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Thursday, September 08, 2016

Bicycle for the Heart

1. Steve Jobs likened the personal computer as a "bicycle for the mind". I think of VR as a bicycle too. Though for the heart. 

2. Is VR an empathy machine ? In of itself, no. But when designed to do so - yes, and quite strikingly, and more profoundly then any current medium in existence. 

3. Its effect will only grow stronger and more profound the better the technology gets. And - most importantly - we figure out how to tell compelling stories within it. 

4. It's noteworthy, and extraordinary, that there already exists this intense desire, by many, to deeply move people to make the world a better place with VR. Empathy / social good was not something discussed at the birth of radio, cinema or TV, until much later. This is a positive sign of the times.

5. Good VR hacks your senses. That's its aim. It uses sophisticated tech to do that. From stereoscopic images, to binaural and directional sound. So it's not just novelty. It consistently transports people unlike any medium. There is biological data that proves its unique effects on us and I believe this effect will only get deeper until we will not easily be able to distinguish between the real and virtual and, eventually, between even our dreams and memories. It's the blurring of these lines that will shift what meaning we derive from these different states of consciousness. 

6. It's striking that VR and empathy are talked about together. A little over a year ago it was gaming and porn. And suddenly, given the amazing efforts of many, it's impossible not to associate this burgeoning new medium as something that holds a greater promise. 

7. I don't think this should be taken for granted. The values and norms of the pioneers of any medium have always shaped things to come. The hacker, whole earth catalog, hippie new age-ness of the Internet has a lot to do with how our world is now (for better and for worse. I would never in a million years have thought that when I was at Burning Man in 2000, that it would be a billionaire hangout one day).

8. Similarly, this intense desire to see technology serve humanity and see VR as something more then just commercialism and escapism will profoundly effect many people's relation with something so consciousness shifting. 

9. There are naysayers (there will always be) who say VR is a novelty. That its effects will wear off with repeated use and habituation. Or that its ability for empathy is no greater then a book, painting or other forms of media. They cringe or are reluctant to call it "the last medium" or privilege its status as being greater at eliciting empathy then all what came before it. 

10. It's important to be skeptical. But also important to be objective and realize that there is something profound and unique about VR. It's certainly not a passing fad. It will profoundly shift what it means to be conscious, alive and human. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Time

Time

1977 Born in Manhattan at Mount Sinai hospital to immigrant parents from the Punjab region of India. First person in his family born in America. 

1978 Moved back to India after his father finishes his studies at NYU in engineering and launches the Roosevelt trolley, a project in which he was lead engineer. 

1981 Lives in Israel with his father who is working on projects for the government. Visits Jerusalem with his mother and has his first memories at the wailing wall. 

1982 Moves back to New York City, to the borough of Queens, as his father suffers from poor health and needs urgent medical treatment only available in the US. 

1982 - 1990 Accompanies his father often in his entrepreneurial work in Greenwich Village. Meets Warhol, Basquiat and Keith Herring and others from the downtown scene at his father's many candy shops. 

1987 Father buys him first computer, an Apple Macintosh, a rather unorthodox choice but mostly given his father's admiration for Steve Jobs, and also because of his leaning to not have his son be an engineer like him. His father wanted his son to be a statesmen like Nehru. 

1991 Family moves to New Jersey following continued trouble he has with local gangs. The final straw is a dislocation of his jaw which leads to a nervous tick he has with him for the remainder of his days. 

1994 Contracts though survives a severe form of Malaria in India. Considered a seminal moment of visions and notable changes to his personality. "I became Jim Morrison". 

1995 Graduates from High School in the bottom 30 percentile of his class though scores in the top 99 percentile in his SATs, which garners him a full scholarship to NYU. Though he is an uneven and rebellious student he shows flashes of brilliance in the physical sciences and history. Is exposed to and falls in love with British and world literature. Reads Camus' the stranger in one sitting. Is equally moved by William Blake and Herman Hesse. 

