The Virtual Dive Machine

The final plenary speech at a very large conference. This scientist bears a superficial resemblance to another in the public eye: an ageing rock star who also has added a podium to his stage. Bald, spare, charismatic.

He tells us our bedtime story, the lines as familiar now as a fairytale, though one that’s more Brothers Grimm than Walt Disney. Humans have exceeded even the worst expectations of our climate experts. We have catapulted beyond the highest emissions scenario, making ocean temperatures that kill corals not a decadal risk but an annual expectation.

Pretty at first, bleached coral will often be coated in algae (image:

Just when he has brought his audience to sighs, shakes of the heads, and perhaps, hidden in the dark, the occasional tear, he draws us in close.

But wait, he says. We still have a chance. A chance to change the lifetime long habits, wants, desires and normal patterns of behaviour of hundreds of millions of our fellow inhabitants of the blue planet. He says: you can be part of this too. This new persuasive technology that will lead us out of the dark and into a new and enlightened age.

I creep forward on my seat. I, too, want something simple. Something easy. A hammer-like tool that will fix our naily problems.

A virtual dive machine.

Google’s virtual dive machine (from Daily Mail)

A 3-D, online, videoed reef-like experience.

Your reef can be filmed! He says. When people experience the sublime beauty, how can they fail to be moved?

People around me nod, remembering their last, or first, suspension in our submarine paradise. The heavens do not exist above, they know. They are there below, just beyond our coastlines, a world of wonder and exquisite loveliness.

Yes. The perfect weapon. Who would kill a coral?

I tell it as a joke: to an anthropologist, a science and technology study scholar, a leisurologist (!), a human & a political ecologist, a sociologist, a bureaucrat, a geographer and a participatory resource management class; my immediate colleagues and friends are more social than scientists.

They all laugh, some wryly, some sadly, some incredulously. It is silly. Ridiculous. Pathetic.

But each time I tell the story, now twisted from Grimm to Dahl, I also feel it’s a betrayal: of hope, of faith, and of good intentions. Easy to throw stones from ivory towers, my sociological peers usually seek to explain and understand our road to self-destruction rather than alter it. And who am I to say what will convince everyone else?

A mean inner voice says “if Nemo couldn’t, this certainly can’t”, and my scholarly index says “not the way the world works”, but impact and persuasion tendrils are unwieldy, and this man’s eggs are not all in his virtual dive basket. His cross-platform efforts to promote and convince may yet yield the fruits of change.

I will stand small on the sidelines, waving an encouraging flag.

This reflection was prompted by preparations for next week’s  Science Rewired Launch event where Cobi Smith and I (Deborah Cleland) will be presenting on ‘Gaming for Good’

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