Far too often, discussions of major world crises lack the empathy the people involved deserve. More and more it seems, real problems and challenges emerge, and empathy is hard to find.
One of my greatest challenges as a parent is building empathy in my kids. Attention spans are short, dozens of things are happening any given second, information and data are overwhelming, and it often becomes a struggle to help kids process their own world and experience, much less have compassion for someone else’s. Especially when that other person might be across town or across the globe.
This is where I believe Virtual Reality will change the world.
I believe that mass adoption of Virtual Reality enabled technology will change us, but it won’t because of gaming or entertainment, which is the current prevailing narrative.
It will be because we are human. And the desire to connect with other humans is one of the most profound needs we collectively share.
Virtual Reality will cross borders, melt hurdles and dissolve the boundaries between us in ways no technology has ever before. It will allow us to connect, to feel, and to be more human by experiencing the condition of other humans in a deeper way than we ever thought possible.
Artist Chris Milk has a vision for this type of potential. He has formed a company to create films that get at the heart of the potential of Virtual Reality to build empathy and human connection. From fastcocreate:
“Clouds Over Sidra” follows a 12-year-old girl in Jordan’s Za’atari camp, home to 84,000 Syrian refugees, as she goes to school, to her makeshift tent and even to the football pitch. The film, created by Milk and Gabo Arora, a senior advisor at the UN, aims to provide an intimate look at life within a refugee camp and a new perspective on some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The film will be available on VRSE.works’ new virtual reality app, launching at the Sundance Film Festival, and iTunes.
“Clouds Over Sidra” is only eight minutes, but it has had a profound impact. It made cynical technology writers cry, and has made some of the most powerful people in the world think. To his credit, Chris didn’t wait to launch the film at Sundance or another entertainment venue. He debuted it at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He had the most powerful people in the world wear a Head Mounted Display and feel what it was like to be in a Jordanian refugee camp. Where most people would have created a power point deck, Chris had faith in his own imagination and created a world changing experience through VR.
You might disagree, but after studying this at length, I feel the formula for using VR to change the world is simple:
1) Use the latest technology
2) to build connection and empathy between people and cultures
3) which heightens understanding
4) and can serve as a catalyst for action and change.
I believe it really is that simple. And I believe this is exactly the type of goal all educators should be striving towards.
It is an idea that is building momentum. Scholar Joel Beeson refers to VR as a potential “empathy machine” and has explored the potential of VR and new media to promote racial and cultural understanding and equality. He sees the potential for VR in journalism to “disrupt the story from itself” so that we are able to better build our own awareness and feelings about the news, rather than reacting to a cable channels “objective” retelling of events from multiple sides of the story. Stories have profound meaning, and Beeson believes we get to that conclusion and encourage new and deeper conversations the faster we can all be immersed in a genuine and real experience of the story for ourselves.
With the advent of cheap 360 (VR ready) video, in the future we can share real time experience from an event like the Baltimore or Ferguson riots this past year. Imagine how our ability to tell a story changes when students have a 5 minute immersive experience that delivers the feeling of what it is like to truly be there in the neighborhood and to be in the middle of the experience. Someone could supply more 360 video a year or two later so we can revisit the experience and feel what, if anything, has changed. The possibilities for educating through stories delivered via immersive technology are endless.
The future world will be a far better place when we are able to leverage technology at scale to not only instruct but to build compassion and empathy. The reason this works and will move the world is simple. The one technology that has persisted in human culture more than any other is the tradition of story telling. When you change the way we tell a story, you change the world.