Speaking before the United States Commission on Civil Rights in May 2018, Shared_Studios COO Jake Levin testified on peacebuilding and resisting hate with technology. Find the transcript below.
Good afternoon. My name is Jake Levin, and I am speaking on behalf of the organization Shared_Studios.
We are a collective of artists, community organizers and former lawyers who are working to connect diverse communities around the world through live, full body video environments called Portals. When you enter a Portal, you come face to face with someone in a similar Portal somewhere else around the world, and can speak as if standing in the same room. Participants have expressed feeling as though they are “breathing the same air” as someone who may be thousands of miles away.
We are working to create a world where people from a tech hub in Rwanda and a community center in Milwaukee can engage one another in intimate dialogue, collaborate on new ideas, create art, and play.
More than 150,000 Portal participants have experienced a connection over the last three years. Conversations have ranged from the deeply personal to the everyday. Here in Washington, a drone pilot for the U.S. Air Force met an Afghan man for the first time through the Portal, only days after flying drones through Afghan airspace. A group of Palestinian women shared a Portal conversation with an Israeli entrepreneur and an Iranian artist, discussing their inability to receive proper cancer care in Gaza City. Iraqi students and their teacher met with members of Congress before a scheduled vote on the Education For All Act, which directed funds to education in emergency zones. All of those members of Congress voted “yes.”
For the last two years, Portals have also connected heavily policed communities across America and Mexico. Residents in a number of cities have come together in Portals to strategize about how to improve police-community relations. And on the ground in Milwaukee, our Portal Curator used his position to bring together rival gangs to create local truces, which led to the creation of a neighborhood watch coalition.
While polarization seems to be on the rise, study after study reinforces the idea that hate is reduced through deliberate dialogue between diverse groups. Individuals and groups on opposing sides of conflict rarely find opportunities to connect face to face, let alone collaborate. We believe that if we can create enough opportunities for different individuals to share the same physical space, they will quickly realize that our similarities outnumber our differences.
We have allowed social media and new technologies to drive us deeper into our own tribes. In these insulated social groups hatred can thrive. But Portals create spaces for dialogue outside our tribes that challenge stereotypes and broaden worldviews. Portals demonstrate that technology, if constructed well, can thrive as a vehicle for peace. Innovations in immersive technology are fundamentally reshaping how we counter hatred and violence, and I hope you’ll remember Portals as we all seek new solutions to these enduring problems.