Calling ALL Virtual Reality Skeptics


Photo: World Economic Forum

“I’m a skeptic,” a seasoned filmmaker, let’s call her Mary, told me not long ago standing in the middle of a VR festival.  “I’m a skeptic when it comes to virtual reality.”  No matter how many times I hear it, I am always perplexed.  I gave her my standard comeback,  “What are you skeptical about exactly?” adding, “I honestly don’t understand because we don’t know what it is yet.”   Mary makes wonderful movies and while she said the word skeptical, her eyes screamed disbeliever.   She’s convinced stories can’t be told in the waters of this evolving three dimensional technologies.

She’s not the only one, I meet lots of self-described skeptics logging miles among technologists, entrepreneurs, educators, investors, health providers, multi national corporations, creatives, governments, corporate leaders, and basically, anyone interested in the Fourth Revolution (see chart above).

Routinely, I also ask them all to hold off a minute and better yet, dig in, check out what’s being made (seeing as much of the content is being created for the first time), keep an open mind and even better think about how this might actually work in their domain of expertise.

Keep in mind, among the cyber-physical system sit emerging technologies of virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and artificial intelligence.  It’s not just one technology that is the question, it’s a number of viable technologies, like computer visualization and mobile computing power, that are driving incredible possibilities among emerging technologies.  They are huge buckets of potentially life changing tools defined by the nature of the hardware if any, software, content and application.

We live in a three dimensional world. It’s virtually impossible to think that this ability to manipulate things in and about our world in 3 dimensions will not  find relevance and scale accordingly.   Life is nothing but change and tech is innovating faster than most would have imagined even 50 years ago.  I mean,  Google’s  not even twenty years old and many of us, certainly above a certain age, cannot really recall the world before the search engine arrival.

For almost four years now there has been a yearly influx of new headsets, applications and creations into the marketplace.  New. It’s all new.  Before we dismiss virtual or augmented or mixed reality, envelope it in a choke hold of skepticism, let’s  first truly investigate how it might be relevant in your life or your work.

What and How. #VR #AR

1 human year = 7 dog years

Fall 2017.  Yikes.  Already. In the virtual reality and augmented reality world time passes more like dog years than human ones. If we say dogs metabolize at 7 years for every one of ours I would estimate emerging technologies are iterating at a rate of 3 to 1. The hardware, software and content is changing and improving fast. Now, we really need a break on the distribution and some real clues on the type of content that will excite consumers and enterprise efforts. To that end here are two of the best works on how to think about #VR and how to make it.

1) VRAR Association. I’m an advisor to the NYC Chapter and also part of the committee that produced:  The Top 10 VR Best Practices document, an aggregation of the growing body of collective knowledge. We don’t want teams reinventing the wheel on the most simple of anchors. There is plenty of room to compete, but there are too many basics we need to get right first. Let’s learn from one another. The perspectives reflected here are wide ranging, among them, producers, technologists, makers, and business interests.

2) IMMERSE. Ingrid Kopp lives at the intersection of art, film and emerging tech; has done so for a long time. A pioneer.   She’s written an article with a deceptively simple title, “Who is VR for?”.  It’s a critical question at this formative time. To answer it she provides her brilliant insight along with some of the most prolific and wise voices in the space including:  Kamal Sinclair-Sundance Institute, Jessica Brillhart- formerly of Google Jump and Katy Newton– formerly of IDEO.



Willa, Stephen and Walter on Storytelling

Storytelling since the beginning of time.

The truth is stories have not changed a bit in centuries.  The tools to tell stories have.  I mean really, ten years ago how many of us envisioned Giphys?

We have computers, the internet, pictures, video, film, radio, books, plays and now virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

As I fight my way into the new world- working on a big VR project- trying to crack the challenge that is 360 video, I’m looking to all sources of inspiration.  There is so much that has to get better in VR, starting with pre-production tools. How to even think about a narrative experience that is in great part driven by user choices, how to borrow time honored traditions of blocking originally from stage, and truly understanding what the experience of presence means.  Essentially, the idea of helping the user feel like they are there.

I’m looking back to look forward, one of my favorite activities.  Why reinvent the world every time on everything?  Willa Cather who wrote my all time favorite book, “My Antonia,” had this to say about stories, “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened.”

I’m re-reading, two profoundly great books on writing fiction specifically, yet are universal in application.  See them below, along with one of my favorite quotes from each.

  1. Stephen King | On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft



“[G}ood ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.“–Stephen King




2.  This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosely

The most important thing I’ve found about writing is that is is primarily an unconscious activity. What do I mean by this? I mean that a novel is larger than your head (or conscious mind). The connections, moods, metaphors, and experiences that you will call up while writing will come from a place deep inside you.”--Walter Mosely

Both are short books especially respective to each writers usual work. Some of King’s books might weigh more than a world encyclopedia, while this one comes in at a paltry 291 pages.  Moselys’ is much shorter, coming in at 100 pages of text.  I would advise reading in that order.  They are wonderful reads.

