Well, this begins with an idea borne out of a TED Talk. A journalist, Nonny de la Peña has been researching Virtual Reality[VR] in the context of reporting the news and other ‘newsworthy’ events deemed controversial. VR is being experimented as the next ‘wave’ in reporting, viewing and experiencing the news as we have come to know it. Emphasis will be placed on the ‘experiencing’ aspect. Watching or reading the news, in the realm of virtual reality allows a totally 3-Dimensional, front row seat. It provides the viewer with a more personal experience in connection with the situation under scrutiny and public examination.
Events that have been recorded, filmed, or reported by witnesses can be re-created in order to place the viewer on the scene…within the scene, at the same time that it unfolds.
The tragic police-involved deaths of Eric Garner or Michael Brown, repeatedly witnessed on YouTube or any Network broadcast news, can be reconstructed for a more intimate, ‘up close and personal’ perspective. Millions of Americans access some form of news every day.
With much to much frequency, there’s a report detailing another controversial, and questionable deadly exchange between law enforcement and unarmed young men ‘of color’. These ‘mistakes’, unjust acts, misuse and abuses of power and authority are not new trends or even acute, isolated events.
But for the camera-equipped smartphone and the reach of the internet, those deaths would probably be considered rational, justifiable, and sound, ‘in the line of duty’ decisions made by the police. Unfortunately, too many judgment calls reflect errors in judgment, influenced by and borne out of fear, negative stereotypes, and implicit bias.
The beauty of VR is that we can feel and not just see the human exchanges and interactions, and experience similar feelings and emotions as those actually involved-physically. A more complete picture leads to an empathic, HUMANISTIC perspective to fortify and contextualize the actual facts.
When people are exposed to VR, they seem to have a ‘duality of presence’. So, empathy can be evoked from others who tend to watch tragedies in society and remain detached. Automaticity, or those automatic responses or behaviors, learned through repetition and reinforced by experiences, influences and leads to actions which resulted in the tragic deaths of Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and countless others. Even visual evidence seems to confound an ordinarily rational adult’s ability to recognize and acknowledge injustices and instead interpret seemingly obvious harmful and extreme actions as just. Would these determinations be different if subjected to VR, and examination of facts are coupled with empathic awareness?
What if we took the idea of VR into the classroom setting? Of course, ethically and developmentally appropriate situations must be presented, to prevent trauma or exceeding learners’ cognitive abilities. But, we should challenge them to gain in SEL and EQ, as often as possible. If we begin with relatively simple, less threatening scenarios, and allow children to feel and become a part of the scene, what might you think would happen? How might they emerge from these virtual experiences emotionally, socially, empathically? Perhaps bullying, name-calling, disruptive behaviors would pose fewer challenges for teachers in the classroom. Discipline disparities may be eliminated or minimized.
If nothing else, we may all emerge with increased self-awareness, compassionate awareness of cultural influences and genuine respect for diversity. We may be able to facilitate meaningful conversations about race, culture, and begin to see the world and people around us more mindful of their unique ‘humanness’. In 3-D, we encourage and facilitate change, alter perceptions, and broaden perspectives for greater capacity to engage one another more respectfully in this diverse universe. Empathy places us into a deeper level of consciousness. Unless we address, challenge and confront the underlying thoughts that contribute to these behaviors, those fatal judgments will continue to victimize and alter lives of families everywhere. So, let’s try to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” through VR…that’s virtual reality!