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By Trisha Prabhu

Hey Trish, What exactly is VR and AR? I keep hearing about them but don’t really get what they are…

Hi there, and welcome back to Ask Trish! I hope you’re all well and enjoying a wonderful start to May. (Can you believe it’s already May?! I can’t.)

To this week’s questioner, thank you so much for the fantastic question. I imagine that many of Ask Trish’s readers can relate to your sentiment – after all, nowadays, just like “ChatGPT” or “blockchain,” we all hear the terms “VR” and “AR” quite frequently…but often without a clear explanation or breakdown of what these terms mean. Not only does that leave us in the dark, it actually puts us at a disadvantage, digital literacy-wise, because (as I will discuss!) VR and AR technologies are revolutionizing our world. It’s certainly important, then, to have at least a basic sense/understanding of what they are. But it can be hard to speak up and ask about them, especially if you feel intimidated by these fancy terms (and the technical jargon they’re often associated with).

That’s why I so appreciate you raising this question – and in turn, this week, I’m going to demystify VR and AR (without the jargon or any intimidation)! Indeed, in this week’s post, I get into what VR and AR are, their many applications (both today, and possibly, in the future), and, as always, their potential pros and cons. While this post will offer just a brief introduction into VR and AR, hopefully, it can ultimately launch more detailed exploration and learning.

Sound good? Okay, then – let’s get into it!

I’ll start with the basics: what are VR and AR? Well, “VR” stands for “virtual reality,” while AR stands for “augmented reality.” Simply put, VR, or virtual reality, refers to technologies (often a combination of software and hardware, e.g., a headset or goggle-like glasses) that offers users a simulated experience of being in a “virtual” world. For instance, VR can “take you,” via a headset, to a popular tourist destination like Paris; it can also “transport” you to a fictional world! All the while, you’re still sitting physically wherever it is you are – in your home, in your bedroom, etc. – but, through the headset, you see, feel, and even seemingly “walk around” your destination. Very cool, right? On the other hand, AR, or augmented reality, refers to similar technologies that instead offer users a simulated experience that enhances, or “augments,” the real, physical world. For instance, with AR technology, you might be able to see your own real, physical body…but with different outfits on! This way, you don’t have to change into each one to know which one is right for you. #convenient Indeed, rather than being “transported” to a virtual world, AR builds off of the world as we know it.

Not too complicated, right? Now that you’ve mastered VR and AR (and understood the distinction between them), you might be wondering…so, how are they valuable? Why should we care about VR and AR? What types of VR and AR applications do we see (and might we see)? In short, VR and AR have applications across a range of fields, from gaming to healthcare. An application of AR you might be familiar with was the immensely popular game Pokémon Go, which projected Pokémon characters/the Pokémon world on top of your real, physical surroundings. AR is also being highlighted in the healthcare space as a way to provide people with critical healthcare information – for instance, AR can be used to show people where, in their real-world surroundings, life-saving medication or defibrillators are. VR is also being used in the healthcare space; one application, for instance, is using VR to help doctors and patients’ families understand what patients are experiencing. Via VR simulations, doctors can begin to conceptualize the pain and symptoms their patients are experiencing. VR can also be used in the education domain to bring hard-to-understand concepts to life! Teachers no longer need to draw out molecules colliding with one another on a worksheet; with VR, they can demonstrate these concepts to students in a way that is potentially more meaningful and impactful.

And that, really, sums up the many pros of AR and VR technologies – because of their widespread and potentially impactful applications, these technologies have the potential to advance the human condition across a range of spaces. We can, as referenced, offer individuals better treatment, inspire students, and facilitate fun games via these technologies. But what about the potential cons? (If you’re an Ask Trish regular, you knew these were coming…) Well, critics raise a number of concerns. For one, at least today, these technologies (that is, the software and hardware) can be very costly and, thus, only accessible to individuals with the resources to purchase them. The technology itself also has a long way to go; currently, headsets are bulky and can make users feel dizzy or even cause motion sickness. Some individuals have even reported eye strain when using VR headsets (uh-oh)! And, as with all technologies that have the potential to disrupt our lives via integration into our worlds, critics have raised questions about the data being collected (for instance, the way you move your eyes and body) and how this data is being used. In short, there are absolutely valid concerns about AR and VR – concerns that merit further conversation and suggest there’s a lot more work to be done.

I hope you found this post helpful and that these tips help you begin to explore and learn more about VR and AR technologies! As always, before I sign off…it’s time for my weekly reminder (you know what’s coming!): if you’ve got thoughts, questions, or concerns about the Internet, please share them here. Your question just might be featured in an upcoming TikTok/blog post. It’s a win-win-win – you get some advice (equal parts helpful and hilarious!), I get to produce some fun TikTok content (and write about it – which I find deeply fulfilling!), and our Ask Trish community benefits from our dialogue. So don’t hesitate – fill out the form! It truly takes not more than a minute. I’m so looking forward to hearing from you – thank you in advance for your fantastic questions.

Wishing you all a great start to May,


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