1997 Though he is a stellar university student, he has deep existential crisis and starts questioning the meaning of life and everything around him. His father's health begins to deteriorate leading him to briefly drop out of college to find spiritual strength in the Himalayas. Encounters the work Nicolás Roerich, a Russian painter who lived in India, and is moved by his philosophy of unifying religion, art and science. 

1998 His father dies on New Year's Day unexpectedly after a routine surgery though his health has been in rapid decline. He moves back home to Queens with his mother and is crestfallen yet is consoled by rediscovering Camus, reading Dostoevsky and listening to Radiohead's OK computer. He also befriends George Kakoulides with whom he would share many adventures, triumphs and failures. 

1999 Graduates Magna Cum Laude with honors in philosophy and biochemistry. Delays entry into medical school to do a public health project with Unicef in Namibia. Encounters "Adbusters" and travels to Seattle to protest the WTO. Is so deeply moved by this that he joins the anarchist counter culture no global movement and travels the country hitch-hiking. Joins Food Not Bombs. Starts dumpster diving. Reads politics and history extensively, and is particularly moved by "the people's history of the United States. 

2000 Returns from Namibia and joins Ralph Nader's Green Party and works on the presidential campaign. Moves to Southern California for the first time to develop skills as a community organizer and also begins to take acting courses. Communes with the redwood forest. Cries that people put a dollar value on thousand year old trees. 

2001 Returns to New York to attend medical school, only to drop out shortly after 9/11, where is mother was trapped near the twin towers for hours, and an event that profoundly shaped his life and made him think : "I'm not crazy". 

2002 Moves to South America to learn Spanish and explore Colombia, a country he falls in love with through the literature of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the original "Gabo". 

2003 Begins teaching meditation and yoga throughout South America. Experiments heavily with the occult and Native American rituals like San Pedro, Peyote and  Ayauascha. 

2004 Returns home to New York to be with his mother, also a rescue worker on 9/11, who retires from 25 years of service for the city of New York. Starts working in the inner city as philosophy teacher. Helps his mother move back to India and reclaim ancestral property.  

2005 Returns to Colombia, though this time to work as a human rights activist, advocating for non-violent leaders and communities through physical accompaniment in rebel and paramilitary territories.  

2006 Meets Fidel Castro and is an official guest of the Cuban government as an international observer for the rebel peace negotiations in Havana. Takes two weeks alone, hitchhikes and meanders with locals all over the island to understand the truth of the revolution. Has a vision in Santiago de Cuba of Shoshun, the goddess of love. 

2007 Is awarded a fellowship to study international relations and economics at Johns Hopkins University. Moves to Italy to begin his first year in Europe. Learns Italian and begins a serious relationship with a woman from Naples, lasting almost five years. 

2008 graduates with distinction in International Economics from Johns Hopkins University. Moves to India to do development work in his ancestral land, and ends up reclaiming his old family property, allowing his mother to buy her own home in the the neighborhood of his childhood and become independent financially in her old age. 

2009 Moves to rural Zambia to work on youth programs with his girlfriend. The relationship breaks down and he ends up for months alone in a big house, with a vegetable garden and two dogs. The solitude and heartbreak is immeasurable. 

2010 Moves to Haiti to take a full time post with the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Port Au Prince. Survives the earthquake, though loses many friends and colleagues, and takes an active leadership role as part of rescue efforts. Resigns from his post at Unicef a year later out of protest after the cholera epidemic, when he sees an unbelievable amount of ineptitude and lack of accountability in the response. Feels vindicated months later by a plethora of evidence that the cholera was brought in by UN peacekeepers and that lack of proper sanitation management lead to its outbreak. 

2011 Appointed by the Office of the Secretary General of the United Nations Secretariat in New York as a Senior Policy Advisor. Plays an instrumental role in setting the Secretary-General's development agenda focusing on gender equality, education and public health. 

