Superimposing computer-generated images onto a real-world environment isn’t a far-fetched idea. It’s here – although it’s still in its infancy. As more innovators experiment with augmented reality, this burgeoning technology is going to disrupt many industries and change countless lives.
AR can do so much more than direct gamers on a Pokemon-catching craze around town. It’s empowering activists around the world to fight for social justice. It’s reshaping activism, starting with the way we can educate others about social issues.
Fueling Social Change
The use of immersive technology in activism is fairly new. Still, augmented reality has been aiding protesters longer than it has been fueling the Pokemon craze. During the Occupy movement of 2011, activists leveraged free AR apps to keep the public informed about ongoing protests. They also used AR to superimpose virtual images of protesters and protest-themed graphics over areas where they couldn’t protest physically.
It’s unclear how the AR campaign affected the overall movement. Nevertheless, it does highlight the technology’s capacity to crowdsource any movement’s message.
AR is an excellent tool for fueling social change. Even governments know that. The Dutch government, for example, made an entire AR billboard to encourage pedestrians to become better citizens. They made it to prevent incidents like one that occurred in New York, where passersby left a homeless man dying on the street after saving a woman from a mugging. Onlookers could’ve done something, but they didn’t.
To make people realize how awful apathy is, the government used augmented reality as a tool. On the billboard, onlookers could see a superimposed footage of violence. Here’s the catch: they could also see a live feed of them watching that unfold, doing nothing to prevent it. Needless to say, it’s a stark visual reminder of how appalling apathy is.
Highlighting the Narratives of the Oppressed
Across the country, the removal of confederate monuments have stirred controversy for decades. Using AR, activists can protest the existence of these memorials without having to resort to vandalism. Immersive technologies superimpose positive historical figures, highlighting women and people of color. It lets us learn their stories too.
A non-profit organization called Movers and Shakers is making this possible. They have an AR monuments tour, where AR educates the masses about underrepresented narratives.
Without a doubt, some events in history are not properly documented. For instance, people often regard the Stonewall uprising in 1969 as the start of the LGBTQ civil rights movement. But perhaps it may be more accurate to say that it was the culmination of decades of fighting. Retellings of the Stonewall uprising are sometimes partial, favoring only the narratives of white, cis, gay men and lesbians. People often forget to share or even acknowledge the roles that trans activists of color played in the fight for LGBTQ liberation. Augmented reality can change that by giving all sides the opportunity to tell their story.
Through a non-profit organization CyArk, the Huffington Post was able to develop an immersive retelling of the Stonewall riots. Just in time for its 50th anniversary, they recreated a digital Stonewall Inn with five different historical figures. As you go around the space, you can tap on each character and listen to their perspective of that fateful night.
Anyone can now listen to first-hand accounts of the event through the HuffPost iOS app.
Augmented reality empowers advocates to fuel social change and retell the narratives of the significant minority. Hopefully, it can inspire a new wave of activists and usher in a new era of education and growth.