I’ve seen the future of education, entertainment and engagement – and it’s amazing.
As someone who doesn’t watch television except for the 20-45 minutes I’m on the treadmill at the gym, my primary mode of entertainment is watching videos on my phone or iPad. Typically I watch documentaries or TED talks.
About six months ago I was surfing the TED.com website and came across a talk by a journalist. Among the many hats I wear, divorce lawyer, podcaster, filmmaker, I fashion myself as a “journalist light;” my writing is not the deep research like “Spotlight” was doing, but I do try to get my facts correct. So when I saw a TED talk about journalism I was intrigued.
The talk was by Nonny De La Peña and was titled “The Future of News? Virtual Reality,” and it was about her efforts to bring to life in new ways, the depth and dimension of a news story using technology. In her TED talk, the examples used are a man having a diabetic seizure while waiting to be helped in a food line here in Los Angeles, and a Syrian bombing of a public market.
As an introduction of what virtual reality can be used for, De La Peña’s talk was opening the door for me. I was definitely curious about what this new way of experiencing news, and the world, could mean.
After having watched that video, I ran into one of my new neighbors whom I hadn’t met yet. I asked what they do, and he said his company is developing virtual reality applications. I got so excited, “I just saw this great TED talk on that, it looks amazing.” He says, to me, “Yeah, that’s my boss.” It was kismet.
Over the course of the ensuing months, I’ve met his boss, and we’ve become business friendly, as we come and go from work. Last week though, I took her up on her invitation to come experience what they were doing.
We’d discussed my documentary about domestic violence before, so she put me in one of their new scenarios about domestic violence; a real 911 call, a murder suicide, was the basis for the story.
I began by putting on a set of goggles that is about half the size of a welder’s helmet, then a pair of headphones. At first I see nothing but black with white grid lines, and then the program starts and I find myself in an animated trailer park with a 360 degree view. There is introductory text that pops up to describe the basic scenario and then the audio starts, “911 operator…”
As the audio continues I am transported from outside to inside the trailer, where a man with a gun is threatening his girlfriend, her mother and sister. I can walk around and see different perspectives, all the while the audio is continuing of a terrified caller who wants to know where the police are, and why are they taking so long to get here. Eventually they arrive, and the scenario jumps outside, as there are two gunshots, one to the victim and one to the perpetrator. It ends with a wailing mother and sister.
The effect it had on me was tremendous. Being transported to a crime scene was exceedingly emotive. The reality of being “there” while knowing I was “here” was curious, but it allowed me to experience the situation, that with all my years of doing domestic violence work, I’ve never had access to.
Next up was a more enjoyable and creative experience. The same headset and headphones, but now I have two controllers, one for the environment and one for creating. I chose the Night Sky environment, and it was like being in a Hubble Telescope photograph but with the ability to paint and fly. The painting was by a controller and I could paint with thin brush or thick brush, stars, squares and choose my colors and textures.
I was literally giddy playing in this world – it was like being on a hallucinogenic it was so fun. The only thing missing was a good soundtrack, and I’m sure that will be added soon.
Experiencing these two totally different environments, I realized the limitless potential of this technology for teaching and trainings, pleasure and relaxing will now be expanded from sitting on a couch passively being exposed to what the TV shows want you to see, to being able to participate in new and engaging ways. I was struck by how we could use this technology for things like training new parents on what to do with a newborn who was colicky and had explosive diarrhea without the mess. We can teach first responders on what they will be facing without putting them or others in harms way. Therapists will be able to use it to treat PTSD sufferers by recreating the trauma inducing situations and help them recover. The current campaign to reduce dating sexual violence could use it in a Gender Communications class.
I am so excited by this technology, and the astounding work that De La Peña is doing with her team at EmblematicGroup.com that I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. It truly is not the next variation of media, it’s a whole new way of experiencing media, news, education, therapy.
And it’s being done right here in Santa Monica.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at email@example.com or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra.