We are on the cusp of a great awakening and evolution through emerging tech.
Our brains, which are themselves highly complex organic computers, collectively comprise this vast, great network. “Humanity.” Your body is essentially an organic bio-shell – a highly advanced haptic suit, designed specifically to allow it to fully experience the physical world in which it exists, through the five senses – sight, smell, touch, sound, taste – for the purpose of sending information to your brain from the time it develops in the womb, gathering, categorizing and storing data in a complex database deep within the brain where memory is stored.
The information your brain gathers through the body about the physical world around it is simply data, random chunks of categorized and cross-referenced information that the brain stores in memory for when you might need to access it later. The body gathers all this data through the senses, but data stored in databases of any kind isn’t terribly useful in and of itself without writing programs that access them, selectively pulling from that vast amount of data, examining the patterns, extrapolating from information at hand to make assumptions, and outputting more data.
Now here we are just past the midpoint of 2017, and Microsoft is investing heavily in pushing what they (and a few others) are called “mixed reality,” they’re partnered with Oculus, and meanwhile Zuckerberg and Facebook are churning away at integrating our collective obsession with the social network – one of our biggest sources of personal and interpersonal information – even more deeply into our daily lives. Apple is said be announcing something big with augmented reality in the fall and if you believe Robert Scoble (which I tend to on this) it’s going to be mind-blowing. Google is politely ignoring the term “mixed reality” for now, preferring to coin its own phrase with “immersive computing.” We are at the beginnings of profoundly evolving the very way in which we as human beings gather data, communicate and connect with each other in ways that centuries ago – even decades ago – we could never have considered outside our imaginations. But the things we imagine with our brains evolve over time into things that become real.
The word “empathy” is probably one you’ve heard bandied about a lot if you’ve read up much on this whole virtual reality thing. It’s a hot topic for panels, a hot topic for storytellers trying to figure out how story translates into this space, a hot topic for women working in this space, who keep getting told that women can SUCCEED in VR way more than in other areas of tech, you guys. Because empathy! Which having a vagina makes you an expert at. Or something.
Seriously though, I am deeply interested in empathy as it connects to driving social change. Immersive journalist Nonny de la Pena, whose “Hunger in Los Angeles” cracked open the Pandora’s Box of this most recent VR Gold Rush when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival way back in 2012, was exploring empathy and connection when she made that project, which recreated a factual event of a man collapsing in diabetic seizures from hunger while waiting in a food bank line.
A few days ago I shared this Washington Post piece that breaks down the facts that dispel (yet again) the myth that poor kids just need to try harder. The article points out that inequity starts at the cradle, but even that’s not entirely accurate. The inequity at the root of lack of access and opportunity is often part of a much deeper and systemic cycle of poverty and class stratification. This related Post piece discusses how your social position and economic class in first grade are prime indicators of what social strata you will occupy as an adult (or even the likelihood that you’ll reach adulthood at all).
Consider if you will my own kids, who have a great deal of privilege and access. My ex (their dad) works for Amazon and makes a solid six-figure salary. None of our kids have ever wanted for anything. They’ve never worried about whether there was food in the fridge and pantry for dinner, or whether there would be presents under the tree Christmas morning, or if the power would work when they flipped a light switch. They’ve never not had access to technology in their home. They all have video games, laptops, access to high-powered desktops, smartphones and other devices. They may not be in the top 1% of wealth, but as white kids growing up in Seattle with a dad who earns a high tech salary they most certainly are among the privileged “haves.”