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Virtual Reality is Reality Exploratory Essays Rese

arch PapersVirtual Reality is Reality

In his essay, “A Rape in Cyberspace,” Julian Dibbell wrote about a violent event that occurred in LambdaMOO, a virtual reality community. To some, Dibbell states, this event was nothing more than “spidery flitting of fingers across standard QWERTY keyboards” (450). On the other hand, to the victims it was much more. In his essay one of the victims was quoted as saying ” …I have thought about it for days. He hurt us both” (453). The effect that the virtual event had on the victim was obviously real; thus, this event effected their real life. According to Heim, the author of “The Essence of VR,” virtual reality is “an event or entity that is real in effect but not in fact” (16). Is it the effect of a matter or the fact, materiality, of a matter that depicts how real an event is? If it is the fact, there is a distinct line between virtual reality and real life. However, if the impact that an event has on a person’s life is what makes an event real, then virtual reality is very real and the line between virtual reality and real life is very faint if it exists at all.

The use of virtual reality is increasing in many areas of society such as: communication, business, education, and medicine. Perhaps this increase will cause the lives of all people, even those who do not use computer technology which is typically thought of as the medium for virtual reality, to be impacted. It is important to know if and where the line between virtual reality and real life exists due to this steady increase of virtual reality use. This essay will provide evidence focusing on how the line is slowly disappearing as virtual reality is shaping the way medicine effects our health and livelihood.

The ways in which virtual reality impacts peoples’ lives are rapidly increasing, especially with the increased use of virtual reality in medicine. One example of this is in the testing of colon cancer. An article from ABCNews entitled “The Wonders of Virtual Surgery” states that, “the American Cancer Society predicts that 96,500 people will get colon cancer in 1998, and 47,700 will die of it.” Using virtual reality doctors would be able to look inside organs by making CT scans into three-dimensional images. This would allow doctors to look for diseases such as colon cancer with much more ease for the patient. The procedure used to be much more invasive involving the insertion of a colonscope up the patient’s rectum. Since the procedure is now less invasive more people may be willing to get screened (Wonders). This will effect the reality of literally thousands of people since early detection of prostate cancer can help in curing it. Another disease, which may be easier to fight using virtual reality technology, is breast cancer, which according to the American Cancer Society has killed 43,900 people in 1998 alone. This new type of diagnosis would use a “three-dimensional imager” which would discover a tumor and then diagnose it immediately (Space). According to “Space Tech vs. Breast Cancer,” an article from ABCNews says that this will hopefully “replace painful and clumsy mammograms.” Like colon cancer, early detection of breast cancer can also help in the elimination of it. Once again the reality of thousands of people will be changed with the use of VR.

Virtual reality will not only change the reality of how diseases are diagnosed, but how the medical field can provide for its patients. When using virtual reality, Heim explains, “communications can go beyond verbal or body language to take on magical, alchemical properties” (21). A higher level of communication between doctors and patients influences the treatment that doctors can provide. At this level of communication the problems may be better understood. In an August 1997 issue, Byte magazine interviewed Jaron Lanier and described him as a “pioneer and proponent of virtual reality.” During this interview, Lanier discusses how “applying the power of networking to the VR world” would allow a “more sophisticated way of communication about their shared environment” (Byte). While still in surgery, surgeons being able to discuss with each other any problems they run into during the procedure can also enhance the care provided (Byte). This will have profound and immediate effects on each patient by decreasing the chances of error in surgical procedures.

Jaron Lanier brings up the idea of using virtual reality as an “interface to control different surgical instruments at the end of a fiber-optic channel in keyhole surgery.” In doing so “we can create a new body for the doctor, where his or her fingers become the scissors in a virtual model” (Byte). John W. Hill who is the writer of “Telepresence Technology in Medicine: Principles and Applications” explains “telepresence technology allows surgeons to experience surgery as if their hands and eyes were effectively inside the patient’s closed abdomen, enabling them to work with improved skill and dexterity.” Telepresence also allows surgeons to operate on patients that aren’t even in the same country as they are (Hill 569). This allows patients to get the best possible care that they can since how far they have to travel to get treatment will no longer be a factor. The costs of procedures may also be cut because people will not have to see a specialist if they do not want to. As Hill states, “with telepresence, the user can remotely perform complex tasks without the need of specialized training” (Hill 569). Another benefit for the patient is that telesurgery causes “the patient to heal from surgery in one-tenth the usual time because telepresence surgery leaves the body nearly intact” (20), according to Heim. People will no longer have to take as much time off from their daily lives after having an operation, this is another way virtual reality can influence a person’s life thus destroying any line between virtual reality and real life which may have existed before.

“Carving Out Real-Life Uses for Virtual Reality,” an article from the New York Times, reports that virtual reality could cause “better prepared surgeons and lower-risk surgery” along with “shorter hospital stays and fewer malpractice suits” (Holusha 11). Surgeons can practice procedures without having to do so on actual patients, hence refining their skills for when they do perform on patients. One piece of technology that allows surgeons to do this is the Phantom, which was created in 1993 by Thomas H. Massie at the age of 24, with the idea originating from J. Kenneth Salisbury. The Phantom can simulate touch, which combined with “mind-bending 3-D illusions” has already been used in a lab for a virtual biopsy of a brain tumor. The procedure felt like the real thing to Dr. Thomas M. Krummel, who performed the virtual biopsy (Schultz 1). This new advancement in medical training combined with the use of virtual reality in diagnoses of diseases and in surgical procedures illustrates how the line between virtual reality and real life is disintegrating.

The advancements which have been made in the medical field with virtual reality cause profound outcomes in peoples’ lives. As virtual reality improves the medical world it also improves the lives of patients and their families. What is done in virtual reality in the field of medicine carries over into peoples’ everyday lives. This shows that what happens in virtual reality and real life are not two separate things. The already undefined line between virtual reality and real life is continually becoming fainter due to the fact that virtual reality is no longer just for computer junkies. It has now become a very real aspect of our society.

Works Cited

“American Cancer Society.” American Cancer Society-Cancer Facts and Figures. 6 Oct. 1998 .

Byte. “Beyond Goggles and Gloves.” Byte 22 (Aug. 1997): 32.

Dibbell, Julian. “A Rape in Cyberspace.” CyberReader . Ed. Victor J. Vitanza. Needham Heights: Allyn and Bacon, 1996. 448-465.

Heim, Michael. “The Essence of VR.” CyberReader . Ed. Victor J. Vitanza. Needham Heights: Allyn and Bacon, 1996. 16-31.

Hill, John M. and Joel F. Jensen. “Telepresence Technology in Medicine: Principles and Applications.” IEEE 86.3(1998): 569-579.

Hodges, Larry, Max North, Dorothy Strickland, and Suzanne Weghorst. “Overcoming Phobias by Virtual Exposure.” Communications of the ACM 40.8(1997): 34-39.

Holusha, John. “Carving Out Real-Life Uses for Virtual Reality.” New York Times 31 Oct. 1993: 11.

Schultz, Richard. “Call It Palpable Progress.” Business Week 9 Oct. 1995: 93-94.

“Space Tech vs. Breast Cancer.” ABCNEWS. (Oct. 1997). Accessed 14 Nov 1998.

“The Wonders of Virtual Surgery.” ABCNEWS (Apr. 1998). Accessed on 14 Nov 1998.


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