Shared Virtual Environments: Technology, Social Interaction, and Adaptation over Time
Licentiate thesis, 2004
This thesis investigates social interaction and adaptation over time in shared virtual environments. Shared virtual environments (SVEs) are computer generated 3D graphical spaces where geographically distributed people can meet and interact with each other in a graphical space. Although there have been a number of studies about social interaction in shared virtual environments, there has been almost no research looking into changes over time, which this thesis does. It also relates the use of shared virtual environments to the broader context of other types of technologies used for bridging distances and linking people together.
In order to gain more knowledge about social interaction over the longer term, this thesis compared and contrasted two different shared virtual environments. One was an internet-based virtual environment on desktop computers where many users could interact at the same time. The other were two networked immersive projection technology systems in which two participants performed a variety of tasks together. Observations and other methods of analysis were carried out, focusing on differences and similarities in people’s behaviour in processes of adaptation.
The four papers contained in this thesis analyse the various processes of adaptation over time. This thesis argues that technology becomes not only a tool for social interaction; it also becomes a key aspect in social interaction. While the technology filters out some social cues that we are familiar with from face-to-face situations, it also “filters in” new cues that become important for how people can connect to each other inside the shared virtual environment. Over time, these social cues become essential for people to adapt to; otherwise people find it difficult to relate to each other and do things together in the shared virtual environment.
The more difficulties people have in adapting to how to use the technology while interacting with others, the less people will accept the technology as an appropriate tool for connecting people and doing things together. The reason for this is that social and technical issues can only be separated analytically in shared virtual environments; in practice, as this thesis shows, they are highly intertwined.
The thesis puts forward a dynamic model identifying the importance of looking more explicitly at individuals, technology, tasks and time in different contexts in social interaction. In this way, the thesis integrates a number of elements of the process of adaptation over time in SVEs into an overall framework, and paves the way for more extensive and in-depth future research into this topic.
virtual reality technology
Shared virtual environments