internet analyst, Openflows Networks Ltd. (provider of news, analysis, network facilities and tools for Open Source); internet user since 1995

Virtual realities will certainly be attractive to addictive personalities. However, it is a mistake to talk about this (especially in Washington) in terms of cause and effect. Virtual realities will not "lead to" addiction problems. People with addiction problems may find an outlet for expression in virtual realities, but there will always be outlets for addictions, with or without virtual realities that are made possible by the internet. - Nan Dawkins, co-founder of RedBoots Consulting; internet user since 1997

Given that we barely understand how immersive imagery is for our brains (and bodies), there is a strong likelihood that virtual reality will become less virtual and more reality for many. However, I see this as an addiction phenomenon that will likely inspire us to understand unexplored dimensions of being human. We may "lose people" to this alternate environments, just as we "lose people" to drugs, but statement is probably a tad histrionic. - Barry K. Chudakov, principal, The Chudakov Company; internet user since 1989

People find it easier to have a life online, and do so at the expense of real life. - Amy Gill, Association of Alternative News Weeklies, trade association

The concern for internet addiction is highly overrated - statistics show that in today's world (where the mantra of internet addiction can be heard all the time) such addiction is actually only a minor problem affecting very small groups of people). I do not see why this should change in the future. - B. van den Berg, faculty of philosophy at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; internet user since 1993

Current research seems to suggest that those who spend much time interacting online also have many social ties in the face-to-face realm. - Peter P. Nieckarz Jr., assistant professor of sociology, Western Carolina University; internet user since 1993

By the year 2020, I expect virtual reality to become even more "domesticated" than is now the case. An interplay of the "virtual" and "real" reality will become more intense, but people will probably become more literate in dealing with it. "Addiction" to alternate realities is already a reality, we will have to wait and see which form it will take. Other forms of "addiction" to alternate realities (utopian, political) were easy to observe in the 20th century, and had a mass effect. The particular form of addiction that we are discussing here can be seen as one of these, only based on a different platform and happening in different socio-political context. - Mirko Petric, University of Zadar, Croatia; internet user since 1996

VR will only increase productivity for some people. For most, it will make no difference in productivity (i.e., how much output); VR will only change what type of work people do and how it is done. Naturally, there will be some problems with "addiction" and non-normative behaviors, but they will probably not be significantly greater than what we have seen in other contexts and with other media. - Ben Detenber, associate professor, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

One needs to be careful how they operationalise "addiction." To date, the research has found that very few people are addicted to the internet per se. There are others that use the internet because of their addiction. For example, some gamblers use the internet to gamble amongst many other avenues. In most cases it is not an "internet gambling addiction" they have but a gambling addiction. - Monica Whitty, professor at Queen's University, Belfast; internet user since 1994

Every age has suffered from analogous addictions. No great loss here. - Edward Lee Lamoureux, associate professor, Bradley University

Virtual worlds, where the problems are not real and the pleasures can be heightened, will lead to addiction problems, just like gambling, alcohol, and drugs do now. – Jim Jansen, assistant professor, Penn State University; internet user since 1993

"Virtual reality" doesn't constitute a different reality. It is part of the reality that surrounds us. So the "addiction problems" are new modalities but not essentially new among the addiction tendencies of some people. For most cybernauts and Internet users it is clear that "virtual" is not an alternate reality. - Raul Trejo-Delarbre, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico; internet user since 1993

Addiction is already a reality. How many people start the day with their computer instead of a chat with a live body. - W. Reid Cornwell, director of The Center for Internet Research; internet user since 1974

Individuals who are predisposed to this type of 'addiction' will fall victim to virtual realities and escape from life. For others virtual technologies create powerful tools for design and for team collaboration. - Kathleen Pierz, managing partner, The Pierz Group (consultants in directory assistance/enquiry); internet user since 1985