Thanks Willa, Stephen and Walter.  Your words sure are helping this week. Check them out and wish me luck!

Storytelling is like .. is like … can I get a metaphor please?

It’s easy to understand why a person might be confused about what the heck is going on with emerging immersive technologies.

What does that even mean? 

First, the emphasis is on technologIES as in there are many that are impacting one another.  To keep it simple, I’ll stick with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).  This may not be a perfect metaphor, but I often liken the technologies of VR and AR to Microsoft Suite products (Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, Excel).  To be clear, VR is the use of computer generated imagery or 360 video that allows a user to feel “presence,” a sense of being there; immersed via a headset providing a 3 dimensional experience.  AR is a digitally created image that is placed in the physical world, think a digital image of Donald Duck sitting next to you at lunch.

As for Microsoft, anyone from fashion designers to brain surgeons can use Powerpoint for any purpose and Excel has probably evolved in ways the inventors never thought about.


Could be anyone!

In a not to distant future, immersive technology will be just as ubiquitous.  Can you guess by looking at the woman below, what exactly she experiencing? No.

Good Times.

By themselves, VR and AR, are agnostic to purpose. It’s only in the application does it bring meaning to the user.  And there are tremendous uses that will affect ways we live and work from  going to the doctor or selling sneakers.

As a storyteller in tech, I am constantly trying to help inventors, entrepreneurs and investors explain their vision clearly, increasing the odds their audiences will understand and relate. It can be incredibly challenging. How do we put words to something that has never existed before?

I was honored to work with some visionaries at a recent health care accelerated run by NYC Media Lab and Publicis Health.  I was incredibly impressed by how quickly these teams-working on AR applications from optimizing physical therapy to engaging young women in preventative healthcare- were able to revise their initial attempts at articulating their vision and prototypes.

The most important effort each of the six teams made was to zone in on what their audience members might relate to as a human being, and as a professional.  It can be as simple as a question: how many of you have had physical therapy? In a group of adults chances are most and right there the odds are more likely the listener will be interested in what comes next.

Obviously, there is much, much more to telling a story, but like all things sometimes sticking to one point is a worthy mission.


More Headlines Like THIS, Please

“Everyone is trying to decide the rules of VR and AR, because it’s a big mess. By Hugh Langley”

People want to untangle the VR mess

It’s tough for media makers.  Technology is changing fast.  I’ve sat in dozens of corporate offices the past few years listening to executives, in great frustration, try to figure out the future.   The future products, team make up;  right mix of skill sets who can build media products that- they desperately hope- will dazzle consumers and enterprise clients.

The “invisible” hand of invention, who knows what comes next.

We have learned,  the wizard that is technology casts inventions faster than corporations can respond, and there are far more questions than answers; basic questions like what is virtual reality, is 360 video really #VR, or mixed reality, what is that?  What kind of content will cross over from enthusiastic gamers to the masses?  Will it be news, entertainment, enterprise applications that drive demand?  What are the ethical questions we know of and how do we prepare for the ones that will come up? Who should be in the room thinking about these questions?  Developing products? Commercializing?

“Let me just lay down for a minute …”

It’s enough to make anyone avoid topic, dismiss the immersive tech trends and concentrate on clicks through rates; though as the media giants know well, there are no easy answers there either.

This article by @HughLangley on, titled, “Everyone is trying to decide the rules of VR & AR, because it’s a big mess,” is dead on.  Mess might be a strong word, given, it’s not intentional but merely a function of monstrous evolution of new technology.  But he speaks well about the struggle, and attempts by many including, the IEEE,  The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers,  and CTA, the Consumer Technological Association, to take the first step.

It boils down to the first step. And  executives might think about that as they build teams or look at internal teams grappling with the future.   New challenges, call for new thinking.  Not new as in, radical, but new as the makeup of the people tackling the questions.

We know this.  With each new evolution, from books to radio, to network television, to cable television. Two basic things have happened:  1. Someone had an idea, then it was eventually executed and 2.  That new something drew a cross section of people who had little, if any direct experience because inherently no one could of since there was previously no product and no market.

The iconic Bill S. Paley, founder of the CBS network, as the story goes, started in the family cigar business and ended up in network television in a quest for advertising distribution.  Or take, Geraldine Laybourne, who started as a teacher and went on to built Nickelodeon into what we know today and co-found Oxygen television, selling to NBC Universal.

There are endless examples for a simple point. Digital consumption is today, it is the future. Immersive technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality are also the future, though we have little data to know for sure what it will look like in five, ten or twenty years.  If history is any guide, the people who drive discernible change are unlikely to be the usual suspects.

We are at a point in time where keeping an open mind will in hindsight look like a brilliant strategy. That is to say, look at people who have successful track records in tech, or film or digital and then something else, perhaps in education or journalism or art, then keep looking, perhaps they are stage set designers or carpenters and so on who have a great interest in these emerging immersive technologies. The wider the aperture of each individual involved, the more profound the collective will be in seeing new possibilities.  

I am betting a lot on this.  The “unconventional” team will win and they will win big.