Easing into 2023, the idea of being digitally immersed in an environment by choice feels like cultural anathema. Especially as we return to our offices and our schools and our family gatherings. Emojis can now be hugs. Applause reactions on screen can now thunder with praise and smiles. The merit of the collaboration tools and innovations that became a necessity to manage the stress of the present the past couple of years are currently being evaluated. In schools, devices are shelved as we all try our best to acclimate back to in person events. We are all trying to figure out how best we manage and navigate a digital and analog life. And while this is happening, others, especially children, technocrats, video game aficionados figuring out the relationship between a virtual life and real life itself. This is not easy. As humans this task of holding two things that seem to be in opposition, without judgment requires both discipline and practice. At the 228 Accelerator, we believe that it is in this practice that greater understanding together can emerge. 228 Accelerator offers trainings, community, and more for educators, K-12 explorers, edge finders, and school leaders who wish to become agents of equity.
Oftentimes the merit of new technologies is determined based on the world as it is--the present. While it is common to think this way, we can often overlook utility and potentiality and often use necessity as a rubric of merit. Necessity however is guarded by the imagination of the present. Remember when cellular phones emerged, it was hard to imagine why anyone would need a phone unwired, let alone a phone to travel with them in their pocket wherever they go. Older humans who lived part of their lives without phones, found it difficult to imagine a world where devices and tablets are ubiquitous. But the makers of the device did not just see the world as it is, they also saw what it could be. While they imagine a world more entertained, more productive, and more efficient, we think there are other qualities worthy of pursuit.
The world is full of problems to solve, traumas to heal, and separations to reconcile. These problems are challenges of our time. And it feels at times that the forces of separation and destruction are losing and the last thing we need is another wired technology to create more isolation and separation. Our judgment of merit may not determine the speed of development or adoption. But it may eclipse the potentiality of possibility. So let's suspend judgment for a minute and not think so much about the world as it is, but let us imagine how it could be.
"Imagine a world where we can show up exactly how we were meant to be in space. Imagine a world where we can express ourselves without judgment and share our vulnerabilities with our peers. Imagine a world where the priority is safety, courage, and love. The conditions in the Banned Books in the Metaverse space allowed for this to happen amongst a group of adults. We are continuing to pilot and play around with the Metaverse space because there is something special here as it relates to the education revolution—imagine if all students, particularly queer students, could access banned book content anywhere around the country, or even more…around the world?"
We started small with a 3 part series called Banned Books in the Metaverse. The series was designed to pilot a safer way to teach literature and have rich discussion at a time when political expediency discourages some teachers and leaders from making the curricular decisions that will create a multicultural and multiracial democracy. We offered the book and asked people to read, show up, and connect. It was that simple. Our metaverse house provides a rich setting to practice immersive teaching across geography and protect identity simultaneously. We think this technology is rich for bringing more people together and having even richer conversations. It's in these conversations that we learn about ourselves and each other. It is our intent to open the space for all to explore three exciting design challenges. And you can help too!
We want to offer three design challenges for educators and parents to take on as a way to learn more about Metaverse technologies:
- How might avatars enable an empathy so transformative it reconciles and transcends identity difference?
- How might our emergent digital spaces reemerge as places where we can play with being our higher selves?
- How might our radical imagination of what could drive the purpose and intent of new emerging technologies?
Everyday we wake up with another chance to be better humans. Every new year we get a chance to try again. With every breath we take, we get the chance to live better, love more, understand deeper, and create experiences with the same attention. Should we not imagine, expect, use our technologies with this intention?
What if we looked and imagined our technologies not just as tools to make us more productive, or make our lives more convenient, but as tools that can help us emerge as our higher selves? What if we can use our technologies to imagine new ways of being better humans? Our whole world is trying to emerge from pandemic malaise. We remember, recall, and experience the daily and routine horrors and violence of war, and body supremacy, and the dangerously warm January days that are harbingers of a devastatingly shifting climate.
A relentless focus on how the world can and should be, and not just as it is right now, is a task worthy of our time, talent, and intellectual and spiritual pursuits. Technologies like virtual reality and other immersive technologies can help us not only inspire and juice our imaginations but when they exist in relationship with the experiences of real life they can make visible the contradictions and tensions indigenous to the human experience. When they are isolated but connected together in a relationship, they can help us understand ourselves and each other more fully. The relationship itself and its understanding enhances our own collective humanity.
When Burt Bacharach's composition reminded us of what the world needs in 1965, it is safe to say that those words, Dionne's angelic melody, and sentiment transcend time and space. Since 1965 we have seen countless technologies come and go with the need for more love, more justice, and more humanity remain as evergreen as pine forests No, love and understanding won't come in a headset and controllers. Avatars alone will not help us understand our cultural tendency to judge and persecute humans by the bodies they inhabit. But imagining the use of these technologies with this intention and attention might just get us one step closer.