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Virtual reality: friend or foe?

Virtual reality: friend or foe?

Limitless experiences and fantasy becoming reality are two of the most exciting prospects for us all. Imagine being able to be anywhere, with anyone, at any time – it’s a dizzying prospect.

Well, we may just be in luck. Tell our ancestors 100 years ago that come 2017 we’d be able to make video calls in real time, track friends’ whereabouts on portable screens and that flying cars are actually going to be a thing? The would say flying pigs would be more likely.

At the moment Virtual Reality (VR) is a phenomenon that seems more talk than action – merely a tease, or a medium inhabited by the hardcore gamer. Devices such as the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive provide a VR experience that is pretty much accessible by all. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has already pounced on its potential and has described it as a social technology in addition to a gaming one, which is probably a fairly good indication of its future impact.

It seems this is just the beginning of what will be an almost unbelievable human experience, and many brands and entertainment bodies are getting familiar with how it can intensify experiences in unbelievable ways.

Last year, Biffy Clyro fans could immerse themselves in the performance experience by being on stage with the band in a virtual music video, which toured festivals around the UK.


In tourism, VisitScotland recently utilised the technology by offering prospective visitors a ‘try before you buy’ approach.


Traditional media have also started to get on board – providing 360 imagery on their platforms, trying to keep up with what consumers are excited by and taking them closer to a story by giving it a completely different angle (literally).

It’s all very cool, but if you’re a fan of shows like Black Mirror, you might share my futuristic concerns; it’s not hard to see how there could be a more sinister, totally weird side to its development that could replace the beauty of real experiences. Can you really re-create or better the high of being on someone’s shoulders in a sea of people belting out your favourite band’s song, or bombing down a hill on a set of skis with the wind in your hair?! I can’t help but imagine this is the start of our devolution back to some prehistoric sea creature with no capacity for human interaction. Dramatic? Maybe.

Nevertheless, VR is just at the beginning of its journey. Experts are already exploring its scope for the treatment of conditions such as depression and phobias. It might also improve quality of life for the ill and immobile, giving them the chance to explore the world, or cycle from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. It’ll let people play or dance on stage alongside their idols at Glastonbury, and maybe inspire the next generation to pursue a particular education, career or lifestyle after giving them an ‘almost-real’ taste of what something is like.

VR is almost its own worst enemy as the technology enabling it is evolving so quickly that people don’t even know where to begin. A bit of scepticism is healthy, but for society, the media and brands in particular, the opportunities it presents are worth exploring.

Fibs over facts: why is faking it making it?

Fibs over facts: why is faking it making it?

 

Whether in the form of breaking news that pigs really can fly, political manipulation or clean eating ambassadors claiming nutritionist status, fake news is one for us all to watch in 2017.

Often tricky to spot, bogus and bizarre headlines are halting the thumbs of social media scrollers worldwide and feeding us a variety of fibs. From stirring up a finger-wagging frenzy of political scandal to helping websites cash in by luring in traffic with “clickbait”, audiences are becoming all too easy to fool with online content.

Since the Brexit vote last year and most recently the inauguration of the new US President, we are beginning to see the rise of “alternative facts” in our newsfeeds. The press’ purpose is to guide us with quality information and of course to encourage democratic opinion and debate, but when the president’s own media adviser declares war on it, it’s not hard to see how vulnerable audiences are becoming completely suspicious of the media; people want to source and share information that mirrors their own views and beliefs.

So why all the fuss now?

Digital = shareable, and pretty much anyone can be their own author. Recent surveys conducted in the US have found that people are getting their news from social media sites 62% of the time, and 80% of students are unable to identify a real from a fake story. Why bother looking any further for a source when credible-looking headlines can be shared in one click? And to add to that, we as content consumers are doing less and less actual consuming before we share. A study last year found that up to 59% of links aren’t even being clicked on let alone read until the end before sharing in our own feeds.

And it’s not all politics and propaganda – Richard Branson recently learned about his own “passing” from the release of a fake news story which subsequently prompted the creation of an RIP Facebook page. The page cranked up over a million likes, an indication of how unconfirmed news can spread like wildfire. Branson spoke out to the official media to reassure the public that he is not only alive and well, but he is now calling for police intervention on the rise of fake news reporting.

The good news is that the government are now working on establishing an industry-standard definition of the phenomenon, whilst also delving into what platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter can and should do to look out for the not-so-social media-savvy among us. It will be interesting as well as useful to see how the psychology behind it works too, and how online adverts might be adding to what has also been dubbed as an “epidemic”.

PR will be crucial for guiding businesses through the “post-truth” minefield, and as well as the media, we all need to tune in to the evolving sources we get our information from and regain trust in journalism. It’s great that the likes of Facebook have now accepted a level of responsibility for protecting its users from fake news scams with its flagging feature, but I hope that both the media and general public call perpetrators out on their bluff to make sure it doesn’t reach a point where we’re all living in conflicting realities.