Our relationships with objects, people, and places are changing thanks to the growth of digital mediation. This process seems likely to accelerate in the future. Haptics, AR, and VR will allow us to experience virtual objects as tangible, and blur the lines between physical and digital worlds.
This convergence is already happening in immersive multiplayer games, which have become significant places for sharing social,[i] intellectual,[ii] and cultural[iii] experiences. From Minecraft’s library of censored journalism[iv] to I-SPARKS[v], a game that incorporates elements of cognitive behavioural therapy, games are already important venues for self-expression,[vi] work,[vii] and learning.[viii] On the medical front, prosthetics[ix] and implants connected to the IoT[x] are blurring the lines between human and digital.
Over the next decade, game worlds, digital platforms, and the IoT are expected to merge and evolve[xi] into metaverses.[xii] If so, virtual enhancements and interactions may become everyday experiences. Serious changes to the value of face-to-face relationships, physical sensations, built and natural spaces, and material objects could follow. For example, public spaces layered with AR or recreated with VR[xiii] might become more important for social cohesion, as they come to life for visitors in new ways and offer new kinds of shared experiences. Fully virtual spaces for work, play, and information activities could be game changers[xiv] for those with mobility impairments, sensory disabilities, or social anxieties.
Access to digital infrastructure[xv] could become increasingly important. Digital divides that limit access to metaverses could become key engines of inequality.[xvi] The same goes for divides in digital skills[xvii] and critical frameworks.[xviii] As people spend more time in digital environments, the ability to navigate them safely and effectively may become an essential skill.
[i] Emily Powys Maurice, “This woman is questioning her sexuality because her lesbian roommate is ‘flirting’ with her through Animal Crossing,” Pink News, last modified Apr. 20, 2020, https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2020/04/02/animal-crossing-new-horizons-lesbian-roommate-flirting-sexuality-lockdown/.
[ii] Edward Crowly, Mathew Silk, & Sarah Crowley, “The educational value of ecological in Red Dead Redemption 2,” British Ecological Society, 3, no.6 (Dec. 2021): 1229-1243, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10242.
[iii] Jody Macgregor, “The Vatican’s Minecraft server is overwhelmed by demand and DDoS attacks,” PC Gamer, last modified Dec. 3, 2019, https://www.pcgamer.com/the-vatican-has-its-own-minecraft-server/.
[v] “How a fantasy video game aims to help youth in Nunavut with their mental health,” CBC, last modified Dec. 2, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-wednesday-edition-1.5825235/how-a-fantasy-video-game-aims-to-help-youth-in-nunavut-with-their-mental-health-1.5825237.
[vi] “What happens when pacifist soldiers search for peace in a war video game?” Aeon, last modified May 27, 2021, https://aeon.co/videos/what-happens-when-pacifist-soldiers-search-for-peace-in-a-war-video-game.
[vii] Connor Flynn, “People are hosting meetings in Red Dead Redemption 2,” Geeky Gadgets, last modified May 20, 2020, https://www.geeky-gadgets.com/people-are-hosting-meetings-in-red-dead-redemption-2-20-05-2020/.
[viii] Alexa MacLean, “Halifax professor brings unique pandemic learning experience to students,” Global News, last modified Sep. 17, 2020, https://globalnews.ca/news/7341755/halifax-dalhousie-prof-coronavirus-pandemic-learning-experience/.
[ix] Steven Lee, “It’s a wearable, it’s a prosthetic, it’s an IoT walking cane,” Renesas, accessed Aug. 10, 2022, https://www.renesas.com/us/en/blogs/it-s-wearable-it-s-prosthetic-it-s-iot-walking-cane.
[x] Charles Moore, “IoT Medical Devices Transforming Healthcare,” NextGen Global, accessed Jan. 7, 2023, https://nextgenexecsearch.com/iot-medical-devices-transforming-healthcare/.
[xi] “Neustreet Becomes First Company to Designate Global Headquarters in the Metaverse,” Newsfile, last modified Jun. 24, 2020, https://ca.movies.yahoo.com/neustreet-becomes-first-company-designate-163600281.html.
[xii] Scott Nover, “The meaning of the ‘metaverse,’ and all the terms you need to understand it,” Quartz, last modified Nov. 15, 2021, https://qz.com/2089665/everything-you-need-to-know-to-understand-the-metaverse/.
[xiii] Samantha Culp, “Augmented Dreams,” Art in America, last modified Jan. 11, 2021, https://www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/augmented-reality-art-1234581120/. Federico Debandi, Roberto Iacoviello, Alberto Messina, Maurizio Montagnuolo & Davide Zappia, “A proof of concept mixed reality application for augmented city tourism,” IBC, last modified Oct. 10, 2018, https://www.ibc.org/a-proof-of-concept-mixed-reality-application-for-augmented-city-tourism/3378.article.
[xv] Sridar Ghadi, “How digital infrastructure can help us through the COVID-19 crisis,” WEF, last modified Apr. 1, 2020, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/digital-infrastructure-public-health-crisis-covid-19/.
[xvi] S. Ashleigh Weeden and Wayne Kelly, “The Digital Divide Has Become a Chasm: Here’s How We Bridge the Gap,” CIGI, last modified Jul. 26. 2021, https://www.cigionline.org/articles/the-digital-divide-has-become-a-chasm-heres-how-we-bridge-the-gap/.
[xvii] Howard Pinder, “As COVID-19 deepens the digital divide, a call to move beyond simply providing access,” Technical.ly, last modified Apr. 27, 2020, https://technical.ly/diversity-equity-inclusion/as-covid-19-deepens-the-digital-divide-a-call-to-move-beyond-simply-providing-access/.
[xviii] Paul Bennet, “What’s standing in the way of teaching about residential schools?” Policy Options Canada, last modified Sep. 17, 2021, https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/septembe-2021/whats-standing-in-the-way-of-teaching-about-residential-schools/.