Thursday, July 21, 2016

Geography is Everything: the pervasive use of virtual reality may arrive sooner than we think

Virtual and omnipresent cyberspaces are set to quickly become a very real part of our geography. The surreal impact of this winter's Pokemon Go trend combined with an inevitable Christmas of affordable headgear would signal a generation fast emerging that will colonise virtual worlds like an empire with a religious imperative and a sextant.

I spoke to my daughter recently about whether she would like to live in Minecraft - a thought experiment that was met by an overwhelmingly positive response and lots of seamless chatter about how living like this would be. Games, in particularly those with extensive and popular narratives developed through vast amounts of user input, like Minecraft, The Sims, and various other game based worlds, are currently still three dimensional models in two dimensional visual spaces. But this is changing fast as the hardware is becoming readily available, especially with the combination of mobile phone plus a visor that seems to be an effective phase in the popularisation of virtual reality.

I anticipate that virtual spaces will collide quite dramatically with many aspects of contemporary society: with the very idea of the nation state, with entertainment paradigms, and ultimately with our most basic ontological categories (including race and sexuality). They'll crash into politics, parenting, commerce, and pedagogy with such an effect that in my opinion it would be insane for education to take a "nostalgic moment" further entrenching an "analog pastoralism" as my old neighbor from LA, Ben Bratton, has referred to it in his work on software, global computation, and sovereignty. What full scale adoption of new digital technologies means for educators is a continued and more open reflection on the varied and complex history of success and failures of the public education project. But debating whether the presence of personal technology in our, and our children's, everyday work and lives is a now a totally mute point. The questions of how we might use technology to contribute to, or detract from, developing concepts of citizenship (in existing, and new, geographies) is still a pillar of such an educational project in my view. My point is that debating the when is just to lose precious time when we need to be reinventing or at least "up-skilling" ourselves.
For the educational project, if “geography is everything”, as a geography teacher friend of mine is prone to saying, then the categories of geography like the the state, culture, location, and human-environment interaction, etc., are probably a good place to start. What are the implications when many people are extant largely outside of the many traditional structures of the state? What do non-disputable digital identities based on blockchain technology imply for an individuals' futures as they occupy, act, and behave in such spaces for their education, their employment, and their legal needs? Geography confronts a lot of these more head-on than many subjects of the high school curriculum.

There are a lot of questions, but to be sure we (educators, parents, and government) place a lot of emphasis on education as sort of buffer to total immersion. Our project as early educators are often tied to predictions of students' futures, of immersion in  "the real world" of work and careers, or higher education, or into the difficult problems of our world. Our youth are about to become significantly immersed in virtual worlds, and unless we are open to this, and can start talking about this in the staff rooms and online spaces of our profession as a pending reality we will be overtaken by it's tsunami-like change. 

1 comment:

Brent Simpson said...

Video on blockchain: