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24Nov

Triggering Empathy with Virtual Reality Storytelling

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Arousing empathy has almost always been at the core of storytelling. In Virtual Reality (VR), storytellers have found a new tool with which to give viewers an even closer physical sensation of another person’s lived experience. In other words, VR has the possibility of most fully realizing a second person experience of a story: YOU transform into a character in the film, experiencing their visual and auditory sensations in 360 degrees. Director Chris Milk has dubbed virtual reality films “empathy machines” that move and stimulate viewers to social action more than any other media to date. The art world has been exploring this claim in performance pieces and virtual reality films. Meanwhile, scientific researchers are investigating the quantitative and qualitative evidence for and against the empathetic effects of virtual reality. Critics remain skeptical of virtual reality, citing a confusion between immersion and empathy.

Much furor and fuss is being made over virtual reality – but the energy and attitude towards VR is overwhelmingly positive. The most compelling consequence of these studies and experiments is the multi-layered conversation which reveals that VR is no simple subject. Virtual reality is, after all, a part of the complex chain and tradition of storytelling that dates to the beginning of culture and humanity.

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FILM AND PERFORMANCE ART 

Along with director Gabo Arora, Chris Milk and VRSE production company joined the United Nations in making the 2015 VR film Clouds Over Sidra, which tells the story of a young Syrian girl living in a refugee camp in Jordan. The film debuted in January 2015 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, making a strong emotional impact upon the audience. Based on the response to the film in Davos and elsewhere (at a fundraiser in Kuwait, the film raised 3.8 billion USD, nearly double the amount anticipated), Milk believes that VR films can change the world, connecting human beings and altering their perceptions of one another. In a March 2015 TED talk, Milk explains, “So, it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, become more empathetic, and we become more connected, and ultimately we become more human.”

In The Machine to Be Another, an experiment run by the art collective BeAnotherLab, VR is the foundation of a live performance piece in which participants virtually exchange bodies with the performer, who mimics their movements.  The purpose of the experiment is to better understand the Self by embodying the narrative of the Other. The collective collaborates with neurologists and neuroscientists. They aim to measure empathy in their future projects.

SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE

Psychologists are also examining how effective VR is at generating empathy in viewers. The Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford Lab investigates how test subjects change their behavior after experiencing specific scenarios in virtual reality environments. Lab Manager Shawnee Baughman explains in a February 18, 2016 interview how they have found that virtual reality has the potential to positively influence test subjects’ behavior after experiencing staged scenarios in a VR environment.

In one scenario, participants became Superman and save a child lost in large city. The point of the experiment is not that the participants save the child in the VR scenario, however, but how they were more proactive and helpful to other people in their real lives in the period immediately following the video. The same principle follows with another scenario in which one test group chops down a tree in VR with a haptic device that mimics a saw, and another group chops the tree but without the haptic device. The group that uses the haptic device to “chop” the tree used 20% less paper immediately following the event in a staged, real-life water spill.

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VR is not only positive in the context of its impact on human relations, but also between humanity and the earth. Jeremy Bailensen, Associate Professor of Communication at Stanford University, shares this positive outlook: “With concepts like climate change or deforestation or even pollution, we can use virtual reality to make the relationship between human behavior and the impact on the environment less abstract and more concrete.” By immersing viewers in environments in danger of destruction or industrialization, perhaps the viewer will better appreciate the need to preserve the environment and our resources. Another example we might consider is an audience experiencing the world in VR from the perspective of an animal in the endangered environment – the hope is that by sharing an intimate perspective with the animal in nature, that the viewer will develop a greater capacity to empathize with the natural world.

NUANCED SKEPTICISM

The nuances of virtual reality come to the fore in myriad questions that surround it. In his New York Times article “Want to Know What Virtual Reality Might Become? Look to the Past,” Steven Johnson suggests, rather than Milk’s all-encompassing view of virtual reality films as “empathy machines,” that virtual reality offers the possibility of different kinds of empathy: “perceptual empathy” or “sensory immersion.” It is true that empathy is aroused by our recognition of facial muscle movements, as Johnson points out, so that if we as the viewer cannot see the face of the protagonist whom we are inhabiting, then we lose this traditional key to empathizing with this person’s experience. However, we gain a sensory and immersive experience of the character whose point-of-view we inhabit. Not seeing the person’s face might make a viewer more open as their preconceived notions based on the character’s appearance will not be provoked. Even the omission of the inhabited character’s face can be played with via the use of a mirror that could “reveal” the physical identity of the character after the viewer has been immersed in their story. Additionally, we do not lose the ability to see the faces of the other people featured in the film.

