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The Messenger - Immersion #2: Being There

The Messenger
The Messenger - Immersion #2: Being There
By Socratus • Issue #46 • View online
If there’s one phrase that captures the idea of immersion, it’s ‘Being There.’ Witnesses are important in criminal cases because ‘they were there.’ Surveillance cameras are all over the place because they help us be there without being there.
Moral of the story: space and place are huge parts of the human understanding of the world and the more we expand our spatial capacities, the more we are there. Even if the there is a virtual world.

Making Space for Space
Space has always been the final frontier, and spatial understanding is a big part of human cognition as well as perception. As the saying goes ‘seeing is believing.’ We instinctively arrange the world in terms of concepts such as FRONT, BACK, LEFT, RIGHT, UP and DOWN. These concepts even influence the way we think about social relations, like when I tell you ‘So and so is high up in the government hierarchy.’
Question: What does HIGH and UP in that social assessment mean?
Now imagine you’re trying to convince a Chief Minister to increase the health budget. You have a lot of data on hand, numbers that show that every extra rupee spent on health by the government yields 1.3x returns for the state economy.
Fantastic!, where do I sign says the CM. All you have to do is present the data and everyone feels the pain of the people, right?
Doesn’t happen that way, unfortunately. Numbers don’t convince. Emotions are the currency of decision making. The CM doesn’t have the time to make a trip to every village that has healthcare emergencies. So how do we evoke empathy for those who will benefit from a better healthcare system?
  • A documentary might help, putting a decision maker in the world of a tribal community in Jharkhand and their medical challenges.
  • An immersive VR experience might be even better, with the CM seeing the world from the perspective of a tribal woman who is walking several kilometres to a PHC while pregnant.
Data and Immersion aren’t competitors - we need both!
The Metaverse
Before we get into the extended mind, let’s start with its technological counterpart, the Metaverse. Here’s the official definition from the best known primer on the Metaverse:
The Metaverse is an expansive network of persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments, and entitlements, and can be experienced synchronously by an effectively unlimited number of users, each with an individual sense of presence.
The metaverse is not the first such technology either: can you think of another technology that allows “persistent, real-time rendered 3D worlds and simulations that support continuity of identity, objects, history, payments….”?
That would be the most important technology in the history of civilization, namely, writing. Writing happens to do all these things and much much more. It enables mathematics and science; it enables bureaucracy, politics, treaties, maps, boundaries and nations.
Ambient Intelligence
We can talk about the metaverse by centering the technology or by centering the human. We will focus on the latter: the metaverse as an extension of human cognitive capacities, though we will keep an eye on the parade of metaverse technologies and pay attention to the big picture. There’s a history to this framing of the metaverse; it’s the polarity between ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligenceUbiquitous computing is the term for an environment saturated with computing that supports identity, interaction and other computing enabled services. While ubiquitous computing is a tech-centric view of a software eaten world, it comes with a mental counterpart: ambient intelligence.
Environments with ambient intelligence work to support human cognitive capacities. They are smart extensions of the human mind. What’s even better: being spatial, these intelligent environments can host multiple minds, so they are extensions of our collective intelligence, and if well designed, they can be extensions of our collective wisdom. So instead of conceiving the metaverse as a set of technologies, why not conceive it as an extension of our minds - as ambient intelligence 2.0 rather than ubiquitous computing 2.0?
Here’s the thing: immersive environments that promote collective wisdom don’t have to be in the virtual world! What’s more immersive than the real world 😀? It’s a matter of imagination - both the material environment and virtual environments can be imagined as mind extensions. Who cares if it’s we do so through a collective act of make-believe or inside a VR cave?
A jury of migrants that takes representations from experts & government officials and arrives at a verdict that imagines a better life for migrants everywhere is as much an immersive environment that promotes ambient intelligence as the fanciest virtual reality.
Immersion is a mindset, not a technology.
We would love to hear from you about our new Messenger model: what do you like about it? What topics related to immersion would you like to see covered? Any experiments you want to do that we can support?
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