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VR, Placemaking and spirituality … one momentous day clarified it all for me.  While VR and AR are among some of the hottest topics at CES this year, we still have a fundamental need to find meaning in and add value to our physical world.  The anthropologists have been speaking about this for decades.  They call it Placemaking.  In essence, we, human beings, have a deep seated need to connect with the physical places and spaces that surround us.  This explains why we love to take photos of our environment, why so many social media groups popped over of the years dedicated to local communities, and, why vinyl records soared last year according to last year’s SXSW; and why we still love to decorate our homes. (For more of a description of Placemaking, see my article, Meaning of Mobile)

The concept of Placemaking didn’t just crop up just because of CES, but because I experienced it, first-hand, and in a highly dramatic, spiritual and meaningful way during this holiday season.   You see, my family traveled to Israel, specifically, Jerusalem, to celebrate my son’s bar mitzvah.  We gathered my extended family for a weekend of prayer; good and plentiful Israeli food; and togetherness in the historic Mt Zion Hotel.  Through it all we were overlooking the old city of Jerusalem, and the Hinnom Valley.

To give you some context, the Mt Zion structure was built in 1882 by Members of the Order of St. John, a British charitable organization dating back to the time of the Crusades.  The building housed an eye hospital serving Muslims, Jews, and Christians from all over the Middle East.  During Israel’s War of Independence, the building and a secret cable car attached to it, were used during the night to transfer medicine and arms to Mount Zion, and the wounded soldiers and Old City dwellers to the hospital.  In the daytime the cable was lowered to the ground so as not to be seen.  Years later it was converted into a hotel.  As you can tell from the pictures, it has a classic middle eastern feel, with arched ceilings, mosaic walls, Jerusalem stone and lush gardens.

Experiencing the events of the bar mitzvah in such a historic building — all the while having a view of Jerusalem’s Old City Wall, places of worship and ancient buildings — impacted us greatly.  The setting added beauty, spirituality, history and meaning to my son’s once-in-a-lifetime event that we would not have experienced anywhere else.   The  environment reminded us that my son’s bar mitzvah is a ritual that has dated back centuries, and is part of a religion that has a vast and rich history.  The beautiful hotel rooms in which we dined added a sense of splendor to the event.  And the middle eastern touches, he turkish hammam, morrocon-style furniture and decor, and the classic Judaica surrounding the common spaces, exemplified the mixing of cultures that has strongly impacted the people of Israel and their country.

Like so many of you, I love technology and what it brings us.  How can I not?  I make my living from it :).  But while technology can  transport us out of reality and out of our physical environments, let’s not forget the primal desire we have to surround ourselves with the physical.  We strongly need to touch, feel, plant our feet and smell the real world around us.  As my son’s bar mitzvah shows us, physical space not only grounds us, it heightens our experience.  It connects us to our worlds, to others, and to ourselves.

As we race into the future, don’t forget to embrace our physical world.  It’s primal, it’s necessary, and it’s amazing.

P.S., If any of you are attending NRF Big Show in NYC in a week, please join me on my panel and Beautyskew podcasts! More details to follow in next week’s post.

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