This post was originally published in the World Bank blog Voices.
There is a round metal tray surrounded by four children and their parents. In it, there are plates filled with instant noodles, hummus, lebne, olives and pickled eggplant. I look left and there is a silver tea pot. I look right and my eyes catch a plastic bag of pita bread.
The tray is put on an unfinished concrete floor covered with a bunch of heavy winter blankets. The brick walls are partially covered with bedding sheets, while heavy winter clothes are hanging on a water pipe.
I lift my head up. I see a light bulb hanging from an unfinished cement ceiling. When I look back down, I see a toddler approaching me trying to poke my eyes, until I realize that I am not actually there and she is only trying to poke the 360 camera!
I pulled the headphones off my ears and unfastened the headset from my face. I had been immersed in another ‘reality,’ a virtual one. It was of Syrian refugees Ammouna and Fayad Selloum and their four young children in their makeshift home in Beirut, Lebanon. I ‘visited’ them through a virtual reality film produced by the World Bank to highlight the plight of Syrian refugees and their host communities.
Many people think that virtual reality will isolate us from the reality we live in, but I beg to differ. Virtual reality brings us closer to the human condition. It helps us understand and relate to each other in ways we never imagined before. Consequently, it allows us to extend our hands and help!
This, of course, is why development organizations, such as the World Bank, are now producing films in VR/360 format. The significance of these films is their eerie ability to trigger empathy in viewers.