My big final project for one of my graduate classes is to conduct a field test using an emerging technology to tell a story. There is a lot of emerging technology out there and for some, I do not see an effective purpose in accurately telling a story— but that is why we go to school, to learn. I have since changed my mind about the value of virtual reality, 360 video, voice-activated artificial intelligence (Siri and Alexa), drones and even streaming video like Facebook live.
I decided to conduct my field test using virtual reality to share the story of Philadelphia, specifically the National Constitution Center where visitors can walk among the founders of our country. Philadelphia is chock full of historical landmarks, museums and founding history and some of it goes unnoticed because there is so many hidden gems. I chose the Signer’s Hall where visitors can sign the Constitution along with the 42 founding fathers present at the original signing on September 17, 1787. Signer’s Hall is one of the most popular exhibits of the National Constitution Center and would not only serve in telling the story of each founding father but would also serve as an interactive way of promoting the Center across the country.
Accomplishing this will be a challenge and I fully expect several issues in scanning each statue and building my virtual environment since I will be using free versions of Sketchfab, Unity and Autodesk. Another challenge will be planning the time that it will take to conduct the scans needed and then the time it will take to build the VR components. All challenges that are worth tackling to bring something historical to life.
Most of my posts on this blog are in response to assignments for my graduate degree in communications. I am specialising in journalism innovation so we talk and learn about all things technology and how it affects legacy media (old media) companies and new media (social). Within that discussion comes a lot of ethical considerations and many times we end up talking about sci-fi books or movies. I never thought I would talk at length about Demolition Man in graduate school. Needless to say, I will be bringing it up again (wait for it).
This blog is supposed to address how 360 video and virtual reality will affect my future or current career. Well, it already is affecting my career, which for the last 15-plus years has been television news and sports. It wasn’t long ago that we technical directors took 2D video and through video manipulation and use of angles that we tricked the human eye in seeing a 3D effect move across the screen. Then came HD television screens that had all on-air talent scrambling for MAC makeup and an air-brushed tan but ended up not being that bad. Yes, it was a much clearer picture, but you couldn’t see down to every pore on a person’s face as was claimed. Then there was the brief time period when television news stations were capturing the likenesses of their main on-air anchors so their mini version could walk out on your computer desktop or during your favorite daytime show and tell you the latest breaking news or weather update. That promotional feat lasted about as long as it wasn’t annoying (not very long).
Since then, technology has improved so much in the area of 360 and virtual video that there may be a real use for it. In my field, I could see it used for special events like the Fourth of July fireworks, 360 video cameras on a drone as fireworks are launched into the air would be pretty “spectacular” as we like to call them so often. Another special event: the Olympics, imagine being able to watch Katie Ledecky speed swim her events from the bottom of the pool. Or watching the World Cup as if you were standing in the middle of the field?
Are you talking about fluid transfers?
Using technology that can bring events so up close and personal, is a serious thing. From a journalism perspective, careful consideration needs to be made about when to use 360 or virtual reality video to convey information. It should not be used for death, destruction or manipulation of a person or people. Privacy rights are a formidable ethical issue as is disclosure of what the virtual story subject is. It is important that those choosing to transport themselves to a place of stress understand the ramifications. Whether viewing a virtual roller coaster or natural disaster, care has to be taken to avoid any incidents of stress on the viewer’s health. In the movie Demolition Man (I told you to wait for it), virtual and augmented reality have replaced the human connection so much that they live in a sterile and “clean” world.
I hope that sci-fi prediction does not become reality.
We live in exciting times, and scary times. Technology and innovation have never been more cutting edge. Who would have thought human kind would be living in artificial worlds through their video games, mobile games, and for combating mental illness.
When I hear 3D, and augmented reality, I think of video games like Call of Duty and mobile games like Pokemon Go. It was not until recently, with the continuing improvements in wearable VR like the Oculus, did I think a traditional “good” could come from an artificial world. Researchers are using VR to help those with acrophobia (fear of heights), fear of flying and other mental barriers that prevent a person from normal activity. That’s the exciting part. The scary part, is the possible use of virtual reality, 3D and such for reporting stories. It would seem a very few types of stories would benefit from such a technology, perhaps something that is worth bringing the reader intimately into the story environment. Perhaps the opening night at the Metropolitan Opera or Cirque du Soleil. Or perhaps transporting viewers to the current civil war going on in Syria. This is where I think some guidelines will eventually have to be set in place for journalists and content creators.
With enough patience and computer processing power, anyone can make a virtual world of reality or fantasy. The question becomes what is the context and for what purpose.
The very intimacy artificial reality, both virtual and augmented, even 360 video can bring traumatic events front and center causing the viewer to feel anxiety, stress and even triggering a response that may be detrimental.