Wednesday, February 7
Snow had started falling yesterday evening while we watched episode six of Indian Summers. It continued falling all night and this morning, while getting milk for my Weetabix, I looked out of the window and saw Sunshine up to his neck in snow signalling frantically to come back in.
Having walked down to the bus stop opposite Plantagen, I watch the 97V approach the traffic lights, wait, and turn the corner to collect me and two other people. For once the bus arrives almost full, and I have to share a seat right at the back.
I will get to Arcada to find a second email from Scott Cunningham. It will point me towards a TED talk by Chris Milk that I have used for the last couple of years to kick off my Interactive Storytelling course. Scott wants to know what I think of the video, which explains enthusiastically how “virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine”. I reply saying that I
lean toward the view that it exhibits naïve ahistorical optimism that conveniently ignores that fact that pioneers have made similar claims for every new medium of communication from as far back as the invention of Esperanto. (One of my greatest regrets is that I used to own a copy of the 1902 edition of the Esperanto dictionary and lost it. The introduction contained a lengthy essay detailing the ways in which Esperanto offered people an unprecedented way of communicating, and thus bonding, with people from other cultures; how this bonding would, by and of itself, bridge cultural divides; and how this bridging would make war inconceivable.)
Airplanes, radio, television subsequently had, as one of their many benefits, the fact that they would, in similar ways, render war impossible.
I offer a counter-argument drawn from points made by Martin Seligman, the positive psychologist, who claims that new situations and environments become normalised within a relatively short period. From his research he suggests that, for example, lottery winners become much happier and then become used to their new status and retrench to the same balance of happiness and discontents as before.
We know that people in early cinema audiences fainted when they watched a train apparently hurtling towards them. They felt intense visceral reactions to a grainy black and white image. However, audiences rapidly became used to such images – learned to read them as images in a frame – and retrenched to treating them as they used to treat images.
I suspect that the claims that Chris Milk advances fall into a similar category. Of course people will feel affected by their first VR experience. This may translate as empathy for the girl narrating. Will they feel the same effect in 5 years’ time when they have seen VR in many different contexts including, perhaps, winter wonderlands that advertise Coca Cola at Christmas time? I suspect not. I expect that audiences will rapidly become normalised to VR as they have to television, and at that point a powerful VR piece will affect people no more or less than a powerful television documentary.
I will then tell Nathalie about all this and she will show great enthusiasm, going as far as to get me off the Publication Committee so that I can concentrate on thinking about Peirce and Empathy. She will talk about the power of coincidence and I will suggest the concept of a karass to her. She will promise to read Cat’s Cradle this weekend.
In the afternoon Jutta and I will talk with Oona, an alumni who has worked for ten years at a design agency and wants to recruit from our current students. We will have a long and interesting talk that covers agile development, concept design, java, scrum, Trello and X-Box. We will arrange for her to come and talk with the students.
I will arrange with Mirko to spend two days in March recording my videos for the newly-online Interactive Storytelling course. I will feel enthused by the possibility that a karass might have kicked into action.
At 16:00 I will leave Arcada in the continuing snow to go home and see how much work I have to do to clear the drive. This will depend on whether or not the snowplough has come round and, if it has, how much mayhem it has caused.
In the end I will spend 90 minutes clearing the drive and the paths before cleaning indoors: a process that will begin with an attempt to wipe up the snow that has started to melt off my boots.
Irma will arrive back from a day of adventures in Karelia, which include her and Kipa missing their train station because the train doors refused to open because of the cold. We will watch three more episodes of Indian Summers, leaving the final three for tomorrow or Friday.