How Virtual Reality Could Pave The Way To A More Sustainable Future
“You just had to be there” is a trope we’ve all heard at one point or another. Historically, there hasn’t been a way to replicate the feeling of doing things like exploring a new country or hiking a beautiful mountain. Try as they might, photos, video, and the written word can’t totally encapsulate certain in-person experiences. But as technology becomes more advanced, virtual reality could help us immerse ourselves in new worlds without ever having to leave home.
“VR is really good at making things that are abstract more tangible,” explains Jeremy Bailenson, author and founding director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. His lab is starting to work out ways to use virtual reality as the next wave of environmental education. “For most of us who aren’t visiting the ice caps and may not live on the coast of Florida, we’re not experiencing climate change every day. VR can make these abstract concepts very immediate.”
Bailenson has experimented with systems that combine sight, feel, and smell to make users feel like they’re swimming in a decimated coral reef or in the midst of an intense storm. (In virtual reality, disaster is free, he likes to say.) When you consider human psychology, virtual reality is effective at emulating in-person experience because of a theory known as embodied cognition. By shocking us into moving our bodies, VR activates the motor-sensory cortexand can therefore more closely mimic how we’d feel IRL.
For proof of concept, consider that simulations like chopping down a tree have inspired people to make real, eco-friendly changes, like using less toilet paper. The Stanford lab found that VR users were usually more likely to do so than those who just read an article or watched a film about how toilet paper can contribute to deforestation…”
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