LIVE FROM DEMOCRACY PLAZA
In VR’s first hosted bilingual discussion, Telemundo anchor José Díaz-Balart spoke to the importance of voter participation and answered audience members’ questions in AltspaceVR’s Democracy Plaza.
Streamed live on October 15, 2016, avatars belonging to real people across the world asked questions ranging from the effect of internet vitriol on the 2016 presidential election to the role of journalism in the modern world. Nimbly translating between Spanish and English, Díaz-Balart championed the importance of “real journalism” as it seeks to “reach audiences where audiences want to live their lives.”
It is from Díaz-Balart’s answer that more questions form. As journalism seeks to reach its audience today, where must it go? Where do we, as audiences, want to live our lives?
Perhaps the short answer is “together.” Through mediums like Facetime, Hangouts, and Skype, we aspire to live our lives together even when apart.
But without, perhaps, feeling too close.
As audience members, VR allows us to achieve a delicate balance of distance—we’re empowered to share public spaces with crowds while maintaining a bubble of personal space we feel comfortable with. As virtual reality becomes increasingly accessible we begin to unwrap possibilities, at least in the political realm, of a democracy more in line with the vision of the founding fathers.
On Saturday, José Díaz-Balart took questions from audience members in the crowd, opening the floor to a direct exchange of ideas. When applied to the broader world of politics, the possibility of these exchanges brings us as audience members closer to the concept of direct democracy. In reality, virtual reality can open the DNC, RNC, and Briefing Room door to a public whose access was previously limited—a public comprised of different ages, races, socio-economic backgrounds, education levels, and political leanings. The virtual reality stage becomes a platform for the resurgence of the original Town Hall, that nostalgic setting we often deem “the good old days.”
For the first time in history, the final presidential debate had more viewers watching via YouTube than television. It’s a signal that the mediums in which we participate in our worlds are changing. VR aspires to elevate the potential for participation for all viewers by blending the Town Hall-like traditions of the good old days with the technology of today.
THE NEW SOCIAL MEDIA
VR transforms social media from ‘near real-time’ into ‘absolute real-time,’ allowing speakers to call on and converse with individuals without delay, without prescription, and without editing. It allows us, as audiences, to interact more like we did when our population was smaller, our cities were smaller, and town halls offered a forum for direct exchange with leaders, all in proximity to one another.
While this direct exchange of ideas can still lead to heated debates, impassioned rhetoric, and charged discussions, VR creates a safety in exchange as never before. Although more anonymous than physical face-to-face discourse, VR supersedes the realm of the internet comments section by enabling real-time dialogue. It is in the allowance of individual expression paired with the promise of personal safety where VR’s strength lives, both for the potential of its use as a political means of exchange and its broader use as a forum for public communication.
COMFORT IN NON-ANONYMITY
In VR, audiences are invited to express themselves without the risk of physical consequences. It offers a safe place to disagree, and for others to weigh in and moderate disagreements, without necessitating anonymity. In the midst of a politically divisive election year, providing safe places for disagreement offers a viable solution to upholding values that make America great, like freedom of speech and the ability to publicly challenge one another, all together.
Aptly labeled, AltspaceVR’s Democracy Plaza could become the most democratic setting we can offer to the United States’ more than 300 million citizens, and the world’s more than seven billion. But to be truly influential, actually powerful, resoundingly profound, we as an audience will need to follow Díaz-Balart’s advice:
Missed the event? Watch the October 15, 2016 Election Q&A with Telemundo’s José Díaz-Balart recording on YouTube. Hear more from José Díaz-Balart on Noticiero Telemundo, Enfoque con José Díaz-Balart, and Saturday “NBC Nightly News.”