“When film cameras first arrived, people weren’t sure what to do with them. It was obvious that these devices could be used for entertainment, but early directors didn’t have any precedent to work off of. The best thing they could think of was to film plays – after all, they were already there.” [i]
David Thier, Forbes
It’s a phenomenon that Rhapsody (Napster) founder Rob Reid refers to as ‘shooting the proscenium arch’. The proscenium being the architecture that frames a traditional theatrical stage. And what he means is that when new media technology turns up, we all frantically try to apply old methods to it and assume it’ll be the best way for it to work:
“The proscenium arch has many forms, and it lurks at the birth of all media. Early radio broadcasters whose announcers read directly from newspapers were shooting the proscenium arch. TV broadcasters who pointed their cameras at chitchatting radio announcers were shooting it as well. But the proscenium arch’s day always passes quickly, as familiarity with a new medium grows, and content evolves in directions that its earliest pioneers could not have foreseen.”
VR/AR – or ‘new realities’ – as an industry is very much in its infancy (despite forays into the technology as early as 1838 with stereoscopic photography), in a world still trying to suss out what we can do with it; mostly by way of shooting a lot of low quality prosceniums and hoping for the best. But we can (hopefully) all see the potential… and whilst it’s very easy to default to perhaps only seeing the obvious potential for gaming/entertainment/the arts, when I went along to the Virtual Reality London Show I was excited to see that it’s actually academia, science/medicine, and charities leading the empathy machine charge.
First port-of-call was to the BirdLife International’s stand, so that I could spend a few minutes with their beautiful film Walk With Penguins. A really emotive 360° short film created by the award-winning Visualise that puts you on a craggy rock-face amongst Southern Rockhopper, King, Magellanic, and Gentoo Penguins in a bid to raise awareness of the extinction threat that they face.
Visualise actually had a documentary studio at the event, showcasing the great 360° work they’ve done for the likes of the Economist and Médecins Sans Frontières – showcasing the importance of the medium for journalism, empathy and immersive real-world storytelling.
A ‘VR Hospital’ had been custom-built to showcase medical innovations using the technology. From surgical training and pain management to revolutionary research projects spearheaded by world-leading institutions such as Bart’s Cancer Institute.
I couldn’t really begin to understand most of these examples, because as surprising as it might be to some, I don’t have a background in medicine. But one I could get my head around was the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies’ Bravemind project (and not because I have a military background either, but simply because I’m a human). In a nutshell, it’s a breakthrough VR exposure therapy system that is currently being used successfully in 50 US locations as a treatment for (mostly) combat-related PTSD.
Running concurrently were some really interesting conference talks that I attended, but being really honest, I much preferred just getting in amongst the tech… and there was a standout tech giant present: NASA were there! Who wouldn’t be excited about seeing NASA stuff? Their Jet Propulsion Lab were there to demonstrate the OnSight project (using in the most part, the Microsoft HoloLens), a mixed reality technology being used by NASA scientists and engineers to take space exploration to the next level… and not in the future, it’s happening right now. To infinity and beyond indeed…
…and infinity is the right word. With hardware evolving at pace and content improving and developing, we might soon be through this proscenium arch phase, and who knows what comes next in the unchartered territory of infinity?
And the really exciting thing is that we can all have a hand in it; technologies of this potential magnitude rarely come along, so shake off that dust of reality and dig in.
Or, stay put and perhaps get left in the dust…
Stay tuned to see where these new reality explorers take things… after all, “only those who can see the invisible can do the impossible”. Frank Gaines
[i] David Their, Forbes Mar 2012, Shooting the Proscenium Arch: How People Fail to Realize Technology’s Potential https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidthier/2012/03/16/shooting-the-proscenium-arch-how-people-fail-to-realize-technologys-potential/#1a0e985b1e57