First, there is nothing virtual about digitalised space. It has real-life effects, rewards and problems. Second: what do we lose people to today? Is it better to go jump off a mountainside for your kicks or do drugs than to spend it in some digital version of reality that feels better and more rewarding? The main problem isn't that "virtual worlds" are addictive; it is that the physical world is not sufficiently challenging and rewarding. Blaming the media should not be a way out of fixing the very real social problems the world faces. - Torill Mortensen, associate professor, Volda University College, Norway; internet user since 1991

Virtual reality is a pointless and dated term that has no meaning other than the technical (computer science) definition. We live in a pervasive communication environment and this will only increase. The demarcation of virtual and real and mediated and non-mediated will have no meaning for most people and is an artifact of older generations. Reality will be one seamless world that spans face-to-face and digital areas of action. If anything, the ability to physically take a class or travel to meet with someone will be considered an elite privilege. - Ted M. Coopman, activist, social science researcher, instructor at the University of Washington, Seattle, member of AoIR board of directors

I think the biological world still holds some attractions that are needed to survive and people will be able to moderate their virtual activities. - Cleo Parker, senior manager, BBDO (international agency for networked, multi-channel communications solutions); internet user since 1993

I suspect this is already happening to some extent although it may not be widely reported. With increased power and sophistication, it will be possible for computer users to build "alternate realities" around themselves and some will find this environment to be so much more appealing and comfortable than the "real world" that they will prefer it. I see a future epidemic, especially among children and teens. - Michael S. Cann Jr., CEO of Affinio Corporation; internet user since 1992

Addiction to chat rooms and online gaming worlds are already emerging as an issue for the health profession to deal with. Recent research has highlighted for example, how teenagers' ability to learn during school hours is being impacted by a lack of sleep - caused by late-night SMS/chat sessions. There is a real risk that some people will become 'lost' to virtual worlds. - Heath Gibson, competitive intelligence manager, BigPond, Australia; internet user since 1994

In 2006, this is already the case. We are not discussing this enough. - Deborah Jones, freelance journalist; Canadian technology writer; internet user since 1980

Wall-sized monitors in conjunction with speech recognition, artificial intelligence, wireless broadband and computer power will take us from television to teleliving. A term defined by Professor William E. Halal as "a conversational human-machine dialogue that allows a more comfortable and convenient way to shop, work, educate, and conduct most other social relationships." I agree with his assessment that people will still crave real social relationships and, "We will always want to meet our virtual teammates from time to time, visit real stores to feel the merchandise, and so on." - Bryan Trogdon, president, First Semantic (working on a realization of the Semantic Web); internet user since 1995

A human's desire to reinvent himself, live out his fantasies, overindulge, addiction will definitely increase. Whole communities/sub cultures, which even today are a growing faction, will materialise. We may see a vast blurring of virtual/real reality with many participants living an in-effect secluded lifestyle. Only in the online world will they participate in any form of human interaction. The gin holes of 19th century London or the opium dens of Shanghai are very likely outcomes. I'm looking forward to GA - Gamers Anonymous. - Robert Eller, Concept Omega, Media & Verteiler, Celler Blitz; internet user since 1997

We have already lost a lot of young people to virtual worlds, god knows what will happen in 2020. - Russell Steele, owner The Insightworks (provider of tools for research and teaching in economics and public policy); internet user since 1995

For some. This is already a problem with online gambling sites, video porn, and online interactive games. Especially in gaming, where pre-programmed action is increasingly being replaced by the spontaneous actions of real players, games are becoming even more compelling and addictive. The more compelling and realistic these experiences become, the more a certain profile of person will withdraw from the outside world. Clearly, new addiction problems will arise. - Kerry Kelley, VP product marketing, SnapNames.com; internet user since 1986

People will always triumph over the internet. The internet is a robot. No matter how much sexuality there is online, nothing can replace a hug of the closeness and touch of a fellow human. - Stan Felder, president and CEO, Vibrance Associates, LLC; internet user since 1985

If one simply looks into the Massively MultiPlayer Gaming worlds of today one quickly will see the impressive power and influence these type virtual worlds can and do have on the user communities. I anticipate that this Interactive Entertainment model will be duplicated in our private/social Lives (SIMS) as well as the corporate and government worlds mainly for the betterment of mankind - but it can also be abused and become a replacement for drugs. - Jim (Jacomo) Aimone, director of network development, HTC; internet user since 2000

