VR: Virtual Reality. It is not meant to replace human contact, but rather to provide a completely new way to interact. In the past, pencil and paper, telephone and audiovisual media have all played this role.
What is so special about VR is that it can transcend the dimensions of time and space, bringing a stronger sense of coexistence to participants, which helps foster common understanding and eventually leads to spontaneity, interaction and pursuit of the common good.
This not only improves the efficiency and comprehensiveness of communication, but also helps us practice many universal democratic values in the process, as we interact again and again.
In today’s democracy, fostering empathy through communication has become more and more important due to the diverse backgrounds and value systems of citizens. This is especially true for government officials and agencies.
In the previous century, judgment and professional abilities were the most important attributes in a country’s leader or a government official.
But nowadays, the ability to build consensus may be equally important.
The key to build consensus is not knowing what is the best solution in the face of problems, but being able to blend the multitudes of views and feelings, in order to understand what issues are important to everyone and being able to find a solution that can be understood and accepted.
In the past, we watched presentations, sat down in meetings and discussed issues. Rather than doing that, many characteristics of VR would enable participants to receive a more direct information flow and would foster an emotional connection. I would like to discuss this by separating it into six aspects.
- Transcend the dimensions of space
First of all, while traditional meetings involve face to face contact, most of the materials are text, images and videos, all of which are two-dimensional.
However, the topics are often multi-dimensional. This discrepancy often leads to difference in our understanding.
For example, if the discussion topic today were a community park, we’d normally work with nothing more than a design blueprint that only an architect could understand, or a few simulation drawings.
It is very hard to understand and to compare the pros and cons of different plans unless there is a very clear sense of space.
Therefore, advocates for participatory planning have developed many ways to hear more opinions, using models, live presentations, group creations and electronic decision theaters.
Using VR to help with these proceedings can save costs, increase participation, and help very young participants to provide useful and meaningful suggestions. Furthermore, it can assist the participants in understanding the topic more concretely and can ensure everyone is on the same page.
2. Transcend the dimensions of time
Furthermore, even though we can record audio or video in a traditional discussion, the way we replay it is either as a sound file or as a video, which only has two dimensions. VR allows you to record the scenario in three dimensions, from multiple perspectives.
In other words, VR allows participants who are absent the first time to be able to enjoy the vivid feelings of the meeting by returning to the scenario later. This will expand the effectiveness of the discussion and allow more people to experience the same scenario, improving mutual understanding.
3. Relieve the limitation of distance
Through VR, we can liberate ourselves from the limitations of distance and space. To put it simply, by entering a virtual space, participants do not need to actually be present a physical location, saving the cost of travel.
The characteristics of virtual space also eliminate concerns such as whether the size of a physical space is suitable for the event. In the meaning time, it can help balance global perspective and local cultural context as people from around the world get together.
These examples address merely the short-term influences of VR in spatial reconstruction. In the long run, the implementation of VR will change our configuration of physical spaces.
For example, when more and more important government meetings are held using VR, every discussion arena can be the political nexus at that point in time, instead of the fixed division between central area and outskirts.
Of course, this form of communication technology is still budding, and this reconfiguration will require decades of dialogue and adjustment. However, this is a future development worth watching.
4. Equal room for listening
In VR, participants are presented virtually and are basically identical in appearance. This can help reduce the power imbalances caused by gender, skin color, or age. In a space where equality is respected, people can be more focused on listening to the diversity of opinions that are present, instead of focusing on a few influencers.
This will help to end the problems caused by the tendency of judging people by their appearance or deliberately ignorance due to personal unfavorable — but will preserve the collective wisdom of hundreds of thousands of years with regard to the benefits of face-to-face interpersonal communication.
5. Promotion of industry development
Although VR is a virtual space, there is also a practical side to it, which is the development of relevant industries. After smartphones, VR is widely seen as one of the few areas poised to make a breakthrough in applied technology today.
As an island that produces VR equipment and provides digital content, government officials and agencies need to properly utilize contributions from Taiwan’s private sector.
This has been the consistent focus of my research topic in recent years, and when I become the Digital Minister in October, it will definitely be one of my major priorities.
6. New model for global interaction
Finally, thanks to the overview effect provided by VR, we can go beyond borders, and observe the influences caused by every policy and every movement from the viewpoint of whole society or even global scale. This creates a brand new model of collaboration.
Traditional diplomatic encounters involve many limitations and norms. However, VR can provide more opportunities to conduct exchange under conditions of openness and equality, paving a new pathway through current obstacles.
When digital technology from the lab meets the real world, there are always collisions along with the innovations. For this, I would like to end this speech with a word of prayer:
Through VR, I hope we can gradually come closer to each other more and more and experience solid mutual understanding.
Thank you all.