If you ask the neighborhood cynic, they'd probably tell you that the impending ubiquity of virtual reality will create a world of people who are even less in tune with one another. Take the subway car crowded with humans who would rather stare at Instagram than converse with one another, and amplify that by strapping a physical object in front of one's eyes. It's an easy assumption to make, and we as a society certainly seem to be trending in that direction.
But, perhaps not. During the 'VR Storytelling' panel at Collision Conference here in New Orleans, Samsung's Global Innovation Center President David Eun offered a contrarian's viewpoint that I desperately hope proves true. To quote: "One of the [beliefs] out there that I disagree with is that VR will be isolating, and that people will remove themselves from the real world. I think the opposite will happen."
Embracing alternate realities
He continued by shedding light on an experience he had recently in New York, where he strapped a VR headset on and saw a vast landscape in Ethiopia. The video was captured by charity:water, adding an in-person look at how the funds that are donated actually help brothers and sisters of the human race an ocean away.
Eun continued: "In fact, you'll be more connected and expose yourself to more people and situations. A lot of people support charity:water, but have never gone to Ethiopia -- to be there, viscerally, it's a remarkable experience. It's still really early [in terms of VR's development]. We [Samsung] have to make sure the hardware and software gets better, but we need the creativity of entrepreneurs and storytellers to go out there and make the content."
I was blown away by the simplicity and obviousness of the argument, and it does indeed plant a seed of hope that VR can be used for bringing distant people and cultures together rather than building walls between friends and family.
Marc Mathieu, CMO of Samsung Electronics America, added on: "VR is as close as it gets to teleportation. You can instantly transport yourself to a well in Africa, and you really have a feeling of being there. It captures 100 percent of your attention, everywhere you look. It's not like looking at a screen, where you know it's not real. With VR, it's real as long as you have the headset on."
That realness has a chance to tap parts of our hearts, souls, and minds in a way that no other medium has before. By being fully immersed, a viewer is able to conjure up empathy that just isn't possible when viewing stories in other formats. Though VR may create a way for others to get closer to the pains of those suffering through wars and poverty, it simultaneously creates an opportunity to generate real compassion that leads to real action. And that, it seems, is change we desperately need.
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