There’s a New Content Frontier in Town, and It’s Changing Everything

Nicola Brown, MPC 2014

In case you’ve been living under a rock, a little worldwide obsession called Pokémon Go dominated public consciousness recently.

Pokemon GO

The game has ushered in the first real mainstream embrace of augmented reality that we’ve seen. Everyone from game enthusiasts to psychologists has weighed in on the phenomenon. Whether you love or hate it, Pokémon Go offers some new food for thought about the future of content, technology, and our relationship to social media.

In trying to grapple with this new gotta-catch-em-all obsession, experts have speculated everything from novelty to nostalgia could be drawing us in. Perhaps it’s that the game is extremely accessible (it’s free and you already have the device you need to play it, a smartphone). Perhaps it’s a form of herd mentality or a need to escape our day-to-day lives. Or perhaps it enables a new kind of social connection, where a shared love of the game makes for easy conversation and offers plenty of fodder for our other lifeline, social media.

At the recent virtual reality world conference in Toronto, the theme was clear. The future of virtual and augmented reality technology is highly social. It is somewhat comforting that, in a world full of screens and devices, we still have an innate drive toward social connection with other human beings. Science has even proven that strong social circles are a key component of happiness and wellbeing.

Feature photo 2 - Virtual reality is the new content frontier. Credit - Wikipedia
Feature photo 2 – Virtual reality is the new content frontier. Credit – Wikipedia

ProCom Assistant Professor Dr. Frauke Zeller has seen first hand how virtual and augmented reality are tapping into our desires and motivations for social involvement in our communities. Her project Virtual Hamilton aims to place virtual and augmented reality technology in the hands of a community for the purposes of redesigning city streets. It is intended to be a new city planning tool for the City of Hamilton.

“This project is an attempt to bridge a gap in current research on how Web 2.0 technologies, and especially, virtual worlds, may be effectively utilized to facilitate stakeholder communication and achieve fuller civic participation in planning communities.”

If Pokémon Go is any indication, one of our driving motivations to use new technologies may in fact be all about achieving closer social relationships and deeper connections to our communities in ways we haven’t explored previously.

The popularity of Toronto’s new pop-up virtual reality cinema VIVIDVR (open until Sept 11) demonstrates that while the technology is clearly still in its infancy, people are excited to watch where it could go. According to a quick poll of the audience on which of the three films they most enjoyed, it was almost unanimous: I Am You. We are drawn to media rich in social and emotional depth that allows us to experience social connections in a new way.

North America’s first virtual reality cinema. Photo courtesy VIVIDVR.

As communication professionals we will play a central role in defining the evolution of these new technological media. We will guide everything from new creative expression to marketing to ethics. The question now isn’t whether or not virtual reality will change everything. It’s how can we shape that change?