Immersive Futures Gathering Speed and Coming Closer

At #cityLIS we start Library and Information Science Foundations with the much loved History of Documents extending from rock art to digital libraries.  We then spend much of our time  studying the present or near history/future in order to grasp the most pressing theories and professional practice for 21st century librarians and information managers.  However we are also encouraged to contemplate the future: the future of the book, the future of libraries, the future of publishing and the future of information societies.  One key theme we’ve been introduced to is what a new generation of immersive, multisensory and transmedia documents may look like and what this will mean for library and information services.

I’ve been laid up in bed recently with the flu which whilst debilitating and then boring does provide plenty of time to catch up on neglected reading including a big pile of news feeds.  So far it seems 2015 has been quite a notable year for immersive.

Key Paper from #cityLIS Research

Firstly the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology published the early view online version of Lyn Robinson’s forthcoming article on this subject:

Multisensory, pervasive, immersive: Towards a new generation of documents
(DOI: 10.1002/asi.23328).

Robinson identifies three themes: pervasive information, multisensory technology and a participatory culture of transmedia storytelling that will once again challenge ideas of ‘What is a Document?‘, what it means to manage documents throughout the information communication chain and the information behaviours and literacies of users.

This future may be closer than we think.  Gartner’s emerging technologies hype cycle for 2014 has virtual reality hitting the slope of enlightenment.  A flurry of news stories already suggest 2015 may be seen one day as a breakthrough year for immersive much as 1994 was for the mainstream web and 2004 for social media.

Commercial VR Ramping Up?

It’s anticipated that Oculus VR is gearing up for commercial release this year.  Meanwhile Samsung look to be first to market with their Oculus powered Gear VR and Sony are working on Project Morpheus prototype but no hint of a release date.

They have been queuing up to try out VR headsets out in the BBC BlueRoom

I also read about how (@techcrunch) Mozilla think VR will be a “really big deal” but also “a really great challenge” and they are already starting to build WebVR into Firefox.  They are pursuing the question:

“Is it possible for the Web to evolve to become the Metaverse that Stephenson envisioned?” – Vladimir Vukićević

Which if nothing else gives us a very cool graphic of Firefox sprinting along wearing a VR headset.

Virtual Reality Films

It looks like Oculus have a new division called Story Studio to make immersive films.

Their first film is called Lost which TechCrunch described as “cute, immersive but hardly interactive“.  This suggests that multi sensory technology is still clunky and there is a long way to go in learning the new narrative economy of immersive transmedia.  TechCrunch suggest Chris Milk’s Evolution of Verse also in the New Frontier Sundance program as one of many films really exploring and rethinking what film narrative may look like in a changed experience of reality.

Over at the World Economic Forum in Davos the United Nations demonstrated that VR films don’t just have to be fiction.  Also created by Chris Milk their film Clouds Over Sidra (available using the VRSE app) takes viewers on an immersive experience into a Syrian refugee camp.  With the world so large and sometimes inaccessible will this ability to immerse us more deeply in the experiences of others enhance our empathy?

You Don’t Need a Headset …

OK you do, but the headset is just a frame for your smartphone.  At least that’s what Google Cardboard is.  It’s certainly not as hi-tech as Oculus Rift but it’s certainly more accessible and more creative way to get into immersive as their Maker’s Gallery would suggest.  There are also apps and films already available.

Source: Runner1928, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

For all the hi-tech promise of VR and AR headsets you shouldn’t underestimate the potential of simply getting something in people’s hands so they can do and make things with it.  It seems more likely that transmedia storytelling with android, some cardboard and a smartphone is more open to a participatory culture of storytelling than proprietary headsets with there SDKs.

Google Cardboard may not have been in the news recently but it came onto my radar at a recent family lunch (the one that gave me flu) it was given a “pretty cool” rating from my nephews which is a pretty high rating on the boy shrug enthusiasm scale.  Then Minecraft gets the ultimate endorsement from them at the moment so possibly they would be even more interested in …

Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft has been heavily pushing its augmented reality vision at its Windows 10 event: tricking the eyes into seeing holographs.  It’s not quite as immersive as full VR bringing a more obviously hybrid world of reality and unreality.  Perhaps this brings more flexibility in the short to medium term than full VR?  Only the use cases will tell.

Demo use cases include games (bringing Minecraft blocks to a coffee table near you), communications (Skyping instructions overlaid onto light switches) and exploration (a guided wander around Mars). This suggests no more will we have to huddle around a screen to see Minecraft sheep we’ll be able to watch happy nephews scatter them all over the living room.  The latter use case raises a lot of potential for immersive learning environments whilst the Skype example seems designed to ultimately end the careers of repair men once we have 3D printers to provide parts and overlaid talking heads to provide instructions.  Either that or it will bring a whole new level of immersive hell to corporate conference calls.

Longer Form, Immersive, Interactive, Experimental Storytelling

There are some intriguing experiments and innovations in narrative economy emerging not just in film but also theatre, museum exhibitions, television and learning.  James Atkinson shared this story about Mindcraft the Wellcome Collection’s interactive digital story about madness, murder and mental healing.  It’s still screen based but is exploring transmedia modes of storytelling inspired by the NY Times Snow Fall story and BBC iWonder programming like the Our World War interactive episode and Footballers United.

“On average, users spend more than twice as long looking at the story as they do our main website. We’ve started looking at the data we’ve gathered through Google Analytics and an online survey to evaluate the kind of engagement we’re creating with our digitised collections. But we think we’ve made a good start at slowing things down a little.” – Danny Birchill

The BBC launched BBC Taster on January 23rd: a whole new space for interacting with experimental ideas.  This opens up bleeding edge ideas from the BBC to their audiences to play with, share and rate.

 Bye Bye Internet

Back at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was busy disappearing the Internet.  Strangely this was interpreted as him predicting the demise of the internet rather than it reaching a point of maturity, ubiquity and pervasiveness that it would become seamless embedded into things. Many of us are already used to the internet always being on since we replaced dial-up with broadband so it is not that visionary to suggest it may melt further into the background though it brings a whole host of interface, interaction and ethical challenges.

Beyond Immersive: Ingestive

I also finally got around to watching Nicholas Negroponte’s 30-year history of the future Ted Talk.  As he says he’s experienced the future many, many times during his career at MIT Media Lab.  It’s almost impossible to compress this career into 20 minutes.  If immersive seems to now for the real futurists amongst us then he ends with the prediction that within 30 years we’ll be eating information.  If that sounds bizarre and insane that’s also what people said about the Media Lab experiments with touch screens in the 1970s.

That’s an awful lot of intriguing immersive news already this year and cityLIS is at the heart of watching it unfold and researching the implications.  If you want to keep up with this topic during 2015  follow Lyn Robinson and of course the #citylis hashtag and also #immersive or even both.

If you really really interested in these subjects and want to learn all about 21st Century LIS then maybe a City University London Masters programme with the Department of Library & Information Science is for you.

Featured image: TDF Episode 8 Oculus by Draxtor Despres (Source: Flickr). CC BY 2.0


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