Other critics, such as adjunct professor Sam Gregory of Harvard University, do not believe that virtual reality necessarily equates to empathy. Jennifer Alsever quotes Gregory: “It’s confusing immersion for empathy.” Viewers might become distanced from the subject of the VR film if it’s too violent, and virtual reality’s potential for motivating social action might instead corrode into “poverty tourism.” Meanwhile, Adi Robertson wonders in her article “The UN wants to see how far VR empathy will go” whether VR’s apparently superior effectiveness in motivating social action results not necessarily from VR’s inherent qualities, but its novelty.

Meanwhile, in her article “The Limits of Virtual Reality: Debugging the Empathy Machine,” Ainsley Sutherland points out, “This is the central critique of VR as a successful medium for ‘increasing’ empathy: that it cannot reproduce internal states, only the physical conditions that might influence that.” In response to Sutherland’s criticism, I wonder if she makes an inaccurate division between internal and external states, devaluing the impact of physical conditions on the emotions. If we can experience the physical conditions of living in a refugee camp, would the very conditions not move us, knowing that the young Syrian protagonist is living what is but a simulation for us the viewers? Additionally, the physical conditions elicited by VR can make the story lines and relationships between people within a film more intimate because we physically have the impression of being beside them, and are thus psychologically more able to identify and empathize with them. Physical and emotional conditions are more intimately connected than we might realize.

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COMPLEX POSITIVE POTENTIAL

Despite dimming the potential of virtual reality to increase empathy, such criticisms shed insight on VR’s complexity and further substantiates its potential to effect change. That VR entails a consideration of multi-layered technical, scientific, aesthetic, and theoretical perspectives evidences the vastness of VR filmmaking’s uncharted territory. Can theatre, literature, or cinema more effectively stimulate empathy in an audience for a subject’s internal state than virtual reality? To isolate virtual reality from the tradition of storytelling is simply false. VR is a continuation of the tradition of storytelling, but in a new medium. And as virtual reality filmmakers develop new tools and refine their skills, virtual reality might well evoke the same complexity of inner states as poetry. At DUTCH PICTURE INDUSTRY and VR EXPLORERS, we embrace the newest innovations and are eager to explore the possibilities of virtual reality and its potential to effect positive change in the world. We look forward to evoking empathy in our viewers for the issues and stories that we tell in our films.

23Jun

Heroes of Antarctica

Heroic Age of Antarctica Exploration (late 19th-early 20th) is marked by famous expedition and leaders; characterized by great triumphs and tragedies stand out as exciting example of heroic endurance against incredible hardship. During this period, 17 major European and American expeditions took place following on from European conquests of this time. Antarctica represented a way to prove nations’ power by land and scientific exploration.

Explorers of this era were more than scientists and sailors, but also remembered as poets, photographs, artists and most of all dreamers. Each expedition was a feat of endurance and limits testing, these explorers made it before big advances in transport and communication technologies that had revolutionized the work of exploration. Making them more that simple scientists or sailors but real heroes of their nations.Shackleton8_Hurley.jpg.CROP.original-original

These explorers were seen as true adventurers; leaving their homeland on a ship for years to accomplish one mission. Facing isolation, wait, extreme cold in Antarctica without forgetting that it was more than 100 years ago and means were not the same. Then, these sailors had to explore their imagination and creativity in writings and photography making them even more inspiring figures.

And for everyone thinking that time of exploration is over, is mistaking. In January 2018, Wilco van Rooijen and Edwin ter Velde hope to reach the South Pole. The Clean2Antarctica’s expedition; Taking the challenge to realize the cleanest expedition ever; they will cross Antarctica on board of a self-designed and partly made out of waste plastic vehicle powered by solar energy!

The way in which it will be done matter, once again, as much as what will be done and why.

Are they the heroes of the 21st Century for Antarctica exploration’s history? This time, this is not for their nation that they will live this adventure but for the world and for next generations! They will carry with them a message for the planet: prove that clean energy and zero waste are possible. Like explorers of the previous century, they will make an expedition with technologies that are not totally established yet: they will have to show endurance and mental strength to realize this journey. Mixing up technique´s exploit and willingness to inspire the world.Antarctica’s exploration

If they make it, it would be a proof that fossil energy era is over and that wastes are much more valuable that we think. No need to pollute air, lands, ocean anymore: progress is still possible thanks to sustainable solutions!

What if recycled and clean powered vehicle can become the vehicles of tomorrow whether it is for expeditions or more common use?