Addiction is a bizarre metaphor to apply to forms of labor and leisure rather than drugs. It buys into the medical model's attacks into popular culture. - Toby Miller, professor, University of California-Riverside; internet user since 1990

I cannot comment here because I am too jealous of my own time to devote any of it to a virtual reality exercise. There is too much to do in the real world. - Ralph Blanchard, investor, information services entrepreneur; internet user since 1994

Society loses people to alternate realities today through drugs, alcohol, gambling, reality shows, and sim games. - Ted Summerfield, president, Punzhu.com

Simulations will develop to where some players' experiences so closely mimic reality that the players will be stimulated with same neurotransmitters that drive feelings of love and pleasure in the real world. There will be simulations as addictive as nicotine and cocaine, but without same degree of societal antipathy. - Sean Mead, consultant for Interbrand Analytics, Design Forum, Mead Mead & Clark and other companies; internet user since 1989

Addictive personalities will always find something to be addicted to; if virtual-reality worlds do not exist, they will find something else for their addiction. So although I agree that it will lead to "serious addiction problems for many," it will be a displaced addiction, displaced from something else that would have borne the brunt of their addiction. - Jeffrey Branzburg, educational consultant; internet user since 1997

While virtual reality may suck some into unbalanced lives, there is also the chance that face-to-face friends, family and community will become more meaningful as complement to the online part of life. - Janet Salmons, president, Vision2Lead Inc. (consultants on organizational leadership and development and virtual learning); internet user since 1985

Online life already supports off-line life. People want to see each other face to face. Some people will get sucked into virtual reality - Everquest players, for instance. This "addiction" might be a problem for some but not widespread. - Susan Wilhite, design anthropologist, Habitat for Humanity; internet user since 1993

We already have large numbers of people addicted to various forms of technologies as well as to pornography and gambling on the Internet. As the quality of virtual reality increases, it will attract more users and the numbers of cyber-addicts will increase. - Thomas J. Lenzo, technology consultant, clients include Kaiser Permanente, Parsons Engineering, and others; internet user since 1979

Again, this will move faster than we realize if business moves to virtual reality. The place where it really makes sense is in medicine, earth sciences, science altogether but most people won't be able to distinguish between the real world and their virtual world. - Judy Laing, Southern California Public Radio; internet user since 1995

We are seeing signs of the escapist in children today, more and more spend time on the internet (Read PEW Internet Reports) living the virtual life! Would they know who they really are? Would we? - Alik Khanna, Smart Analyst Inc. (business employing financial analysts in India); internet user since 1996

For some, addiction to technology-based activities such as gaming or social networks is already a reality. As the technology improves and its reach widens, so will the number of people whose only means of establishing "control" of their lives through a virtual existence to the cost of their real lives. – J. Fox, a respondent who chose not to share his/her specific identity

The "Star Trek" holodeck is beyond 2020. Various forms of online addiction such as gaming are already reality. Is an online gamer more valuable than a passive couch potato watching TV? - Brian T. Nakamoto, Everyone.net (a leading provider of outsourced email solutions for individuals and companies around the world); internet user since 1990

Most people will continue to associate in the "real world" and use the virtual technology as a supplemental communication channel rather than an alternative experience. - Ellen K. Sullivan, former diplomat, policy fellow, George Mason University School of Public Policy; internet user since 1988

I believe this statement is an adequate summary of the parallel contradictory trends. Many of the trends we will see will have contradictory countervailing trends as well. But the accumulation of power and control via the effective use of technology will have devastating effects in many unanticipated ways. - Benjamin Ben-Baruch, senior market intelligence consultant and applied sociologist, Aquent, General Motors, Eastern Michigan University; internet user since 1980

I am quite confident that real is real, virtual is virtual. These two cannot be replaced with each other in our daily life. - Yiu Chan, internet user since 1995