2012 His son, Julian, is born in Paris. 

2013 Travels to Amazon rainforest to make "Keep the Oil in the ground", a viral video sensation with two million views in one month. Raises significant funds and the online petition results in the government of Ecuador's apology the Sarayaku community featured. This film is endorsed by many prominent Hollywood celebrities and is the film Chris Milk watches before being convinced to handover his proprietary VR camera and ask Gabo to join his inaugural roster of pioneer creators in Virtual Reality. 

2014 Directs and shoots the first-ever documentary in Virtual Reality in a Syrian refugee camp. Clouds Over Sidra goes on to win numerous awards and acclaim. Considered to be a revolution in VR filmmaking and kickstarts a whole new genre of documentary filmmaking emulated by many including the New York Times, which cites its influence on their VR work. 

2015 Founds the UN's first ever VR lab, UNVR.org. Directs and produces an array of award winning content that cements his role as a pioneer documentary filmmaker in VR. His films begin doubling donations for on the streets fundraisers for Unicef and is used by the Secretary-General to raise billions of dollars and advocate for refugees, survivors of Ebola and Palestinians in Gaza.  

2016 Separates from the mother of his child and begins anew. Splits his time between Europe, New York and California. 

2016 Appointed the UN's first ever Creative Director role, leading a UNVR team and building a global brand. Launches the UN's first ever distribution platform for VR with its own app. 


~ G 
+1 (917) 770-1097
@gaboarora | www.unvr.org

Monday, March 30, 2015

Indians in America

With the ascent of first Kal Penn, and now Aziz Ansari and Mindy Kaling, I suppose Americans of Indian descent have finally arrived into the mainstream of American culture. A little late, but fine. I'm happy. I hope it enriches the general culture just as children of Jewish and Italian Immigrants who came before did - but I'm not so sure. I don't believe Indian contributions will be as deep. I have my doubts only because the other cultures before it were not as bourgeois and middle class as Indians in America.

Indians, as you may know, have the highest per capita income of any ethnic group in the US. Their American experience, in general, have not been defined by the same strife of the Jewish and Italians origin stories in America.

Both those groups faced fierce resistance. And both those groups worked hard to not just assimilate but change - for the better - who we are as Americans.

Having something to fight against, and something to prove, is always a recipe for greatness. This is why Indians in England have consistently been far more impressive than anyone in America. They dealt with a colonial struggle, and race riots specifically targeting them. This lead to Rushdie and others who defined themselves against the status quo and made England better, more multicultural, and more interesting as a result.

Indians in America ARE the status quo. I see nothing that fundamentally challenges how we are as a country and what we can become if we were to take guidance from
Indian Americans.

Jewish culture challenged anti- intellectual tendencies in American life as well as standards of beauty. Italians challenged Anglo Saxon frigidity. Indians - what can they offer?

I don't think their bourgeois status automatically disqualifies them making worthy contributions to the culture. The Russians of the 19th century captivated us with their aristocratic problems. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara were as bourgeois as bourgeois can be and mixed Marxism with the tropics.

Indians in America just need to pick a trait they possess within their complex identity that gives them a competitive advantage over others and something that fundamentally challenges the dominant culture.

There is hope. Indian culture, though there are many layers to it, has an one aspect of it that is unique and possibly enriching: It is ancient and it is categorically non- Judeo Christian.

Practically this means Indians are not a people of the "book". They are flexible in their belief system and thus naturally more tolerant to others as a result and not as easily swayed by dogmatism and absolutisms - a tendency that plagues American culture. Straight / Gay. Rich / Poor, white/ black, Red / Blue. This allows for co-existence but easily can also be used to be subversive, especially in a predominantly binary, rationalist and materialist and number/ data driven culture. A culture obsessed with "winning".

Maybe we need to learn how to lose. Keep a long game perspective. Perhaps we need to develop a certainty that comes not from rationality but from wisdom, patience, and tolerance. Not just a tolerance to others but a tolerance to other beliefs and ways of seeing the world.

This is where Indians in America can make us all better. Perhaps even save us from ourselves.






