Today I am sharing a video in which I am describing The Choice VR project - why I am working on it, why am I using virtual reality, how I am planning to address and bust the stigma surrounding abortion. I am also describing what does it mean to be "present" in a VR experience (no tech-talk, just how it feels), and sharing the story of an antichoice person who watched one of our interviews - and it's changed him.
Below you can also find a written version.
Hi, guys, I'm Joanne. I'm The Choice director and I'm here to record another video telling you a little bit more about The Choice. Sorry for a little break, but some nasty flu caught both me and Tom. You can, I guess, see that I'm looking very, very tired, also it's because we are having a very crazy time now before coming to SXSW and to Austin. We will be there in mid-March both to present The Choice at the South by Southwest Festival - we are part of the Canada House. And we are also recording interviews when we are there for The Choice.
So, to just briefly remind you, The Choice is an immersive documentary allowing you to meet and have a personal conversation with women who had abortion(s). We are using VR, which is virtual reality, to make it really personal, to make you feel like you're really talking to someone.
I have some notes not to forget what to talk about, so let me look at it.
The first question is: why the subject and why now? I don't think that I have to even answer that anymore as it's become a very timely issue currently, especially in the U.S.. But also globally it's not changing in a positive direction, really it's still very, very much work to do.
I come from Poland, I live in Canada and I work in Canada, but I come from Poland. And a couple of years ago, our government there tried to ban abortion completely. This is what made me start analyzing why we are even talking about it now. It's 21st century. We know enough already about abortion. But we are still fighting for it. We are fighting in the US to keep Roe v. Wade. In Canada, we have some issues now. And instead of giving people more freedom, we have to fight to keep it at least as it is.
So that's the origin of The Choice.
I'm a sociologist with my masters, and I used to work a lot with stereotypes. I was wondering why we're still talking about it and how the debate itself looks like. And the debate is very heated. And also very polarized, and there's not much room for a dialog.
I was wondering that maybe showing people's personal stories would be the answer to that and could help. So, the idea behind The Choice is to show personal stories of people who had abortion(s) and with the VR technology make you feel like you are talking to them.
Some of you ask me why VR and how it is different, what's the difference between watching the story on some YouTube and somebody sharing the story there, or reading the book, or the newspaper. The very difference between VR and any other medium is that VR puts you there, in the middle of the action, and it makes you think that you are present. That's very buzz/keyword in VR. You are present in this new environment and you are co-present with this person that is next to you in VR.
VR has also some amazing ability of making your mind think that the stuff that happened when you were in VR, you actually did experience them. So whenever I think about any VR experience that I had, I'm not thinking about watching it, playing it or anything like that, I actually think that I was there and I talked to someone, that I was taking part in the events. And this is the very thing that makes it work.
Some of you ask us why we think it will work. And this is very much the answer.
Many of the people who are anti-choice or who are not sure what they would do themselves, what their stance on the abortion issue is, they actually probably never had an opportunity to talk to someone who had abortion. They are very political, they are very argumentative, they use arguments, rhetoric, they use their belief system, all that stuff. But when you actually put them face to face with another human, it's completely different.
We already have some, for now anecdotal, proof of our experience actually already changing people. At the conferences, when we are presenting - we have some interviews already recorded and we have a demo that we show at the events, festivals and stuff. And on one of the events, I was showing it and some guy approached me, and he was very, very openly and vocally, and very loudly anti-choice. And he was suggesting that I should show, in VR, how the fetus is being ripped apart and all that stuff. So, yeah, you could definitely say that he's anti-choice. And after hearing him, I said: "OK. Can you put the headset on? I will show you someone." He watched it and I was, of course, waiting for him to take the headset off, and expecting that I will hear another rage. But he took the headset off. And he was silent. And I was like, whoa, it's working.
He was silent.
And then he said that he's sorry, that the project is very powerful and he's actually jealous that we have guts to be working on something that important.
So his reaction, first of all, was instant. And then the second element was that a couple of months later, he met us at another conference and he was actually talking about our project to other people, and introducing us. So it's not only the instant effect, but it was actually lasting. And it lasts until today, we know each other.
The reason why I think it's working is that when you put away all politics or arguments and are actually put face-to-face with another human, it's powerful. It's like, you know, in our life, the only the best way to fight with stereotypes is to put you face to face, to have a personal conversation with another human. And that's it. That works. And this is how The Choice works.
I said that we will be filming in Austin mid-March. And here is my huge request: we are still looking for storytellers, for people willing to share their abortion stories with us. And a very important aspect is that we want to show the complexity of the issue, we want to show various people who face this decision. By variety, I mean different backgrounds, different ethnicities, and different socio-economic situation, because we know that with all these different situations come slightly different challenges.
And also, I very much would like to get in touch with LGBTQ folks, because for now, we have only women, and one husband of one of our storytellers, and he's putting his perspective. But I would love to also have LGBTQ folks.
Please reach out to us. We are in Austin from March 14th till 25th.
Our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org and you can reach me there. You can reach me through my social media where I will be posting this video.
I guess that's it for now.
I will be recording more of these videos. Not sure if I will be doing it very regularly because time is crazy, but I'll give it a try in the next two weeks to put as many as I can.
Okay. Bye-bye. Thanks. 😊