Move People to Action — How Virtual Reality is Changing Social Impact

You look up and see a warm friendly smile. He sits up with that smile on his face. You hear him speak, “Hello, my name is Douglas.”

A pop-up appears with two choices: “Hear Douglas’s Story” or “Meet the Other Volunteers.”

You turn your head 180 degrees and see a hut made out of hay. You look down and can see the sand. You hear the sound of laughter behind you. Wondering what it is, you turn around to see a kid playing with her mother.

You select “Hear Douglas’s Story.” With a soft-spoken tone, he begins to speak …

“It’s nice to meet you friend. You may wonder what I am doing here. I have been donating my free time to fight malaria and helping to protect my 300 neighbors from the disease. When a neighbor feels sick, they can visit me to get tested — and, if needed — be treated for malaria. I record cases via an app on my mobile device that feeds data to the central database where my country is monitoring transmission.”

Your brain has tricked you. You keep telling yourself you’re not actually face to face with Douglas but It’s so real you feel as if you could reach out and touch him. It’s a virtual experience and this experience is closer to reality than you think.

Your brain has tricked you.

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality (VR) is a computer-generated experience that provides a life-like experience via realistic images and sensations in an imaginary environment. This virtual environment enables the user to move through an artificial world and dynamically interact with various features built into the virtual experience. The user wears VR goggles equipped with screen and audio.

At Creative Science Labs we have a labs department dedicated toward exploring new technology. Virtual reality is at the top of our list. Two of our team members (me included) are currently enrolled in the Udacity’s VR Nano degree program. In order to use these new technologies to help social impact organizations, we first need to understand these technologies before we can imagine their impact.

Isn’t Virtual Reality a Long Way Off?

Virtual reality is not readily accessible and it’s going to be decades before ready. That’s what I use to think but the revolution is right around the corner.

That’s what I use to think but the revolution is right around the corner.

With any emerging technology there is often this chicken and the egg problem. Developers won’t create software unless there is enough hardware to support it but companies won’t make the hardware unless there is enough software to run on it. The launch of Oculus’s VR headset helped change this.

It turned a phone into a VR ready device.

Since bought by Facebook, Oculus came out with a revolutionary idea — turn your existing phone into a VR headset. This helped overcome one of the biggest hurdles — hardware distribution. Since its launch, many other companies have followed the same model, like the release of the Google Cardboard, which answers the hardware issue. Instead of convincing users to buy a VR headset, they could transform the high-powered computer in the palm of your hand.

I can now imagine a day when everyone’s iPhone is shipped with both earphones and some type of VR device, whether that is a headset or eyepiece.

What does this mean for the social impact space?

Moving people to action requires organizations to emotionally connect to supporters. Today they do this through stories, which can have a profound impact, but when told through a VR medium, it can leave a lasting impression and lead to action.

We’re already seeing VR change the social impact space.

Oculus, the Facebook-owned maker of virtual reality headsets, debuted a “VR for Good” program this year that paired 10 nonprofits with filmmakers and provided the teams with funding to create virtual reality experiences. These VR experiences are expected to premier at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

If you’re looking for an impactful way to set your social impact organization apart, this may be an area to explore. Who knew that virtual reality, a fabricated reality, could improve our current reality and effect real change in the world? This is the compassionate side of technology. When physical connection is not possible, technology can bridge those limitations and foster human connection.

Until next time,

Nate

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😎 Nate Andorsky

😎 Nate Andorsky

Entrepreneur blending behavioral economics, data and technology to help changemakers inspire and move people to action. Co-founder @creativesci & member @yec.