Virtual environments are computer simulated setups which make human-computer interaction possible. It is often referred to by different authors and academicians using different terms like “Virtual Reality”, “Virtual World”, and “Artificial Reality”. (Cline, 2008; O’Connel and Groom, 2010; Steinmetz and Nahrstedt, 2004). Computer technology has the power to enhance human performance to a great extent. However it is only possible when the human computer interaction is done optimally. Every kind of virtual environments are designed with the objective of increasing human productivity and the efficiency of the operations. This is the reason for growing popularity of virtual environments in every area of human life. Virtual environments are increasingly being applied for education, medical, security, consultancy, engineering, research, design, entertainment and business purposes. However every task cannot be performed using virtual environments. So it is a major issue to recognize the tasks that can be better performed using virtual technology.
Characteristics of the user in human computer interaction
Apart from the task characteristics, the characteristics of users also play a pivot role in determining the optimal human computer interaction (Zhang and Galletta, 2006). The persons participating in the interaction play an important role in the success of such operations. Virtual environments provide a medium for human computer interactions. So it is very important to address the human factor issues that can affect the effective usage of virtual environments. Human factors sometimes pose a threat in the successful implementation of such virtual systems. There are primarily 3 human factors issues:
- Human performance efficiency in virtual worlds which is influenced largely by:
- User characteristics.
- Task characteristics.
- Human sensory and motor physiology.
- Multi modal interaction and potential need for new design metaphors.
- Health and safety issues mainly cyber sickness and physiological disorders.
- Social implications of virtual environment technology i.e. the positive and negative impacts of virtual environments on society.
Virtual environments in human computer interaction interface
Virtual environments as a medium for human computer interface have reached this stage of popularity after a long series of ups and downs. From the era when there was nothing like computer and everything used to be done manually, to today when computers are an essence of human life; it has been a long way. When computers were invented, they were considered as mere calculating devices. But today virtual environments have enabled even the most sophisticated tasks to be done on computers. Virtual environments involve the use of human senses mainly the sight, hearing and touch for effectively enabling the human computer interface. The input and output of data and information to and from the computer is done primarily using these senses.
Increasing organisational efficiency through virtual environments
Virtual environments have benefited almost every area of activity. These systems have nullified the effect of geographical distances on human communication. The virtual environments also enhance the speed and accuracy of various tasks (Khosrowpur, 1998). This results in greater productivity of workers and better efficiency of operations. Virtual environments also make the optimum utilization of organizational resources possible. But along with all these benefits, there are serious disadvantages also attached to the use of virtual environments. They do not involve face-to-face communication so many times such transactions or communications lead to misunderstanding and confusion. There is also a risk of lack of coordination among parties to communication if the virtual systems are not properly implemented. Then virtual environments cannot be applied for every kind of tasks so these systems can replace the physical environments completely. The user characteristics play a crucial role in determining the success of virtual systems. Many times, the users may suffer from techno-phobia and may hesitate to use technology. The virtual environments cannot be utilized well by such people. Then, these virtual technologies also leave a negative impact on the health of participants if there is long term exposure to these technologies.
From the theories and views presented by different authors on the subject of ‘virtual environment’, it can be concluded that everybody agrees these virtual systems as a boon for human life. But at the same time these human factors challenges involved here cannot be ignored. The virtual systems are designed to improve human computer interface so as to enhance the performance of humans. Therefore it is must to address to the issues of human performance efficiency, health and safety and societal implications of use of virtual environments.
- Cline, M. (2008). Virtual Reality: a Catalyst for Social and Economic Change.
- Khosrowpur, M. (1998). Effective Utilization and Management of Emerging Information Technologies. Delhi: Idea Publishing
- O’Connell, J.,and Groom, D. (2010). Virtual Worlds. Victoria: ACER Press.
- Steinmetz, R., and Nahrstedt, K. (2004). Multimedia Applications. Germany: Verlag.
- Zhang, P., and Galletta, D. (2006). Human-computer Interaction and Management Information Systems: Foundations. New York: Sharpe.