Before a session on using immersive 3D devices for experiential storytelling began at the International Symposium On Online Journalism (ISOJ) in Austin a few weeks ago, symposium organizer Rosental Alves proclaimed that this would be the session most remembered in ten years. After the session ended, I was pretty certain his prediction will be right.
Virtual reality (VR), long promised but never totally delivered, seems to be on the cusp of completely taking over our lives. Want to look around a home before you rent/buy without ever setting foot in it? Go ahead:
Want to stand next to Paul McCartney’s piano during a concert and look upon him or out at the crowd? There’s an app for that. Want to walk around the edge of the Space Needle without making your stomach jump through your throat? You will be able to do that soon as well.
The session on virtual reality featured a panel of three academic/industry professionals and was moderated by Robert Hernadez (aka @webjournalist), a “hackademic” at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Hernandez explained that the main reason the VR adoption rate is at an all time high is because the technology to use it is finally widely available. “There are more mobile devices in the world than toothbrushes,” Hernandez quipped. Because VR technology can now be used via tablets and phones, and because of Oculus Rift’s meteoric rise, the audience is finally ready, he said. And it seems the journalist community is also ready.
In April, The New York Times Magazine commissioned an artist to create a 150-foot-tall black and white image of a 20-year-old Azerbaijani immigrant onto the sidewalk in front of Manhattan’s Flatiron Building and filmed the enterprise for a VR experience called “Walking New York.”
The Des Moines Register recently created a virtual experience that allowed viewers to explore a sixth-generation Iowa farm in the midst of substantial change. And Nonny de la Peña, a fellow at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the founder of the VR company Emblematic Group (and a speaker at the ISOJ session), shared some immersive journalism projects she has been working on including “Project Syria” and “One Dark Night.” The former puts the viewer in the Aleppo district of Syria where they bear witness to a rocket strike and the aftermath. The latter puts the viewer on the scene of the killing of Trayvon Martin. Both are VR-powered reenactments designed to give the audience a sense of actually “being there” and allowing them to experience the moments that alter lives and make headlines.
While the journalism industry continues to experiment with and embrace VR technology, it’s safe to say the video game and real estate industries are already deeply in love with it. It’s also safe to say that many other industries will be following suit in the not-too-distant future. The possibilities for the PR and advertising industries seem limitless. VR technology is probably a natural fit for the tourism industry. And what if you were able to virtually wander around an old antique store in the middle of nowhere and find that unique and perfect gift? Retailers of all shapes and sizes should be looking closely at what is on the horizon.
Whatever the future holds, now is the time for leaders of companies and industry to begin considering the possibilities. The opportunity to innovate has never been better … and that’s the simple reality.
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