~ G

Tel: +1 (917) 770-1097

Saturday, February 22, 2014

I love "Her", too.




We need mirrors to see ourselves. Though what we see in the mirror is not how others see us. Our perspective warps us from truly seeing how we look to others, even though we think we see. It's a paradox; an illusion. Just like this film, "Her". 

In a way, interacting with a computer is similar to a mirror, given our evolving need for the self-affirmation it continues to provide; fostering greater solipsism and narcissism in return. This much we probably know and agree. It's cliche to state the obvious and pernicious effects of technology. 

The common and decent sense in us knows it can only end badly when a "man falls in love with his operating system". That it is pathetic and sad that the possibility of anything genuine can be fathomed. Though something stirs within you watching "Her". There is no clear moral tale. There is an ambiguity to what our ever evolving relationship with technology means; leaving so much open to interpretation.  

I won't give away too much about the film, but let's just say I found myself wondering about the computer's behavior days after watching the film. Provoking this reflection, I suppose, is what makes this film so utopic about its technological vision of the near future. The OS, played scintillatingly by Scarlet Johansson's voice (who without a doubt deserves an Oscar nod for this role), fulfills a similar function. It makes people who use her think and feel in new and surprising ways. Love, then, becomes inevitable. Does it matter if she is not real?

Since the advent of the Turing test, in the 50s, though, we are often easily fooled through the prisms of computers. The artificial pretending to be real, if done well, casts a spell on us that is only broken when we learn something is not real. We feel duped. But our reactions are genuine nonetheless. This happens often and not just with computers.  

It happens with art, tv shows, plays and literature equally. We allow a relationship to form with these other forms of artifice, but draw the line at computers. We suspend our belief and give into the make-believe, and go along with it. Often, though not always, we are deeply moved, even though we have been staring at a radiating screen; or abstract letters; or grown adults pretending to be someone else, conjuring up emotions and experiences within us. We know it's not real, but the symbolism and the message help us project into the universal realm of ideas about beauty, truth and other philosophical notions that fulfill something deep within us. 

Within this context, having a transcendent experience, happens all the time artificially. It is no surprise then, that our main protagonist, played with such vulnerable heartache by Joaquin Phoenix, forms a meaningful relationship with his operating system. If his relationship is observed carefully, diligently, we end up learning so much about ourselves, and the nature of love.

What is galling to most is that the notion here is taken a step further than most of our relationship is to artifice; into a romantic realm. We may be fulfilled by literature or a symphony, but we don't fall in "love" with it in the romantic sense. There is something sacred, pure, authentic about our relations with another human being. Ignoring all the heartache and trauma most human relations cause. We still think it's worth it because it's real. The possibility exists that we think this way about real relationships because there is no credible alternative. "Her" provides this alternative and in the process unravels so much about about what is right and wrong with us in the modern era. 

The Scarlet J. OS goes from being insecure about what she doesn't have - a body - to seeing it as a strength; relying entirely on language. And it works. I am not sure what this says about us and whether this is encouraging. We find ourselves in a new world nobody yet completely understands. The greater reflection is on the role of language in love; which one could argue is the way most fall in, sustain and regain love in the modern era. Language itself is a technology; the greatest artifice ever invented. It certainly changed our relationship with each other. As did the industrial revolution, and the women's liberation movement. Love evolves, though love remains. It is heartening that we yearn for it and look for it and need it, no matter how strange things get.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wolf of Wall Street - What Doesn't Kill You Makes You American.



This movie is America. From our fascist tendencies, to what makes us tick. To what makes us sad and repellant. Perhaps also to what makes us lovable and attractive.  It is all here, in a little of under 3 hours, a front row seat to the modern American psyche.

Is this parody, satire, or is it just propaganda? The lines blur. That's kind of the point. We have become a caricature of ourselves. 

This is not a moral tale - of the excesses of greed and addiction - for that would have been another lesser and more obvious film. Rather, a light shines on us, all of us, both the wolves and the sheep. And when looked at with a certain detachment, there is a certain humor in the absurdity of it all. 

