Emotions in the Virtual Workplace

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In my recent article on cyborgs I wrote about the fact that, far from constraining our humanity, tech will release and expand it. This generated a lot of interest and people have been asking me for more practical examples. One of the more tangible examples – that is wide open for exploration right now – is virtual reality.

We’ve talked alrady about the fact that emotion is no longer a dirty word in business. A perspective fuelled by emotion is not “clouded” by that emotion, it arises from that emotion. A perspective based simply on abstracted fact – devoid of emotional content – is an abstraction too far. The age of the cyborg is not the age of the robot. We are not becoming automatons, we are virtual birds learning to fly.

Although currently funded by computer games companies (and soon to be funded in large part by pornographers), our research and development of virtual reality provides a practical example of how this works; a clear example of how tech enhances rather than suppresses our emotional natures. If you speak to people who are at the cutting edge of VR development (and we are talking now about Virtual Reality (VR) rather than Augmented Reality) they will tell you that the magic of good VR is not how it looks, it is how it feels. The watchword is immersion and a non-realistic virtual environment (such as the blocky Minecraft world) can be much more immersive than – say – a high definition 360 degree video. One looks much more realistic in 2D, but in true cyberspace the other is much more immersive.

Why is this immersion so important? It is important because immersion leads us into connecting with that virtual space on a direct human level – on an emotional level. We can’t experience a spreadsheet emotionally. We may experience narrative emotionally but there is a constant process of conversion taking place as we interpret what we are reading. In virtual reality there is an immediacy that connects immediately to emotion as naturally as it does in actual reality. The experience also becomes one of interaction in a way that experiencing narrative never can.

The options that this presents are limitless. To be able to communicate business information in VR and move and explore through VR scenarios and environments as we explore new buildings, new operating models, new advertising campaigns. We can become our own avatars and take ourselves into these concepts because mighty cities are brought into existence in VR years, generations, before they can be built in actual reality. In addition to marvelling at wonders of imagined architecture and designs we can also confront disaster scenarios. Rather than reading a two inch piece on page 28 of the Guardian, we can actually stand in the Eastern Congo and hear the gunfire in the near distance.

It is by experiencing what somebody is trying to communicate to us, rather than simply hearing about it, that unleashes the power of our emotional responses. We haven’t fully learned how to use the power of those emotions in the workplace yet, but it is our next evolutionary step.

The future of work is Human.

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