From one-on-one to societies

Now consider social interaction on different scales. The vast majority of one-on-one interaction that we have in the real world is with people we know. Likewise, it is the same when interacting through technology, whether through text messaging, phone calls, or video chat. Most of our interaction though technology is targeted in that there is a specific purpose to the engagement. This suggests that VR can be used to take a video chat to the next level, where two people feel like they are face-to-face in a virtual world, or even in a panoramic capture of the real world. Note, however, that in the real world, we may casually interact simply by being in close proximity while engaged in other activities, rather than having a targeted engagement.

One important aspect of one-on-one communication is whether the relationship between the two people is symmetrical or complementary (from Paul Watzlawick's Axioms of Communication). In a symmetrical relationship the two people are of equal status, whereas in a complementary relationship one person is in a superior position, as in the case of a boss and employee or a parent and a child. This greatly affects the style of interaction, particularly in a targeted activity.

Now consider interactions within a small group of people in the real world. Perhaps a family or coworkers are sharing a meal together. Perhaps children are together on a playground. Perhaps friends and family have gathered for a holiday or birthday celebration. VR versions of such interactions could focus on a targeted activity, such as gathering for a party. Perhaps you are the one who could not attend in person, but will instead ``hang out'' with the group through some VR interface. Perhaps there is a meeting, and a few people need to attend remotely, which is currently handled by teleconferencing, in which voice and video are transmitted over the network. The common scenario that is closest to VR is schoolchildren meeting in a networked video game, with some social interaction occurring while they play. They might form teams and interact through text messaging or voice while playing.

As the number of people increases to over a dozen, the case of a complementary relationship leads to a presentation or interview. Some examples are a teacher lecturing to a class of students, and a politician speaking in front of a group of reporters. In these interactions, a leader has been clearly assigned to communicate with the group. These settings could be reproduced in VR by allowing people to attend through panoramic video capture. Alternatively, the entire event could take place in a virtual world. In the case of a symmetrical relationship, people might mingle at a large reception, and carry on conversations in small groups. This could also be reproduced in VR.

In the limiting case, an online community may emerge, which could connect millions of users. Several examples were given in Section 1.3, including MMORPGs and Second Life. People may have casual interactions by bumping into each other while spending a significant amount of time living or working in a networked virtual world. One issue, which exists in any online community, is membership. Are they open to everyone, or only a closed group?

Steven M LaValle 2016-12-31