Some conversation starters... (feel free to add your own)
- Empathy talk is everywhere. I have used it myself as shorthand, as a way to index the lack of social cohesion and justice (is that what empathy is?) I once heard a really nice description of empathy, & how it differs from sympathy & pity. Pity = looking down on someone and feeling sorry. Sympathy = sitting across from someone and saying 'I understand'. Empathy = the ability to crawl into someone else's skin & truly feel what that person is experiencing. They probably said it much more poetic way then I just did but that 'bout sums it up.I think they work for the text later on, with this VR stuff. I think we use empathy when really we mean sympathy, because we rarely feel what others feel., and as a gentler way to invoke the need for solidarity. Empathy is woven more and more into the marketing of tech products. (and design education)all education if we read on. Since when was that a tick box for curriculum? I participate in a lot of conferences for primary and secondary school educators and I see how the product expos at these events promise these teachers’ that gadgets and software will cultivate empathy in students. Virtual reality (VR) technology in particular is routinely described as an “empathy machine” because of the way it allows us to move through someone else’s world. Perhaps it does, in some cases. But, as some critics emphasize, this rhetoric creates a moral imperative to sell headsets and to consume human anguish, and in the process “pain is repurposed as a site of economic production”!!!all our natrual resources, minerals and emotions can be exploited:
- “Imagine a VR live stream of a police killing. This, tragically, will soon cease to be science fiction: within years, you will be able to experience an extremely convincing simulation of what it’s like to be murdered by a cop fuuuuuck wtf??. Will this lead to the cop’s conviction, or to meaningful criminal justice reform? Recent history suggests the answer is no. But the content will probably go viral, as its affective intensity generates high levels of user engagement. And this virality will generate revenue for the company that owns the platform.”:(
- Empathy makes businesses grow. In the first quarter of 2016 alone, venture capitalists invested almost $1.2 billion in VR technologies, almost 50 percent more than in the previous quarter. In 2017, following the devasting hurricane in Puerto Rico, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg used the company’s VR app to “visit” the island as part of Facebook’s partnership with the Red Cross recovery effort. (i remember this, and how gross it was; something else that comes to mind is the viral image of zuckerberg prancing around down a corridor during a conference while everyone else was wearing a VR headset) While Zuckerberg was immersed in the scene, those watching the live feed saw his cartoon avatar touring through the wreckage alongside another company executive who, at one point, comments: “it’s crazy to feel like you’re in the middle of it.”(omg sounds more like disaster tourism; wreckage from the comfort of your own home if you're rich!)20 In response to criticism, Zuckerberg apologized by saying:
- “One of the most powerful features of VR is empathy. My goal here was to show how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world. I also wanted to share the news of our partnership with the Red Cross to help with the recovery. Reading some of the comments, I realize this wasn’t clear, and I’m sorry to anyone this offended.this isn't really an apology for the act. It's an apology for someone else's emotional response”߸ so frustrating... when the ceo of such an influential company is unable to apologize for his own actions and lead by example. also in the end it's still the individual's own rush or whatever it is they're getting from such a vr experience. very good point. has little to nothing to do with sympathy or being sympathetic.
- While some observers said the problem was that Zuckerberg’s immersive experience was not reflected in the cartoonish portrayal that viewers were witnessing, others have called into question the very idea of VR as “empathy-inducing. As in other “awareness-raising experiences where viewers get a firsthand view of war, sickness, or other forms of suffering,” good intentions are no safeguard against harm or exploitation. As one critic observed:
"The rhetoric of the empathy machine asks us to endorse technology without questioning the politics of its construction or who profits from it … Do you really need to wear a VR headset in order to empathize with someone? Can’t you just fucking listen to them and believe them? You need to be entertained as well? (yess! so well put)
Are you sure this isn’t about you? word … I don’t want your empathy, I want justice!
- When I ask my students to question their assumptions about various issues, I often use the analogy of “lenses” – encouraging a different lens so that we may look anew at all that we take for granted. Well, now, the lenses are no longer metaphorical. But, as anthropologist John L. Jackson has noted, “seeing through another person’s eyes is not the same thing as actually seeing that person. In fact, one precludes the other, by definition, unless the gaze is (tellingly) merely into a mirror.” Being the other, conceived of in this way, is an extension of what bell hooks calls “eating the other.” [consuming the other as a form of pain tourism]>insert head exploding emoji< Tech designers have created actual headsets that we can don, our physical body in one world as our mind travels through another. Or is that really how it works? By simply changing what (as opposed to how) we see, do we really leave behind all our assumptions and prior experiences as we journey into virtual reality? Perhaps we overestimate how much our literal sight dictates our understanding of race and inequity more broadly? Sight is completely overestimated. We've become so accustomed to see suffering (as an external experience), simple things such as walking past a homeless person are completely normal. I wonder if that renders our understanding of inequality to the superficial. What injustices / unequity are invisible to the 'eye'? Not sure if that goes off Benjamin's point ...
