Can VR change our culture, relationships and everything in between?


Our event at The Old Market, Brighton, September 27th - titled 360° Democracy: The Politics of Immersive Technology (tickets here, and in association with TomTech) - is building up nicely.

Confirmed speakers are:-

Fred Turner, webcast live from Stanford University, on the Politics of VR (see essay here)

Juliet Brown, University College London, on VR and trauma therapy

Toby Coffey, head of digital development at the National Theatre, on how drama can help immersive media connect to society

Jayisha Patel, documentarist and director of VR film on sex trafficking, "Notes To My Father"

Phil Teer will lead a "fishbowl" discussion with the audience on the politics of immersive tech

There are some tickets left, available here. But we are clearly in a moment where the excitement and futurism around virtual, augmented and mixed reality is now becoming a discussion about ethical and power issues. How do we shape this powerful medium for social and personal good? 

Last Wednesday we attended a panel discussion, as part of the Open City Documentary Festival), which raised many of these issues. Among others it featured VR film director Darren Emerson, award winning digital director and VR producer Dan Tucker, director of Virtual Futures Luke Robert Mason, and VR film maker Peter Boyd Mcclean. Their topic was how VR could change our culture, our relationships and everything in between

One of the first questions brought up, which guided the rest of the discussion, was around the accessibility of VR. All though VR is quite a "buzzword" at the moment and more places are offering VR experiences, only a small percentage actually go to these places or would buy a VR headset to use at home, as those are expensive and does not seem applicable to most. But if VR is not accessible to the mainstream audience, how will it become a part of our culture? 

Will VR be the next social media platform? VR social networks is already a thing and Facebook Spaces launched earlier this year. The panel agreed that VR has the potential to be the most social platform as it can create powerful connections - if done right. A bad experience could put people off. So how do we ensure the quality of VR experiences?

One panel member pointed out that we first of all need more VR in public, open spaces, funded by cultural organisations that have the resources to provide good VR experiences. And that in these spaces human curation is key. Just as when VR is used in therapy the experiences need to be assisted by humans. VR does heighten emotions and the experience is powerful but not necessarily in a positive way - it's important we don't feel left alone with the impact of the technology. The question of whether we need trigger warnings was raised. 

The panel agreed that VR can become a big game changer when it comes to forming new relationships, changing the way we communicate and bringing us closer together. But they also agreed that first of all VR can be a tool for us to create a better relationship with ourselves, to find more empathy for ourselves - to navigate the people we have the potential to be. We need to be able to isolate ourselves sometimes - and then the social aspect of the experience can come after. VR that's not only a single experience but a part of a whole, such as live theatre, is very interesting in this perspective. 

At the end a question from the audience was raised: Doesn't VR first become really interesting when we use it to create entirely new worlds, that most of us could never imagine? Perhaps a topic to explore for a future Daily Alternative - or at our forthcoming event.

Come to A/UK and #TomTech's 360° Democracy: The Politics of Immersive Technology, Sept 27th, Brighton.