On top of that, Antarctica represents the perfect place to send such a message of hope to the world today. This continent bigger than Europe is also the land with no nation and no population.  With 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of world’s freshwater its conservation is primordial for the planet. That’s why it is now protected by international treaty. Impacts of climate change on the continent (due to global use of fossil energies among others) are a disaster for its wildlife and for the world; its melt would be enough to raise world-sea level by more than 60 meters!

Tracing the history of Antarctica’s exploration illustrates how impressive it is to see how the world evolved within only a century! Technology incredibly evolved and geopolitics’ stakes are totally different now. Climate change is threatening this continent that was barely known 100 years ago. Hopefully, explorers of the modern time are here to go beyond the limits of the last century.

09Jun

“Buy a phone, change the world”

I also realized how much waste is produced with all these mobile phones. As they are one of the world’s most widely used devices, their disposal contributes to tons of e-waste each year. The consequences on the environment and populations are devastating. Most of the time, our e-waste ends up in developing countries. All the minerals present in the phone spoil soils, water, air… with consequences on populations’ environment and health. As a result more minerals ,need be extracted to build new products; which means more mines and more environmental damage and exploitation of workers… an infinite circle.Schermafdruk 2016-06-09 15.47.24

In my research for a new phone…again… I discovered the Fairphone. This innovative young brand created by a Dutch company, in Amsterdam; is the first creator of an ethical phone. Fairphone already sold more than 100,000 smartphones in Europe, with that they started a new hope that their innovations can be a start for fair electronic shopping.

But what is an ethical phone like? It’s nothing more than an ordinary smartphone working on an Android system; you can call, send text, emails, take photograph, download apps… However, what differentiates this phone from others is its social responsibility, transparency, durability, recycling values at the core of the company’s work.

To reduce the impact of waste to a maximum, Fairphone has a circular view on the production of the phone. That means in the stage of design, it think of how to reuse and recycle parts of other mobile phones. As all minerals can be extracted and reused, this way they use the older phones as materials for the new ones.

In addition they raise awareness and participate in programs to reduce e-waste. And of course they are working towards the goal of using recycled materials for their future products.Schermafdruk 2016-06-09 14.21.15

Environmental and social costs of smartphones production are huge; from mining to manufacturing, transportation and wastes; all this process includes pollution and social issues (workers safety, rights…). Fairphone is pushing the limits by proving that it can be done differently and more responsibly; I hope it can give the example for others brands. Thanks to Fairphone’s transparency you know what every cents you spend are for… For example, for each Fairphone produced; 5$ are invested in a Worker Welfare Fund to enhance safety and good development of workers. You know also that they try to extract minerals (gold, tantalum, tungsten…) in conflict-free areas and are involved with NGO to tackle these problems. Indeed, most of minerals present in your phone are from Congo, an area touched by armed conflicts…Armed groups revenue are basically from minerals.Schermafdruk 2016-06-09 15.49.34
On top of that, the Fairphone is modular; changing a part of your phone is like playing with lego. If a part of your phone is broken you can easily order a new piece and replace it. Fairphone plans also to upgrade its elements, for example, if one day they commercialize a better camera or battery you just have to order this part and don’t have to buy a new phone for better performances. It is created with the intention of durability and not only selling you a product. This is an innovative idea.

Good news is that other brands are already following Fairphone´s example. Google is developing its modular phone: Ara, built to last. As Legos, you can build your own personal phone. This phone is still in development but it can be promising if these kinds of innovations became the new normal in electronic market.Schermafdruk 2016-06-09 16.02.01

But then, what justify the price of a smart phones? Nice design? Cool brand? A big screen?.. There is no other company that is paying for the environmental damage that they cause. The last version of the Fairphone can compete easily with smartphone of this price range in term of performances. So the only justification that I see is that those other brands are just looking for more profit by so-called innovations in performances, design but nothing concerning the production process. Can we accept that?

Fairphone’s goal is not only to commercialize a new phone.“Start a movement” and “Join the community” are its motto. So what movement are we talking about? Which community?

A part of the population is aware of all these sustainable issues and cannot just accept it. This community believes of our power as simple consumer. The way we consume can also be a way to express ourselves by supporting positive initiatives and boycotting others. And obviously, it has power, if more and more people behave in this way, brands won’t have other choice to change their behaviors and strategies.

Being part of this “community” for me is a way to show I disapprove the behavior of ordinary brands… I want to be part of the people who don’t follow new trends because it’s cool but care about the way they are made and is willing to make things change…

Even though it is not the cheapest, I decided to join the movement and buy one. I believe in the positive changes that responsible purchase can have. Supporting this initiative meant 3 months with no phone. As a start-up who chose to not commercialize its phones in a normal circuit. They produce their phone according to orders and only through internet. Victim of it success, there was a 3 month-delay when I ordered it… But thanks to Fairphone, during these 3 months I realized how much we were connected to our phones but also how easy and liberating it was to live without being connected all the time…

Finally, when you decide to buy your Fairphone don’t forget to recycle your last phone, you can even earn money from it!

