by Amanda Knox, Chief Empath
“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” – Lewis Carroll
“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.” – Pablo Picasso
Technology hates me. Sit me down at a device, and the Internet connection will call it quits, printers will pout and sputter, apps will fail. After so much negative feedback, I assume the worst: I’m just not built for technology; I don’t have the tech thumb; I’m Gramanda Knox. Thus, I may seem an unlikely guide into the world of virtual reality. But the truth is, everyone is stumbling forward in the dark. As VR insinuates itself into the fabric of human civilization, we need more than just technologists steering its evolution. We need artists, advocates, empaths. That’s where I come in.
As an artist, VR captures my attention because it’s the next phase in storytelling. We use words like “captivating” to describe art that entertains and inspires, and in so doing, elevates us. By reimagining reality, humanity has continued to grow our capacity for tolerance, compassion, and understanding of each other. VR is the natural progression, making art “immersive.” In this new medium, there are no set rules for how to entertain, awe, and inspire—only possibilities.
Humanity still has its empathetic blind spots, especially with regard to fringe human experiences that are emotionally and politically charged—experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, for instance. When I was fighting to prove my innocence in Italy, people referred to my defense as “la verità di Amanda”—Amanda’s truth. Truth was subjective, and the Italian people were bestowed with the responsibility of choosing which “truth”—Prosecutor Mignini’s or mine—compelled them the most. During those years when I was redefined as a sadistic killer and imprisoned for a crime I didn’t commit, I experienced a maddening disconnect between truth and reality. I will never forget how humanity’s weakness of imagination can actually wound. But VR can make experiences like mine more accessible than ever before. As an advocate, VR captures my attention because of its potential to humanize victims and radically amplify empathy.
Humanity also continues to face the problem of discovering truth and engaging with reality. Already, VR is being used to better train police officers, treat mental health problems like PTSD, revolutionize healthcare, and re-humanize social media. This excites me, because it’s not a turning away from reality, as VR’s critics might think. We are primed to use VR to make our individual and collective lives better, richer, more fulfilling, and more true, to nurture our innate ability to think with our hearts and feel with our brains. This is so much more than just technology; this is about improving our imaginations yet again, and improving our real world in the process.