Real-world addictive pursuits, such as gambling and using pornography, are easier to access online. This will post problems for those with difficulties in this area. - Mark Crowley, researcher, The Customer Respect Group; internet user since 1995

Yes, these technologies allow us to find cohorts, which eventually will serve to decrease mass shared values & experiences. More than cultural fragmentation, it will aid a fragmentation of deeper levels of shared reality. - Denzil Meyers, founder and president, Widgetwonder (internal branding consultants and facilitators of corporate storytelling), Applied Improvisation Network; internet user since 1993

I also believe that virtual, once the technology begins to incorporate additional senses (especially tactile ones) will take virtual, commercial pornography to new - and dangerous - levels. - Roger Scimé, self-employed web designer; internet user since 1994

That covers it. - Gordon MacDiarmid, Lobo Internet Services; internet user since 1988

Although some people prefer to be plugged in to "The Matrix," most realise that the true benefit of online activity is how it can empower your "real life" - not your "second life." - Peter Kim, senior analyst, marketing strategy and technology team, Forrester Research; internet user since 1993

Addiction is a feature included in a small percentage of the current release of human beings. Virtual reality addiction will likely capture a portion of those who would otherwise have turned to more organic forms of addiction like alcohol, Sudoku, or chocolate. - Jeff Hammond, VP, Rhea and Kaiser; internet user since 1992

There is plenty of evidence already to support this with all of the online, multi-player gaming. Anyone with a teenager can tell you that it is already a problem. - Paul Craven, director of enterprise communications, U.S. Department of Labor; internet user since 1993

People with addict personalities will have this problem, but not very different from the present. - Mario Rios, TDCLA (Tecnologías del Conocimiento, an e-learning group), Chile; internet user since 1997

There's something else I'd like to add: Virtual reality will be a drain for the "savvy communities," too. To be within the "savvy community," it is a must to keep oneself updating. As time goes on, as age comes, the strength to keep oneself updated diminishes. When this strength is zeroed, is completely out of the savvy community. We won't lose people to alternate realities, we will lose people to mental problems. - Ivair Bigaran, Global Messenger Courier do Brasil, American Box Serviço Int'l S/C Ltda.; internet user since 1994

Would we say that television has led to serious addiction problems for many and that we have lost people to alternate realities? Probably not, because TV has become so integrated into our culture. Maybe the same will apply to virtual reality. – Henry Potts, professor, University College, London; internet user since 1990

We need to be aware of the way technology can isolate people from real relationships with others. Addictions are also a real concern. Technology often allows one to become more anonymous, thus leading to more destructive behaviors when not held accountable. - Jeff Bohrer, learning technology consultant, University of Wisconsin-Madison; internet user since 1993

There are benefits and drawbacks to any technology use. It is possible to make the argument, I think, that we have "lost" people to an agricultural society, which for the most part doesn't exist in the way that many wish that it would and that farm subsidies support a technology-based life style at the expense of some other life styles. Separately, we may indeed lose people to alternate realities. The result of this choice of focus on the part of some may also benefit the human species. - Mary Ann Allison, chairman and chief cybernetics officer, The Allison Group, LLC; futurist; internet user since 1981

Naa, my father will still be alive in 2020, and with life increase due to technology [ironic, non?] many of his generation so will be. Give it more time, as dinosaurs get extinct. - Wainer Lusoli, University of Chester, UK; former research fellow, European Studies Research Institute (2003-2005); internet user since 1994

Yes, there will be a media-fueled awareness of "VR addiction" and public-health campaigns will target it. However, the virtual communities formed via electronic networks will be far more powerful, transformative and important. - Daniel Conover, new-media developer, Evening Post Publishing; internet user since 1994

We have already seen examples of this in the recent past. Anyone that was an early user of AOL recognized its addictive nature. People were going broke because they paid for access by the hour. You could say the same thing about some computer games as well. – Robert Lunn, Focalpoint Analytics; worked as a senior research analyst on the 2004 Digital Future Report: Surveying the Digital Future, produced by the USC Annenberg School Center for the Digital Future