12May

Nuit Debout

But once, you cross borders and discover different cultures, meet people with different backgrounds and origins, you suddenly realize that these problems are not reserved to your country but are the same everywhere. And everybody is doing the same, blaming their governments… But what if it is not our national government that we should blame, but something more global? And what if the solutions to these problems don’t lie in the hand of our governments but in our hands? As citizen of a country or citizen of the world.

Six weeks ago, a citizen movement called “Nuit Debout” (Up all Night), was born in France. This movement was born spontaneously after demonstrations against a new law changing the labour code. From then, the movement took more and more importance in the whole country; at least that what I thought. However, following this kind of events is quite complicated; an interpretation can be radically different from media to another. So how to get informed? What is really happening in these nightly sessions in Paris?

Thanks to Periscope, I could follow in live some of the general meetings organized on the Place of the Republic. Periscope is new mobile application, considered as social media, like twitter, facebook and instagram. It allows users to broadcast in live what they are filming. During the first nights of Nuit Debout some random participants decided to broadcast. Since then periscope broadcast took more and more importance. As a consequence, in addition to the thousands of people present on the Place of the Republic; tens of thousands people were following the events in live. And participated…

Thanks to Periscope I could see with my own eyes and make my own judgement from abroad. Periscope has become what twitter and facebook meant for the Arab spring. It enabled young people to gather and share information. Information diffusion is no longer reserved for specialized media. Everybody can participate, present or abroad.

Man and woman hand capturing Manhattan sunset skyline with smartphone

So I witnessed some people with real claims and a willingness to change the political system. Immigration, education, economy, women rights, freedom were some of the claims during these meetings. All of these people don’t necessarily have the same political ideas or claims but I could feel that they were gathered around the same willingness of a more democratic system and the need to feel united with other citizen without any political claim (I mean no political color).
However, in media I could read totally different statements depreciating the movement: it was not a spontaneous movement but something organized by left-hand parties; outbreak of violence; no real claims; young idiots… In most of French media we can read anything that can discredit the movement. Most of political figures also denigrate it. Media supporting the movement exist but are really rare and not followed by the most. Consequently, having a proper judgement on this new phenomenon touching my country is not an easy task. Who is right? Media? Politics? Demonstrators? All these channels of diffusion, all different point of views make it confusing…

But I think that, in the end, the real purpose of this movement is or, at least, should be to call into question the global neoliberalism in function since the end of WWII. This system had its glory time but repetitive crisis prove that it’s certainly not adapted to the world anymore: climate change, wars, extreme poverty, growing inequalities… those are new stakes that this system struggle to handle. Traditional political parties are not willing to change how things work to face those issues, in hand with big corporations they keep running the world on the same model, driven by economic profit and growth. But we can feel the change from the population, the way people vote… Growing abstinence or vote for “untraditional” parties or candidates prove that citizens have enough of the current picture. Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Front National in France or Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the United States. All these examples illustrate radically different values and point of views. But for me, they are all some ways to contest established system and its failures; they are just blaming different persons and causes each time…

What about the future of Nuit Debout? I see interesting points : the movement is still up after more than six weeks. It doesn’t have any official political etiquette; this confirms the spontaneity of the movement and makes it a real citizen movement. Indeed, if the movement last and grows I wish it can be an opportunity to give more voice to citizens in certain political choices.  It could lead to the creation of a citizen assembly where random people can have a word to say in political decisions at local, national and international scales. This assembly could bring environmental and social issues in the centre of political decisionmaking.

I hope the movement is keeping its independence. That it is not adpoted by other exsisting political parties or the creation of a new political party. For me, Nuit Debout is a social movement. It is the only way to disrupt the established order, that has reigned for so long. To finally bring on the table new priorities like sustainability, well-being of people on public debates instead of issues like economic growth…

However, it didn’t succeed to be popular in public opinion… Is this media’s fault or does it come from the movement itself? Hard to tell from where I am. Maybe it´s because it has been stigmatized as an extreme left movement, violence had been highlighted in media, which is inherent to every social movement… I keep thinking that it was a really interesting initiative as I believe that from now on, citizens should have more and more voice in public debates. Nuit Debout proved that it is possible to gather people in order to make things change. Besides, it´s also an opportunity for bottom-up initiatives in which I put a lot of hope to build the future of our societies rather than a change from politics. Public debates make people share ideas and suggestions on how to make the changes that they want to see which can lead to concrete outcomes.13124500_1723604831250746_6452921741869702302_n

And now they are calling for its internationalization “Global Debout” is launched. Calling people to gather in all places of the world on the 15th of May. Like Yanis Varoufakis (former finance minister of Greece) with DIEM25 (for Democracy in Europe Movement 2025), Nuit Debout is willing to bring together people for a common cause regardless of borders. Nobody knows how those projects will evolve but it is still, an interesting phenomenon to follow . Thanks to this Global calling I have finally the opportunity to participate to it and see concretely what it will be about here in Amsterdam.

