The other week, Mark Zuckerberg visited Puerto Rico without leaving California. He stood on the roof of Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park with a virtual reality (VR) headset strapped to his face, and immersed himself in a flooded street 3,000 miles away. Zuckerberg was livestreaming the event to promote Facebook Spaces, a "social" VR app. Using a humanitarian crisis for a marketing stunt made many people angry. So did the tasteless incongruity of Zuckerberg's grinning cartoon avatar set against a landscape of profound human suffering.
You wake up on a bus, surrounded by all your remaining possessions. A few fellow passengers slump on pale blue seats around you, their heads resting against the windows. You turn and see a father holding his son. But one man, with a salt-and-pepper beard and khaki vest, stands near the back of the bus, staring at you. You feel uneasy and glance at the driver, wondering if he would help you if you needed it. When you turn back around, the bearded man has moved toward you and is now just a few feet away.
"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them,"Joseph Brodsky, a Russian and American poet, once said. Books let the reader experience new, different worlds, unexpected events, wild adventures. But foremost, they open the access to the minds of others, minds of characters and minds of narrators. Common sense tells us that reading fiction should train people in understanding what others think and feel.
Nonny de la Peña is the Founder of Emblematic Group. She created a VR Experience called Hunger in Los Angeles that tries to foster empathy by immersing people in the experience of what it feels like to be hungry and on the streets of LA. Her question is, what if you could experience a story with your entire body, not just with your mind? Hunger's just one example of a problem in this country that doesn't get nearly enough resources. Using the latest VR technology, Hunger in Los Angeles, puts the participant in the First Unitarian Church, allowing them to become witnesses to the problem first-hand.
Mitch and Freada Kapor have long been champions of equality. They talk about their hope for a more diverse tech workforce in Silicon Valley. Mitch was the man behind Lotus Notes and has gone on to be a big promoter of social issues. During those three intensive days spent brainstorming new technologies, she realized she was not the only one. Huaranca was one of just two Latinos in a room of 100 people.