Can virtual spaces make us better humans?

14 July 2021


Jeremy Hillman

The Conversation


Jeremy Hillman, director of corporate communications at World Bank, offers takeaways from our discussion with entrepreneurs Paulina Olsson, CEO and co-founder of Peppy Pals, and Eli Pariser, co-founder of New Public, which explored how virtual spaces can make us better friends, neighbours and citizens, building empathy and understanding.


From the virtual session on 5 July 2021


It seems hard to remember now only the unqualified enthusiasm and optimism so many of us held just a few years ago as we experienced the explosive growth of the internet and amazing power of these new social media platforms to connect us and give a voice to all.

These new spaces we were creating were supposed to be a democratising force, levelling the playing field and building new, inclusive communities. Though there have indeed been many transformative benefits as more of the world has moved online, most of us would admit now to an early naiveté.

After eighteen months during which many of us - but by no means all - have shifted our lives and work into virtual spaces, this conversation on how we can better design those spaces to achieve positive social outcomes is timelier and more urgent than ever. We were lucky enough to be joined by two deep thinkers and practitioners in this space. Paulina Olsson is founder of the education platform Peppy Pals and brings unique insight on the importance of empathy in creating inclusive spaces that support the development of social and emotional intelligence in our children. Eli Pariser was one of the earliest voices to identify the algorithmic dangers posed by social media platforms and presciently coined the term ‘filter bubble’. He founded and heads New Public, an organisation dedicated to building better digital public spaces.

The conversation was rich in insight with fascinating observations for parents and educators on how to design online environments and experiences that support children’s critical social and emotional development through storytelling, carefully designed interaction and gaming design. How might our societies be different if as children we played games “to feel rather than to win”? We know that successful public spaces like libraries and parks can make communities more resilient; could the same principles apply to the virtual world?

As we think about the workplaces we wish to inhabit, the educational environments we want for our children and the resilient and healthy communities we need, this conversation will be a critical one to continue at The Performance Theatre and beyond.

This session was part of the 2021 TPT Season. Read more about it here