Chris Milk: Virtual reality is the ultimate empathy machine

Chris Milk’s Ted Talk is from March 2015, but with all the Virtual Reality developments this November, it worth watching again. Or for the first time, if you haven’t seen it.

For Milk, Virtual Reality is the ultimate empathy machine, placing you inside the scene. Throughout the history of moving images, we have watched movement through a frame, a rectangle on the wall. More recently, that rectangle has shrunk down to a small mobile frame in our hands.

We’ve been engaged but distant, close but still separated from the reality of what we saw.

Virtual Reality sends us through the frame, into the scene, connecting us to what we see. But talking about it is nearly impossible. It’s experiential:

Unfortunately,talking about virtual reality is like dancing about architecture. And this is actually someone dancing about architecture in virtual reality. (Laughter) So, it’s difficult to explain. Why is it difficult to explain? It’s difficult because it’s a very experiential medium. You feel your way inside of it. It’s a machine, but inside of it, it feels like real life, it feels like truth. And you feel present in the world that you’re inside and you feel present with the people that you’re inside of it with. 

So virtual reality is a machine, an empathy machine that taps into our compassion. In VR, the person in the video now stands by our side, no longer imprisoned in the media rectangles on our walls.