- I am reminded of a study by sociologist Osagie Obasogie, author of Blinded by Sight, in which he interviewed people who were blind from birth, asking them about their experiences of race. He found that, like everyone else, they had learned to “see” – that is, perceive – racial distinctions and hierarchies through a variety of senses and narratives that did not depend on actual sight. (ah! other ways to sense hierarchy) From this, Obasogie compels us to question two things: sight as an objective transmitter of reality and colorblindness as a viable legal framework and social ideology. If blind people admit to seeing race, why do sighted people pretend not see it? mic drop In his words, “our seemingly objective engagements with the world around us are subordinate to a faith that orients our visual experience (would be a great exercise to work through what forces we are subordinate to) and, moreover, produces our ability to see certain things. Seeing is not believing. Rather, to believe, in a sense, is to see.” i see it when i believe it።
- So how can we apply this lesson to the promises surrounding VR? Even as we are seeing and experiencing something different, we do not simply discard our prior perceptions of the world. << What? / and what if the sentence was: even if we are seeing and experiencing something exactly the same, ... ? (so 1: i don't understand the sentence, that's why i asked 'what?" 2. what if we flip the sentence around focusing on the thing we're seeing that we don't experience the same way, bc of beliefs e.g., what would follow after the comma?)One of the problems with VR is that it can present another opportunity for “poverty porn” and cultural tourism that reinforces current power dynamics between those who do the seeing and those who are watched. ꘏
- Even so, what makes and will continue to make VR and other empathy machines so appealing, not just for big business but also for numerous NGOs, the United Nations, and the UNICEF, which are using it to fundraise for human rights campaigns (ugh), is that they seem to offer a technical fix (so, seem to, but don't, right?) for deep-seated divisions that continue to rip the social fabric. “For instance, there is growing buzz around using VR for “immersive career and vocational training” for prisoners to gain job and life skills prior to release. At first glance, we might be tempted to count this as an abolitionist tool that works to undo the carceral apparatus by equipping former prisoners with valuable skills and opportunities. But what will the job market be like for former prisoners who have used VR? Research shows that there is widespread discrimination in the labor market, especially against African Americans convicted of a felony. And the labor market is already shaped by a technology that seeks to sort out those who are convicted of crimes, or even arrested, regardless of race. A US National Employment Law Project report shows that a staggering number of people – 65 million – “need not apply” for jobs from the numerous companies who outsource background checks to firms that, reportedly, look “just” at the facts (arrested? convicted?). When such technological fixes are used by employers to make hiring decisions in the name of efficiency, there is little opportunity for a former felon, including those who have used VR, to garner the empathy of an employer who otherwise might have been willing to ponder over the circumstances of an arrest or conviction.
- Given the likelihood that many of those who have been incarcerated will be discriminated against in the labor market as it currently operates, the question remains: who is actually profiting from VR-training for prisoners? And how does this technical fix subdue the call for more far-reaching aims, such as to weaken the carceral apparatus or to reimagine how the labor market operates?
- In fact, VR is more likely employed to generate greater empathy for officers than, say, for people who are the object of police harassment and violence. According to a report published by a website geared to law enforcement, VR is a “public relations tool for strengthening public opinion of law enforcement because the technology allows a user to virtually walk in a cop’s shoes … police agencies could bring VR into classrooms and community centers so the public can experience firsthand the challenges police officers face on patrol.” If even empathy machines are enrolled in the New Jim Code, what do abolitionist tools look like? What does an emancipatory approach to tech entail? ፥
߸ What can empathy be at the service of when prompted by businesses operating under capitalism? (LINE 7)
። Thinking about the quote from Osagie Obasogie "Seeing is not believing. Rather, to believe, in a sense, is to see." How could we re-position ourselves and our "beliefs" / truths if we consider this comment? (LINE 17) be more aware of and practice sympathy? trying not the be the centre of our own existence?
꘏ Poverty porn reinforcing power dynamics ... our obsession with VR ... I am curious to think about what it means for the art world to be so obsessed with this VR shit ... VR as escapism ? (LINE 19)
፥ Is empathy even a desirable requirement for social change? (LINE 25)
- [ref: 'Carne Y Arena'. VR installation re: mexican border. In Amsterdam 2018.
https://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/alejandro-g-inarritu-carne-y-arena-virtually-present-physically-invisible] the artist here writes "My intention was to experiment with VR technology to explore the human condition in an attempt to break the dictatorship of the frame, within which things are just observed, and claim the space to allow the visitor to go through a direct experience walking in the immigrants’ feet, under their skin, and into their hearts." How do you feel about that? Into their hearts!
- It sounds rather violent. And without knowing the project too well, just from this line, it does seem like a perfect illustration as to how not only the tech industry is benefitting from "poverty porn" or "pain tourism" but also the art world.
- I think trust is a better fuel for social relations; trust the other when they say they are hurting instead of constantly requiring proof after proof after proof. There's enough proof, what else is needed?
- that is a nice way to think about it. I am remembering articles surfacing during peak covid times about the racial bias towards the pain of minority people, particularly in the uk. None white people's "proof of pain" is not taken as seriously as white people's "pain" by medical staff. Good point! It also makes me think of the horrible images circulating on social media of the dead bodies of Black people in the US. It felt very perverse to have access to that or to see these digital images regurgitated by various platforms (mainly Twitter).
- Yes re: trust! This idea of trust also flows back to Glissant's idea of the right to opacity I think, where we should be able to accept what we don't understand. To trust also what we don't understand in order to be able to live & work next to one another. ah yes very nice to bring that in.
- in therapy circles it isn't, sympathy is though. empathy can be a way of diverting from your own problems/responsibilities and even obstructing meaningful connection. ooh that is an interesting perspective, diversion.