360° Democracy: Phil Teer on how VR will make new markets, through empathy

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We're excited about our event tonight (sold out, sorry), 360 Degree Democracy: The Politics of Immersive Technology, happening at The Old Market theatre in Brighton. Our speakers list is on the Eventbrite page, but we're delighted to run a short blog from one of our chairs (and provocateurs), Phil Teer.

It's around his constant theme of how "artists make markets". Phil assesses the power of VR and AR to effect just that. 

Phil Teer: The Last Medium

Filmmaker Chris Milk went to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan with a 360-camera system and filmed a young girl called Sidra. He describes Virtual Reality technology as an empathy machine — because “you can feel Sidra’s reality in a deeper way, you can empathise with her in a deeper way”.

He took the film to the World Economic Forum at Davos and showed it to those whose decisions affect the lives of millions of people but who were unlikely to ever be near a refugee camp. In this way, VR is more than a video game peripheral, it connects human beings to human beings in a way never seen before.

For Milk, VR is the last medium because it is the first medium that makes the jump from our internalisation of an author’s expression of an experience to us experiencing it first hand. There is no longer a gap between what the author is saying and how we interpret it in our consciousness. With VR we are inside the authors expression. In all other mediums, your consciousness interprets the medium while in VR your consciousness is the medium.

The first time I experienced virtual reality, it was the Oculus Rift rollercoaster. Milk wants to take it somewhere more real and much more emotional. The next step, he says, is to shape virtual reality not as a tech platform but as a humanity platform. In others words, how can we use it to take us deeper into the real world?

His work is a good example of artists can show the world what new technology can do. Just as it took artists to turn the first camera’s from the toys of amateur techies into creativity tools, so people like Chris Milk expand the possibilities for Virtual Reality in every direction.

This is a great example of how artists create markets. The technology has no real worth until it has been used by artists. Some may use it in predictable ways, others will surprise and amaze the world. As they do so, the market for the technology gets bigger and bigger.

If Milk can take us inside a refugee camp and allow us to experience a little girl’s life, we can immediately think of other uses. Historic events can be filmed so future generations can be there. You can take a walk through your wedding day or your honeymoon any time you feel like it. You can be out on the pitch with your favourite team. You can be on the front line of the demonstration or in the boardroom when decisions are being made.

Milk’s Ted Talks are here and worth checking out.

[Phil's original blog is on Medium here]