This has been the tired wail of every generation since Gutenberg threatened the world with the attractive alternate reality of literacy. Reality simply expands to take in the new "alternate" and become richer. - Walt Dickie, VP and CTO, C&R Research; internet user since 1992

Actually, there are Internet addicts. But the Internet is becoming increasingly transparent, just as air is. We will be using it all the time as part of our daily life, just as we constantly breathe air. Therefore, we cannot become addicts to Internet anymore than we can become addicts to air. - María Laura Ferreyra, strategic planner, Instituto Universitario Aeronautico; ISOC member in Argentina; internet user since 1996

It is not the type of technology that is addictive. Online community-type video games right have some people so addicted that they play for eight or 10 hours per day. I can't see where virtual reality can make the situation much worse. - Doug Olenick, computer technology editor, TWICE (This Week In Consumer Electronics) Magazine; internet user since 1996

I don't believe that in a relatively short term of time, like it is 15 years, the virtual reality substitutes to the real world. The human being even has a lot of road that to travel in that sense. - Sabino M. Rodriguez, MC&S Services; internet user since 1994

I agree fully to the first part (I mean, I'm one of those ;-), but the second issue is more in the section of "computer games addiction," "chat fever" or something similarly harmless for ordinary people. Historically, numerous religious people have virtually lived "in a world beyond" and I would argue that certain Eastern religions based on the unreality of the real world systematically promote a similar escapism via meditation etc. Not a big issue. - Mikkel Holm Sørensen, software and intelligence manager, Actics Ltd. (ethical management systems); internet user since 1997

That already happens with drugs, gambling, church, and TV, but in a virtual world one can now live 24/7, working, earning money, paying bills, and entertaining oneself. - Alix L. Paultre, executive editor, Hearst Business Media, Smartalix.com, Zep Tepi Publishing; internet user since 1996

Already people are list in virtual reality. Living in one's head is a basic human trait. As the telephone is an extension of the ear; the automobile is an extension of the leg; cameras are extensions of the eyes, computers can be said to be extensions of the brain. When it becomes easier to live inside your head, because you can bank online, order food online, entertain yourself online and so forth, people are less motivated to move out of their brains and into their active, physical lives. - Elle Tracy, president and e-strategies consultant, The Results Group; internet user since 1993

This has already come to pass as the opportunity for non-personal communication appeals to the typical human nature. Real human interaction is an inherently difficult process that most are able to overcome, while many are not. The ability to communicate with the anonymity afforded by even something as comparatively ordinary as email makes it easy for anyone to avoid direct communication and contact. The possibility of virtual worlds will probably open up a whole new category of psychoses for discussion. - Al Amersdorfer, president and CEO, Automotive Internet Technologies; internet user since 1985

Once propagated and adopted, the potential is very high for the emergence of a critical mass of alternate realities applications that would dilute the gains in productivity yielded by the business adopters. - Kevin McFall, director, Online Products & Affiliate Programs, Tribune Media Services, NextCast Media; internet user since 1984

This "serious addiction" label is applied too loosely in many current scenarios and I'm sad to see it applied here. There are always individuals willing to give up their own autonomy and if VR is an option, a few will fall that way. Overall, VR holds great promise for breaking down barriers both geographical and temporal. - Suzanne Stefanac, author and interactive media strategist, dispatchesfromblogistan.com; internet user since 1989

The virtual reality provided by some electronic communication now I believe has social consequences - there are cases of new medical problems for example with individuals "addicted" to SMS messaging. Although virtual reality may be a boon to productivity in some communities it may be another diversion for many more. Ultimately shouldn't technology serve reality? - Jean-Pierre Calabretto, former professional now a Ph.D. student at University of South Australia; internet user since 1989

There are many people in alternative realities now - drug addiction, gambling, shopping channel (ha ha). It would be surprising if VR does not claim a certain number of people as well. - Jeff Corman, government policy analyst, Industry Canada, Government of Canada; internet user since 1995


 

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