This week, our guest speaker, Donna Davis, delivered a stirring talk on the implications of AR/VR for people all over the world. I will attest that I have not tried a virtual reality headset since I tried my rich neighbor’s Virtual Boy in the mid-1990s. This failed Nintendo device, with its 1980s Tron-style red, green, and blue line graphics is a far cry from the depth of experience now.
As Donna referenced The Sims, I recalled my teenage memories of putting temperamental Sims characters into door-less rooms until they died. I thought I knew her upcoming points: some lonely people (unlike me) really enjoy doing positive things with their avatars online. Boring. Not for me.
I was unprepared, however, for Donna to choke up at the mere mention of another player’s name in Second Life. Fran, was a young woman of 90-some years, trapped in a body with Parkinson’s disease. Her son created an avatar in a beautiful ballroom gown so that he could dance with her from his home in another state each night. Fran’s death this past year was terribly upsetting to Donna even still. While Second Life players not be like me in their entertainment choices, they are exactly like all of us in their humanity.
As an MBA Candidate, I have taken several classes in management and leadership. We have covered many topics: emotional intelligence, thought frameworks, and human traits. Above all, from personal observations and classroom lessons, empathy seems to be the most important hallmark of great leaders.
The newly immersive nature of modern VR/AR platforms is emerging, too, as a clear money maker, as the recent Marshmello concert on Fortnight shows. If 10 million people can be drawn in to a virtual concert and feel like it was worthwhile, how else could we use these platforms?
One person with an idea is Bonnie Nixon. I met Bonnie this summer in an alpine meadow covered in wildflowers in Lassen National Park. As we rested in the lush environs, we shared our thoughts on the beauty around us. As one topic led to another, I learned that Bonnie is very well-known in the world of corporate sustainability. She told me about her plans: leveraging AR/VR to take people to the places effected by global climate change, deforestation, and natural disaster. If she could virtually take people to the unbelievable disasters she has seen first-hand, she thinks she could win their hearts toward positive impact.
This week, as the mostly deadly tornado in years ripped through Alabama with “unbelievable devastation”, I wondered how we might take these examples from Donna and Bonnie to make these realities more believable for those of us sitting in the comfort and safety of a classroom in Eugene.
VR/AR holds so much promise for learning, experiencing the superhuman, or living out a fantasy. The implications for the military are clear to the Microsoft engineers who are protesting work on a military augmented reality platform. Perhaps the best way to use these technologies in these uncivil times is actually to make our hardened, cynical hearts a little more human and vulnerable.
Imagine using the technology to put congresspeople in the shoes of migrants seeking asylum on the southwest border, or show a pol shouting “SOCIALISM!” what it’s like to try to evade gunfire from your own government as you try to get to food in Venezuela. My for VR/AR may have shifted since the last time I played The Sims, but just like Bob Dylan sang, “I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.”
For more thoughts and reactions from class this quarter, follow me on Twitter @JaredPMyers