There is a void. We all fill it with different things - if not greed, than god, or hyper stimulation or work or family or charity. Or perhaps we ignore it. There is an anxiety about the human condition that is true. This film, in not judging, in observing the pathology, incriminates everyone. It is the first film that is not just an indictment of the supposed wrong doers - but equally the society that spawns, encourages and thrives on them - and the victims themselves for their naivetĂ© in believing in short-cuts along with the greed to get rich quick. 

And we laugh (this is a raucously funny film). Neuroscientists say laughter is a result of fear. When a fear feels imminent though not realized, and we feel assured of our safety, we release laughter, a relief, a spontaneous burst of joy. There is so much darkness here at the edge of this abyss, this film, yet we feel safe within it, even as the horror unfolds. Why? Because it's so exciting. Makes you feel so good. This way of life provides meaning and purpose to an otherwise drab existence. It's not about the money. This movie is an ode to an amoral vitality that we all worship in America. Fuck yeah!     

Jordan Belfourt, the protagonist, played to newfound majestic heights by Leonardo DiCaprio, may be a pathetic, drug addicted and exploiter of innocence - but he is alive in the arena. You are proud, repelled, awed, disgusted, attracted by him. The complex and contradictory feelings he evokes are exactly how most of us feel towards America. I am glad somebody finally captured it. And no surprise it's Marty, who has reached a new pinnacle in his film making. 


Sunday, December 01, 2013

Identity politics - ie the obsession with race, se

Identity politics - ie the obsession with race, sexuality and gender in particular - have fragmented our response to the greater problems in society - ie climate change, inequality, and the role of technology in our lives.

I would venture to say such an approach has led to the state of affairs we find ourselves in. If I were to pursue a research question seriously, I would explore the link between inequality and identity politics. This is a relic of the baby boomer "culture wars" that needs to go.

It is far easier to rally people around push- button empathetic causes rather than amorphous and technical issues that require persistent and unglamorous work that would benefit all of us.

What we react to and want to change in our society can not only be motivated by empathy. We must equally use reason and not be afraid to think.








~ G

Mauvais Sang


This is the first truly badass French film I've ever seen. It's so fucking good. 


As If someone was somehow able 
to combine all of the French New Wave into a cocktail speedball and boom: you'd have this movie, which leaves you more breathless than Breathless itself. 

It's a movie that wears it's influences on its sleeve. Punk rock. America. Godard. Film noir. But it's much more than the sum of its parts. 

It's the kind of film that if you saw when you were 15, would change the course of your life forever. Makes you want to live just to burn. Burn away youth. Make love to everyone. Drive real fast. Crash cars. 

Yes, the film is pure energy. It's also, 
because it's a French film, nonchalantly profound. This is what makes it so special. It is unable to shake off its intelligence, even in the midst of its revelry. 

It's also 1986. Need I say more ? The style. The incessant dystopia like feeling pervading the soul. 

A virus is infecting the people. You only get it if you have sex without love. Brilliant. 

And there is a love story here. An intriguing one that makes you understand the power of love without consummation. Endless seduction is endless ecstasy. Very French. 

Finally, Juliette Binoche. The center. The starlet that keeps everyone else in orbit harmoniously. She takes this ecstatic film to a whole other level. With a performance for the ages. 

Watch this film with someone you want to run away with. Far, far away. 

~ G

No better sleep

There is sometimes that moment, during a very grand film even, often especially so, when sleepiness takes you. You try and resist, afraid to miss out, though you know if you let go, that there is no better repose than one in which a beautiful film lullabies you gently in a dark theater; nourishing the subconscious and sweetening your dreams. Like a baby not wanting to fall asleep while on the breast.

And then you awake. And a second wind takes you and the clarity and focus return you to the plot. Though you are disoriented, the renewed alertness makes it less distressing. You take in being lost with wonder and the discovery of looking at things as if for the first time. The film
is renewed, as are you.






~ G