Shireen Mohyi

Is Virtual Reality Really Going To Be Our New Reality?

googleThis is the year of some serious technological evolution … and it’s time to prepare.

The goal of a journalist is to create a visual through words. Through colorful phrasing, thoughtful descriptions and an expansive vocabulary, we create a movie in the mind. The point of telling stories about the world around us is to evoke emotion from the reader. We’re all aiming to produce some empathy from our work; we want the reader to really feel like they are standing in the shoes of our subjects. We want them to really understand why we think this one thing is worth talking about — or at least thinking about. We want them to understand the story as if they’d witnessed it. If we had something like an empathy machine, our storytelling would be much more influential.

Empathy machine. That’s what Nonny de la Peña, news correspondent and documentarian, called virtual reality early in her experience of the technology. Virtual reality is exactly what you think it is, and it’s improving every day.

“You really engage on scene in a way that gives you this incredible connection to where you are,” de la Peña told The New York Times. “And that’s why, early on, I was calling it an empathy generator, an empathy machine.”

The benefits of virtual reality for a journalist is huge: it submerges the audience into a (close enough) real-life situation of the story being told, making the audience feel like a witness to what is being portrayed.

Virtual reality is in its early days of development. Think of it as the giant brick phone of cell phones, as Ted Schilowitz, the in-house futurist at 20th Century Fox, explained to the New York Times.

In November, the publication sent a pair of virtual reality glasses to its subscribers to allow them to experience a visual explanation of a handful stories from their website. The Times isn’t the only one that is dabbling in the virtual world: Sony, HTC, and Facebook are working on affordable headsets to put on the market. Disney, Comcast and Time Warner are spending millions trying to create content for this devices. Samsung has released the Samsung Gear VR for only $100, which is decently priced considering the experience. This new way of story-telling is here, and though it isn’t mainstream yet, it will become the standard of reporting before we know it.

In the article, The Biggest Challenges Facing The News Industry in 2016 from Fastcompany.com, journalism scholars and reporters reflect on what they think will be the biggest ways the industry will shake up in these next twelve months. Robert Hernandez, a journalism associate professor at USC, believes that this rising technology will soon catch up with news organizations and change the face of journalism. But since the tech isn’t mainstream and not yet fully in-demand, do we really need to invest our time and money adapting to a way of communicating? According to Hernandez, absolutely, and he’s right.

It’s 2016 and social media has found its way into nearly every area of day-to-day life over the past four years and we’re still learning to perfect the art of effective communication in 140 characters or less. It’s in the best interest of communication and journalism professionals of all kinds to ease their way into the world of virtual reality. Hernandez explains that he and his students are already preparing drafts of virtual reality journalism on platforms like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Cardboard. Emerging college graduates are riding the wave of modern technological insight and if this is the year for the virtual world to become real, it’s time we familiarize ourselves with the virtual world. — Shireen Mohyi

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