Virtual Empathy

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Abstract

This article offers a theoretical response to the recent interest in virtual reality (VR) as a technology for enhancing empathy. It argues that the version of empathy envisioned by the champions of the technology—one in which care for the other is a function of being able to collapse the other’s experience into one’s own—runs counter to the very concept of empathy, as originally construed, which preserves otherness in its alterity. The point is not simply to invoke a historical concept of empathy to contrast with the VR version, but to emphasize its enduring salience in response to recent technological developments. There is little doubt regarding the need for empathy, in the sense explored in this article, as we confront the pathologies of political fragmentation and social polarization facilitated by the current iteration of social media. However, this article argues that the VR version is more likely to exacerbate than redress these concerns.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalCommunication, Culture & Critique
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019

Keywords

  • empathy
  • Virtual Reality
  • Digital Media
  • interactivity
  • Frankfurt school

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