Virtual Reality and the Feeling of Virtue: Women of Color Narrators, Enforced Hospitality, and the Leveraging of Empathy
Many researchers and evangelists argue that V.R. is fundamentally more “moving” than other media because of users’ visual immersion in navigable worlds and their empathic identification with another visual perspective. (see Rubin, Bailenson). This essay will analyze women of color’s labor as virtual reality’s documentary subjects whose digital presence and hospitality within war-torn, emiserated, and inhospitable scenes such as a Lebanese refugee camp, a favela, and a cucumber farm enables a fantasy of virtuous empathy on the part of the viewer.
Virtual reality’s painstakingly created virtuous identity as the “empathy machine” satisfies desires for prosocial feelings of compassion, empathy, and identification that replace encounters with politics, unwelcome bodies, and protest. Global South women of color, non-white refugee women, and trans women are all virtual objects of identification in virtual reality and video games, platforms that are inextricably connected yet carry very different moral and ethical connotations.
Lisa Nakamura is Gwendolyn Calvert Baker Collegiate Professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is the inaugural Director of the Digital Studies Institute at the University of Michigan and a founding member of the Precarity Lab collective (precaritylab.org)
She is the author of four books on race, gender, and digital media and gaming and is currently working on a book on women of color and the Internet. Her areas of interest include histories of indigenous electronic manufacture in post-war America, content moderation by women of color on social media, and virtual reality’s claims to produce racial and gender empathy.
Jeffrey Bardzell is a Professor of Informatics and Director of the HCI/Design program in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering at Indiana University–Bloomington. His research contributes to design theory and investigations of social innovation, with emphases on critical design, design criticism, creativity and innovation, and intimate experiences. A common thread throughout this work is the use of aesthetics—including the history of criticism, critical theory, and analytic aesthetics—to understand how concepts, materials, forms, ideologies, experiential qualities, and creative processes achieve coherence in design objects. He is co-editor of Critical Theory and Interaction Design (MIT Press, 2018) and co-author of Humanistic HCI (Morgan & Claypool, 2015). Bardzell’s work is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing.
Wendy Ju is an Assistant Professor at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech and in the Information Science field at Cornell University. Dr. Ju comes to Cornell Tech from the Center for Design Research at Stanford University, where she was Executive Director of Interaction Design Research, and from the California College of the Arts, where she was an Associate Professor of Interaction Design in the Design MFA program. Her work in the areas of human-robot interaction and automated vehicle interfaces highlights the ways that interactive devices can communicate and engage people without interrupting or intruding. Dr. Ju has innovated numerous methods for early-stage prototyping of automated systems to understand how people will respond to systems before the systems are built. She has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford, and a Master’s in Media Arts and Sciences from MIT. Her monograph on The Design of Implicit Interactions was published in 2015.
The Role of Space Technology to Support Sustainable Development
Professor Danielle Wood leads the new Space Enabled Research Group at the MIT Media Lab. The Space Enabled Research Group advances justice in Earth’s complex systems using designs enabled by space. Space Enabled sees opportunities to advance justice by increasing access to space technology to development leaders around the world and by applying space technology in support of the Sustainable Development Goals, as curated by the United Nations. There are six space technologies that have been contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals for decades, but barriers remain that limit their impact. These technologies include satellite earth observation, satellite communication, satellite positioning, microgravity research, technology transfer and increasing research infrastructure. The Space Enabled Research Group implements projects with development leaders at the multi-lateral, national and local scale to apply space technology in support of their initiatives. During these projects, Space Enabled implements an integrated design process that includes techniques from engineering design, art, social science, complex systems modeling, satellite engineering and data science. During this talk, Prof Wood will discuss the role of space to spur innovation and development and give examples of projects pursued by the Space Enabled Research Group.
Professor Danielle Wood serves as an Assistant Professor in the Program in Media Arts and Sciences within the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Within the Media Lab, Prof. Wood leads the Space Enabled Research Group which seeks to advance justice in earth’s complex systems using designs enabled by space. Prof. Wood is a scholar of societal development with a background that includes satellite design, earth science applications, systems engineering, and technology policy. In her research, Prof. Wood applies these skills to design innovative systems that harness space technology to address development challenges around the world. Prior to serving as faculty at MIT, Prof. Wood held positions at NASA Headquarters, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Aerospace Corporation, Johns Hopkins University, and the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs. Prof. Wood studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she earned a PhD in engineering systems, SM in aeronautics and astronautics, SM in technology policy, and SB in aerospace engineering.