18Feb

The future of power

Today, we celebrate “Battery Day”. Why celebrating batteries? Actually, when you think about it, it makes sense. Take this day to imagine your life with no batteries for a second…You are feeling low, aren’t you? Indeed, it would mean no cars, phones, laptops, cameras, remote controls and the list goes on and on. Plugging in our devices to recharge is now part of most people daily routine. So, we might take it for granted but batteries are everywhere, they are now irreplaceable in our present and future. We can use this day to appreciate all that battery allows us to do and to think of recycling all those dead batteries that you leave in this old drawer.

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As we know that fossil fuel’s era comes to its end, a whole new bright future is building up. A world where we hope that coal burning stoves and nuclear plants will soon be nothing more than a memory. A world where those smokestacks on our roofs, will not embody our emissions anymore; but just an architectural souvenir of these time. We can already perceive this change, through latest batteries’ evolutions. Tesla’s innovations such as power up cars and houses (Powerwall battery) reduce our direct emissions to zero by cutting exhaust pipes and equipped our roofs with solar panels. Clean fuels are on their way to build the future of our electric network! And this shift stands on the ability to store energy; in short, on batteries!

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Besides, as adventurous movie producers, the battery question is omnipresent especially in some conditions where plugging in batteries as we do home is not an option. Imagine how crucial this question can be, while recording some footage in the middle of Himalaya. All our equipment (lights, cameras…) requires batteries. That’s why we have to think of the best way to manActiveonage it, as keeping our impact to the environment at a minimum. We own solar panel chargers for example so that there is no need to carry a bunch of batteries. In this energetic transition era, in which energy storage is at its core; more and more solutions appear to us; such as Activeon Solar X, this new solar-powered action camera taking 70% of its charge from the sun in just 30 minutes.

By the way, you should take a look at our whole new Kickstarter campaign on www.climbeverestvr.com  that will take you to the summit of Mount Everest through a virtual reality experience. This experience will immerge you into this expedition; experiencing beautiful landscapes, extreme weather conditions…You have the opportunity to share this experience with real adventurers and all you have to do is to recharge the battery of your smartphone or virtual reality gear and sit comfortably!P1010611

 

04Feb

The early risers

The feeling when you get up early to go for a run, do some yoga or meditation let’s you feel like you rise above the world. You just dragged yourself out of your comfy bed to commit to something. And when you accomplish what you targeted yourself to do. Oh boy, this feeling leads to a fantastic motivation for the rest of the day. (Especially when it is combined with an epic sunrise)Sweden

Famous athletes and successful people also cherish their early morning routines. They create their own ritual that motivates and inspires them. Tony Robbins has an “hour of power”, which includes motivational sayings and visualization. Steve Jobs always asked himself if he would be happy with his planned day if it was his last day on earth. Motivational speaker Eric Thomas wakes up every morning at 3AM.

He says: “Sleep is the new broke. If u only have 24 hours in a day, your success is depend upon how you spend the 24.”

It’s nothing new that the early risers have big advantages, to the sleepy colleagues. It is easier to focus when the world outside is to tired to interrupt you; there is no chaos and noise. Your creativity is highest after waking; the preferential cortex is most active. All your ideas are cleaner as the mind hasn’t yet been troubled with daily issues. So it’s simple to connect to the flow of creativity.Sunrise africa

When you rise with the sun it gives you more balance in the body. When you think of it, its logical. You basically copy the body’s natural rhythm, which leads to peace and a balanced life.
There is something magical about the hours before dawn. Waking up early, gives you time for yourself or to catch up on things you are behind on, it makes you calmer for the rest of the day. You have a head start on the rest of the world.

I believe that “willing” is the key. It will be hard to wake up in the beginning. You always have that feeling you did not sleep enough. But once you train yourself in it, just by five minutes at the time, everybody can do this. Little steps, lead to bigger steps in the future. If you want to become an early riser you will be overflowing with joy. You may inspire others, so create your suitable ritual that inspire and motivate you.
What would you do with the extra hours each day?

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