Vikki Chowney, Chief Content Strategist at Hill+Knowlton shares her essay this week on the marriage of humanity and technology from the creative perspective.
At SXSW this year, J.J. Abrams told the audience that technology doesn’t improve storytelling. His take is that storytelling is still about finding empathy. Yes, technology makes this easier and more accessible to all. But you still have to be able to put yourself in the shoes of someone – be it the audience or the character – and tell the story from their point of view. If you can’t do that – no amount of shiny new tech will help you.
The thing is, when we use technology right – we can create empathy in spades. Look at Here Be Dragons’ “Clouds Over Sidra”, a virtual reality film for the United Nations in partnership with Samsung. The film was commissioned to be shown at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, offering government and business leaders a unique perspective into the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. It features a twelve-year-old in the Za’atari camp in Jordan – home to 84,000 Syrian refugees. We see her go to school, make a makeshift tent and even play on a football pitch. “At the UN, we consistently strive to bring citizens’ perspectives into the decision-making process anyway possible,” said Gabo Arora, Senior advisor at the UN. “By leveraging breakthrough technologies, such as virtual reality, we can create solidarity with those who are normally excluded and overlooked, amplifying their voices and explaining their situations.”
This is the first ever film shot in virtual reality for the UN, using this to generate greater empathy and new perspectives on people living in conditions of great vulnerability. What’s more, the film has a powerful capacity to allow anyone to experience life in a refugee camp and motivates people to act on what they’ve seen.Here Be Dragons co-founder and CEO, Patrick Milling-Smith said that; “getting a sense of ‘presence’ from Virtual Reality is an incredibly powerful experience. Doing so in such a heartbreaking place will, we hope, have a profound impact on the viewer that traditional newsreels and film-making have so far failed to convey.”
Then there’s the project Don’t Panic London worked on for The National Autistic Society, also this year. An immersive video called ‘Too Much Information’ asks viewers if they can ‘make it to the end’ of a minute-and-a-half video to raise awareness of what it feels like to experience sensory overload; a key issue for many autistic people. The film shows how a seemingly everyday visit to a shopping centre can be overwhelming for someone with autism. It was launched on World Autism Awareness Day in order to bridge the gap between the number of people who’ve heard of autism and those who really understand what it is, and what it can feel like for some individuals.
And then there’s the ability to use technology to capture things we’ve never before been able to see or hear or feel. David Attenborough narrates Giant Squid: Filming the impossible from a few years back: a documentary in which an international team of scientists think they’ve finally found one of the mythical creatures in its lair, a thousand meters down, off the coast of Japan. This is the culmination of decades of research and the team deploys underwater robots and state of the art submersible vessels for a world first. In fact, the BBC now shows short clips of the ‘how’ things were filmed across many of their documentaries, showing the lengths their teams go to get the perfect shot.
Even something like Snapchat can be used as a tool for empathy. The company has done an incredible job of redefining who they are, what they mean, and the possibilities that they can bring to allow us to be more human-centred in a technology-driven world. Each day, Snapchat features a different city, which provides an insight into that place. One that’s not curated by a media outlet or business, but from local people telling the story of who they are, what they do, and what the day-to-day looks like. Plus, when major events are happening, Snapchat allows all users in that location to post to the general story. This again empowers people to tell the story of who they are and what they are doing to viewers across the globe, from sporting events to religious ones & cultural occasions.
So, while I fully support the idea of taking new technology with a pinch of salt, and it’s vital to commit to proper, appropriate channel planning when we use what we have available to us in the right way – the results can be truly powerful.