My initial impressions of the Virtual Reality image concept was that VR seemed like a bell or a whistle but wouldn’t make much of a day-to-day difference to my image viewing experience. In fact, that was the impression I’d had since the mid-1990’s when photographers started playing with VR imaging.
Last spring when I arrived at SXSW Interactive in Austin, I was still skeptical of VR. I had begun to see what the new VR experience was like when in the hands of a true storyteller, but it still wasn’t enough for me. The technology had definitely gotten better, and the experience was first person – much different than moving a cursor across a web page – but I still couldn’t connect the dots to see how it could become a useful, mainstream daily experience.
Early on Sunday morning at SXSW, Peter Krogh nudged me out of bed to check out a program that wasn’t on our agenda. By that time, I’d been at SXSW long enough to know never to pass up an opportunity to learn something new and meet new people. The program, Storytelling with the New Screens, featured a panelist associated with the Annenberg Innovation Lab at USC.
All I can tell you is that dash across the street at 9 am made the whole trip to Austin worthwhile. As promised in the SXSW program description, the session answered the question, “How will 3D printers, virtual reality, augmented reality, smart objects and smart cities reinvent the future of storytelling?” by “… sharing a number of the lab’s transmedia storytelling experiments and prototypes (including a combination of 3d printing and augmented reality, a ‘smart home’ entertainment experience built in the Oculus Rift, an ‘asymmetric multiplayer movie-watching experience’ in Google Glass, and a tangible media prototype connecting a smart designer toy to a data-driven iPad storybook).”
For the first time, I could see a much better picture of how VR and other media along with the Internet of Things and API’s are going to shape our experience. This new medium isn’t just a hardware/software paradigm shift. This is a storyteller and media experience shift. This is a whole “throw everything you know or own away” shift.
I returned to Pittsburgh and immediately started researching and experimenting with new VR & AR (Augmented Reality) technology. I bought my Google Cardboard and set out exploring the media platforms that are launching (seemingly every week) to deliver these new experiences.
I have observed two important things. First, is that the technology and the platforms are just bells and whistles, unless they allow for seamless and meaningful experiences. Second, that traditional stories are not always translatable to this new medium; that it’s not just an “Add On” to old media creations. This new storytelling medium requires a new thesaurus – a new approach that is, to me, both exciting and brimming with potential.
I encourage you to check out these resources from Storytelling with the New Screens at SXSW 2015:
Annenberg Innovation Lab:
VRSE Storytelling in Virtual Reality
New York Times Virtual Reality