Digital Transformations: Are We Losing Touch with Reality?
The 21st century has been nothing short of a technological renaissance. The rapid advancements in technology, from the smartphone’s ubiquity to the immersive experiences of virtual reality (VR), have redefined our interaction with the world around us. As we become increasingly intertwined with technology, an essential question emerges: is our evolving relationship with tech reshaping our perception of reality?
The Era of the Screen
In addition to our smartphones, computers, and televisions, we spend over 11 hours each day interacting with media, most of it screen-based. Smartphones, computers, and televisions are always with us. Creating and sharing content, engaging with diverse communities, and even building our identities online are all part of this relentless connection, which is not merely passive. As a result, the virtual and real worlds have become increasingly intertwined.
The Virtual becomes “Real”
It’s time for augmented reality and virtual reality (VR) to break out of science fiction. While VR immerses users in entirely fabricated worlds, AR overlays digital elements on the actual world. VR allows users to immerse themselves in entirely fabricated worlds. Gaming and entertainment aren’t the only benefits.
If you attended a virtual concert where you felt as if you were standing next to other attendees, or if you worked in a VR workspace with colleagues around the globe, you could do so. Increasingly, these experiences become so immersive, they become as ”real” as our physical world experiences, which raises philosophical questions about the nature of reality as they become more commonplace.
The Relativity of Truth
It is also becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate fact from fiction because of the democratisation of information. However, search engines and social media have become primary sources of news and knowledge. “Fake news” and deepfakes are challenging our ability to discern fact from fiction because artificial intelligence can make it seem as if someone said or did something they didn’t.
This technological capability isn’t just about misinformation. Digital technology forces us to confront the fluidity of truth. It reduces our trust in visual and auditory “evidence” as reflections of reality because anyone can manipulate these things. The context and the source of information are therefore more important than the content itself as a basis for our perception of truth.
Our brains are adapting to technology-driven lifestyles as well, as neuroscientists have discovered evidence of “cognitive offloading,” where we rely on devices to remember information. As a result of social media’s dopamine-driven feedback loops, our behaviours and decision-making processes have also been altered.
Although subtle, these changes have profound implications for the brain. Our memories, which shape our sense of reality, are increasingly intertwined with external devices, thereby strengthening our sense of reality. Digital affirmations often provide us with joy, validation, and even self-esteem, further intertwining our sense of reality with it.
A Merged Reality
With the advent of the metaverse, the distinction between the digital and physical worlds will likely become even less significant as time progresses. Our perception of reality will continue to be tested as the metaverse evolves—a collective virtual shared space created by converging physically virtual reality and augmented reality.
Technological advancements aren’t inherently bad. They provide incredible opportunities for education, collaboration, and experiences we cannot even imagine today. However, we must face this change with awareness. We should strive for a balance where technology can be harnessed without dictating our perception of reality, as philosopher and tech critic Sherry Turkle posits.
Technology is undoubtedly changing how we perceive reality. As the lines between the digital and physical realms blur, we have a more complex understanding of self, reality, and the world around us. It is imperative to conduct introspection, think critically, and renew our commitment to grounding ourselves in a world that is ever-evolving but still rooted in genuine human connection during this transitional period.