Today I am giving a talk at MTSU’s Walker Library about social issues in VR. Can VR act as an empathy engine for social issues? This talk is the kick off for a new research project about the stickiness factor of social issues in VR, specifically about domestic violence. What makes the empathy and short term social change stick? Can that stickiness scale up?
I just finished a medium article about swallowing your fear and writing about the process as a newbie contributor. The author was talking to open source contributors, but I think the lesson is the same for anyone at a starting point in their career. Or a restarting point.
For any big change, be it a new job, a new skill, a new start, there is a sharp learning curve. But thing is, this curve does not need to be a sink or swim after your drunk uncle throws you into the deep end of the pool. Writing as a n0ob let’s you think through your process in a way that simplifies and explains things (because if you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it) to an imagined audience. It let’s you network with others in your field. It makes you find information to credit/source your writing. And it contributes to a body of work that is synonymous to your mom throwing the pool noodles into the deep end with you… you don’t have to figure out every thing every time. Nor does the person coming after you, nor the person after that.
The fear, at least it was for me, is just FEELING like too much of a n0ob to have anything to contribute (for me, after a shift in academic focus). But that in itself is a contribution. What you are having trouble figuring out or explaining is probably the same things someone else is having difficulty with. Write about it! Research what you don’t know. But, and this is the key, DON’T fake it. Be upfront about where you are in your own process. You won’t be a n0ob forever. (Although you may feel like one – we can talk about Imposter Syndrome another day 😉 ).
So having said that, I now need to listen to my own advice. I took a huge personal hit a couple of years ago that silenced my academic voice. It silenced my entire voice. But that hit has healed and now it is time to swallow my fear, learn new things, and share them with people who are also interested in doing cool things in the virtual.
So that being said…welcome to my new blog. I’m VRARkat. It is lovely to have you here. In this blog, we are going to delve into storytelling, representation, and empathy in virtual and augmented realities. And I can’t wait!!
So what really excites me about VR is the possibility to change the way we empathize with others or to educate ourselves and others about situations that would be difficult to understand without the ability to experience something very different then our own experiences. It seems even more important during the current political and cultural climate.
The VR/AR students I had this past semester have started the first tip toeing into this field of study by collecting information about homelessness in the middle Tennessee region, as well as by filming a few VR spaces where the local homeless rest their heads at night.
From a purely technical standpoint, while the project was interesting, it didn’t really capture the experience. So far, the videos look more like a camping trip – which is far from the actual experience. If not visually dynamic, I think more information needs to add to the visualization in VR. For example, audio stories were also recorded and added to their project site, and that helps some.
If you look at examples of the Syrian children playing in rubble that they NYT VR app shows, the difference is huge. While the issues are different, of course, the idea that your home is not what most consider a home, a visual experience can by dynamic and create a different sense of empathy than reading an article about it. I’m sure the terrain play a role, as well as other factors. It will be interesting to see what comes of our continued experimentation of augmented and virtual play.
Changing jobs, cultures, countries, currencies, ways of eating and moving and working and thinking can be a huge adjustment – leaving you feeling like you have no touchstone to reality. BUT, it can also spark research questions involving empathy, experience, regulations, and policies. I have long been interested in the digital’s role in victimology, but my research was mainly concerned with how social media could be used to redefine the identity ‘victim’. By changing popular conceptions of the victim, you are also changing (even if quite slowly) public policy. Now that augmented and virtual reality are entering the mainstream, apps like the NYT news app, or the Sundance films have a chance at letting you experience something other than your own day to day in a medium other than text or video. I am extremely curious how this changes empathy. How this could change foreign and domestic policy. What implications will there be from experiencing another’s life ? This relaunch of my blog will focus on how virtual and augmented reality affect the way we communicated and identify. I can’t wait to explore more – learn more – and discuss more. Stay tuned! This ride is just getting started.