By Arwa Michelle Mboya
In January 2020, I ran an in-person experiment for my thesis at the MIT Media Lab. The project, called Allo-I, is a virtual reality human interaction study that centers the lives and experiences of Black women—specifically, Kenyan women living in informal settlements in Nairobi. As far as I know, it’s the first research of its kind, and I wanted to understand how the participants interact with novel technologies like virtual reality (VR) and the content within them and tested to see whether the technology can result in more imaginative thinking about the future.
The study had 220 participants, half of whom participated in a VR experience. For the study, I used the Oculus Go device by Facebook. I chose that device because it was easy to use and lightweight. I can use the device anywhere and pre-downloaded all my content so that Wi-Fi wouldn’t be an issue. From an accessibility perspective, the Go felt like the right decision. But that was before I realized that Black hair was going to be a major issue for the completion of my work.