Friday, 13 March 2015

Virtual Social Media

(Source: Next Galaxy Corp)

The confluence of technology, innovation and ideas is producing the most rapid expansion of human capital possibilities the world has ever known. Freed of regionalism, and the tyranny of traditional workplaces, our minds are freer to explore potentials in new environments than ever before.

Social media enables connection, intimate and transient, to occur over an infinite distance of both time and space. Records persist, and our desires for immortality captured in digital data manifest in streams of tweets, blogs and posts. Content is prodigiously produced, with no chance to chronologise or qualify beyond the immediacy of peers’ recognition through likes, retweets and amplification. Perhaps one day looking back upon the sum total of our earthly achievements, these metrics will be a reassuring reminder of a life well spent. But the shallowness of these quantifications may leave our minds wanting for the richness of the moment. If only we'd taken seconds to record deeper experiences, perhaps through literature, art or music. These heavily time invested modalities of recording cultural memory already feel relegated to the annals of a slower, more considered time. Yet the lustfulness of their vitality persists.

Capturing digital media currently exists within a limited dimensional spectrum. We record on smartphones the still and moving images of our lives, complemented by aural landscapes sufficient to jog memory. With super computers in our pockets and narcissistic intentions in our hearts, we diligently capture and share every moment with willing and unwilling audiences, seeking public recognition of our feats. But the momentary richness is lacking when we replay these moments, recalling bits and replaying bites.

Virtual reality technology, the domain of Lawnmower Man dreams, failed to deliver collective 90s fiction. Until now, a human’s ability to suspend visual disbelief has not been fooled by technology. But as the virtual reality regains momentum and approaches the critical point of consumer products, the platform seems ripe for media consumption of a massive scale.

Our willingness to record, replay and retweet our every moment is well established. The technology to relive these experiences in a virtual, immersive environment is not far off. The final component will be the ability for consumers to capture their experiences immersively, through three dimensions of space, as well as that of time, to replay and share at their hearts’ content.

When these elements combine, we’ll see the emergence of a new social phenomenon - one that will further polarise the cultural, social, environmental and economic landscape, while at the same time mending contemporary points of dissonance. When people can capture their experiences using 3D technologies and share these through established channels of social media, to be consumed anywhere in the world immersively through virtual reality, we will see the rise of Virtual Social Media.

Imagine a mother sharing virtual reality photographs of their newborn son with their grandparents half way around the world. Or an orthopaedic surgeon able to advise a local general practitioner on the best way to set a bone cast in Africa. Or a conference call between an American biotechnology company streamed live via 3D cameras mounted on a drone to a potential customer in Germany.

These confluences of recording technology, media consumption and the rise of social media will drive a paradigm shift in how we record, share and consume our personal media. It will lead to more restrained rationalisation for travel and subsequent decreases in environmental degradation. It will bring us cognitively closer together while physically keeping us apart. It will privilege those with access to technology, while alienating and impoverishing those left behind.

As we move into a world of Virtual Social Media, the directors of this change must be the custodians of our collective heritage, where a society is judged on the treatment of its most impoverished citizen. As we write this new future, recording the achievements of everyman, everyman must be included, and no one left behind.

Duncan Bell
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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