Last week, I attended a stimulating event at Second Home´s cultural workspace in the plant-filled rafters of the Timeout Market in Lisbon. The British Embassy invited Sol Rogers, CEO of Virtual Reality and Creative Production Agency REWIND, to give a talk on what immersive technology means for marketing.
Rogers shared not only a fascinating insight to the work his company produces, but also his own opinions and forecasts of where immersive technology is headed. One of the most interesting topics brought up for discussion was hyper-reality; where real-reality and virtual reality are combined, resulting in the observer being unable to distinguish between the two. A hypothetical scenario that Rogers predicts will come to the public utilises the VR headset, where everyone will wear them and constantly see things in hyper-reality (watch this dystopic short video). Looking at the capabilities of the already existing technology, it could be possible to buy a digital Ferrari mask to cover up your bog-standard car so that everyone within a certain mile radius would see the mask too, or even virtual mask onto your significant other to give the illusion of them being someone else (which I personally find very disturbing!).
Rogers showed us a couple of examples of how virtual illusions have already been used, like during the opening ceremony of the League of Legends Worlds 2017, where a live AR dragon flew around the stadium, as well as various occasions where dead singers like Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Tupac have been “brought back to life” on stage. While this is obviously a brilliant innovation with exciting possibilities, there is some controversy about it being used in this way, and concern about other ways it could be used.
Another scenario would be where people begin purchasing things like huge virtual TVs and virtual copies of priceless pieces of artwork for their homes so that anyone wearing the VR headset would be able to see these objects in situation, as if they were physically there. Although the road to mass adoption is slow, the question this raises is that of value. If it becomes possible for everyone to purchase a virtual emulation of the Mona Lisa, matched exactly in colour, relief and texture, surely this would make it worthless? If everyone was able to purchase an illusion of their dream house/car, surely there would be no need for the physical to have any design or craftsmanship anymore? Rogers responded by expressing how digital assets have no physical value yet, but it could be a case of this coming into play – so there would be a charge to purchase a virtual replica of an artistic masterpiece, and there might be a limited number of copies. There is also the hope and belief that story, design principles and craftsmanship are still and will always be cherished.
Ultimately, I am certain I am not the only one that can see the potential psychological dangers of adopting immersive technologies in this way. It is exactly the sort of thing Charlie Broker is exposing in Black Mirror, with episodes like Nose Dive. There is a scene right at the start of the episode where the estate agent shows the protagonist a hyper-real version of what her life could be like in a new house with a sexy man in tow. As with the lesson learned from that particular episode where everyone swept up in the virtual world is unhappy, insecure and oblivious to what is physically around them, surely that will become a societal reality if we begin adopting these technologies in this way?
Inevitably, “mixed reality is the future of humanity”.
Photos © Joana Duarte