The Moral Making of Virtual Reality


Deborah Johnson (USA)


In this paper, I will draw on the literature of cience and technology studies, and take seriously the claim that technologies are socially constructed and that in the early stages of their development, they have interpretive flexibility. They are ‘made’ when relevant social groups come to consensus on what the technology is.

My focus will be on virtual reality technologies. I will argue that virtual reality is a technology still “in the making.” It is in the process of being socially interpreted and made into whatever it will become. This presents us with an ethical issue but one that is often missed. The question is not just whether we should be concerned about the effects of this technology on individuals, groups, and human affairs? Rather, the question is how should we think about it? What should we “make” of virtual reality?

Technologies evolve through iterations and negotiations between designers, users, and a variety of groups that give meaning to the technology and fit it into their understanding of the world. The moral question is: what we are ‘make of virtual reality.’ The question is missed when we ask what virtual reality ‘is’ as if it had an essential nature independent of the meaning human beings give it. I will argue that we should be cautious and reflective in conceptualizing virtual reality. While we have to understand its silicon characteristics, these leave much room for interpretation.