#1152: Provoking Deeper Questions about the Ecological Sustainability of XR Tech with “Okawari VR”

This episode kicks off my 18-episode coverage from International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA) DocLab, which features the latest innovations of immersive storytelling from the documentary community. Okawari VR is an immersive experience exploring overconsumption, and asks some deeper questions about the ecological sustainability of XR technology.

The co-directors of Landia Egal (Tiny Planets) and Amaury La Burthe (Novelab) are challenging the inevitability of technology evolution and diffusion by asking what the cost to our environment would be if XR headsets become as ubiquitous as smart phones. With the rapid nature of how quickly the VR technology is developing, then each generation of technology is producing electronic waste that doesn’t always get properly recycled.

They’re also starting to try to estimate the carbon footprint of the full technology stack of producing and distributing XR pieces. It’s an ongoing process, and they were able to receive funding from the French government to continue this research. They were also asking audience members at Venice and IDFA DocLab to share how far they travelled to these festivals in order to estimate the carbon footprint of their site-specific exhibitions. Their installation recreates a restaurant by recycling locally-source cardboard materials, and even upcycled components of their immersive experience from a previous experience called Umami.

Their Okawari VR experience was created in order to catalyze some of these deeper discussions around sustainability within the XR industry amongst other creators, curators, and industry leaders. They designed their experience based upon insights from Sébastien Bohler’s book “The Human Bug (Le Bug Bumain)” that explores how the striatum section of the brain is in charge of the reward-based release of dopamine into the body that includes activities such as eating, resting & being efficient in effort expended, receiving more and more information, gaining social status, and sexual reproduction. They were attempting to trigger some of these aspects through gamified virtual eating in order to contrast it some physical mixed reality twists at the end.

But the experience was also a means to a larger ends of facilitating a broader discussion about immersive technology and it’s potential ecological impact, which we explore in depth throughout this conversation.

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Music: Fatality