The cost of calling VR a bogus trend and being wrong are too high.
Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr
Virtual reality is on the verge of being real enough to reach mass markets, requiring every content farm to ramp up production on stories about virtual reality.
On the one hand, VR appears to be just another content bubble that needs the "trend treatment" to establish it as something that was not missed in the stream of daily trends. Virtual reality is also another potential savior of the media business, however, creating another incentive for content farms to plow it.
Every company that sees itself as a 'technology company' sees VR as the promise of tomorrow. Last week, a virtual reality film debuted at Cannes, and Steven Spielberg went on record as being wary of the technology. "I think we're moving into a dangerous medium with virtual reality," Spielberg prophesied, for the sake of VR headlines. "The only reason I say it is dangerous is because it gives the viewer a lot of latitude not to take direction from the storytellers but make their own choices of where to look." Multiple digital media companies at this year's Digital Newfronts launched virtual reality studios or announced content.The Guardian's 6x9 art installation is an introduction to the possibilities of virtual reality, conveying the life in solitary confinement.
If you read most tech sites, you can get the sense that cell phones will soon turn into virtual reality capable devices that will further remove you from the moment you are stuck in.
The desire for virtual reality as a widely-available medium signifies a lack of faith in the current mediums of media
As the gatekeepers of topical knowledge, explaining the realm of virtual reality is the duty of the content farm. Of course, to the content consumer, this is no different than any other newsworthy event or trend. However, when content farms without authority attempt to present virtual reality as a reality to their readers, there is an underwhelming impact to the stories. Even the most engaging video content falls a bit flat, as there is no way to authentically portray the new virtual reality. Content about virtual reality is boring.
The lack of traction in VR content suggests the technology might not even exist. It may just be an explainer-worthy microtrend that will never manifest itself in seeing people wearing headsets in the real world.
Coverage of virtual reality in the reality presented by content farms can only come across as a little bit ridiculous. It's hard enough for them to explain reality. How can a content farmer artfully and responsibly uphold the ethical standards of both realities? One of the initial undertones of virtual reality coverage seems to conjure up backlash for those who are fans of good ol' fashioned reality.
In teaser content like the video for the Samsung Bedtime VR Story device, that readers will distrust as marketing schtick, virtual reality firms will attempt to humanize the realm of virtual reality. Content farms must cover this if they want to remain topical. The tone of the tolerant content farm must remember that it is rooted in humanity. Storytelling can only be done by yesterday's standards of word of written and spoken word. Vlogging, blogging, tweeting, vlogging and Instagramming, Periscoping and Facebook Live-ing are still okay, too. The pros of novelty are outweighed by the cons of outsourcing parental roles to technology.
Ultimately, virtual reality isn't cutting edge enough to merit disruptive coverage. However, every media outlet is required to cover it because it might change everything.
Think beyond obvious realms of society like gaming. Entertainment, journalism, art, politics, food, commerce, and every content vertical that covers reality could be plausibly impacted by virtual reality.
Technology coverage bubbles are built upon high-production of plausible disruption. Last month, it felt like a chatbot revolution was coming. Meerkat once 'won' SXSW 2015. Apple keynotes were once the liveblogging capital of the world. These are all seeded in plausible disruption.
The virtual reality arms race is one that has united content and technology gatekeepers into making sure they control the reality of the future. Virtual reality is both a content topic, and the plausible promise of tomorrow for companies. If content farms have their way, Google Daydream and Oculus Rift could become the Apple and Android of tomorrow, both driving interest and providing an affordable platform to mass markets to create VR content and commerce.
If you subscribe to the school of thought that accepts that the medium is the message, it means that the desire for virtual reality as a widely-available medium signifies a lack of faith in the current mediums of media. The clamoring for the novelty of virtual reality as a ubiquitous technology is rooted in the desire to let go of the limitations of text, photographs, and video as the #storytelling devices that content companies have mastered.
When readers have been consuming the kitchen sink for years, filling it up with another ounce of content makes the promise of disruption come across as misleading. Virtual reality is either the promise to exist in a space free of dishonest content or more easily consume all possible content in one experience. Of course, these concepts are ideas that are very clear to me, but perhaps when I can portray them in an instance of a virtual reality, they could become more clear to the reader.