What happens when you add augmented reality?

Storytelling and Branded Reality in the Internet of Experiences (and Trump’s Republican Party)

A couple of months ago I included augmented and virtual reality in Top3ics, my occasional newsletter, adding “Consider these as first notes towards a future post.” I then forgot about it. Thanks, Newt Gingrich!

Firstly, some observations on the Republican Convention from John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Newt Gingrich “facts”

I’m not the first to notice how closely Newt’s intellectual preferences (TL;DR: to go with “what people feel” over actual facts) echo British MP Michael Gove’s assertion that the British public have had enough of experts” (see also Of technocrats, journalistic balance and telling EU stories).

So that’s the context for me to return to the augmented reality Top3ic from my May 23 newsletter, with the lightest of edits:

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Storytelling in the Internet of Experiences

… Social media, in other words, could be designed better. Why it’s not happening isn’t hard to understand: ”Facebook’s news feed … is tailored just to us … to keep us interested and happy… and that keeps a user targetable with advertisements for longer“ according to FastCoExist in the truly excellent Social Network Algorithms Are Distorting Reality By Boosting Conspiracy Theories.

In consequence (my emphasis):

Algorithms, network effects, and zero-cost publishing are enabling crackpot theories to go viral… Self-publishing has eliminated all the checks and balances of reputable media … We are into the realm of siloed communities … that experience their own reality and operate with their own facts.”

… The Fastcoexist article introduced me to someone who saw this coming before I was born:

Librarian of Congress Daniel J. Boorstin wrote in 1962 that “We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so ‘realistic’ that they can live in them.”

But I don’t think even Boorstin would have predicted Magic Leap, profiled in Wired’s The Untold Story of Magic Leap, the World’s Most Secretive Startup. If you’re not up to speed with augmented reality, read it, because

“To date, investors have funneled $1.4 billion into it… All the major players — Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Sony, Samsung — have whole groups dedicated to artificial reality, and they’re hiring more engineers daily.”

There are a few resources on my Hub tagged augmented reality and/or VR. Most coverage focuses on how cool it all is …

… or what it will mean when “the world is your desktop” …

… but none capture the change these technologies represent like this quote:

what we are building with artificial reality is an internet of experiences… you gain authentic experiences, as authentic as in real life. People remember VR experiences not as a memory of something they saw but as something that happened to them.

That final phrase is the Holy Grail of storytelling, where mirror neurons deep in your brain fire in response to emotionally-driven, human-focused stories, making you absorb and adopt ideas far more effectively than logic-based reasoning ever can (see Buffer’s Science of Storytelling, and almost 70 resources tagged storytelling).

We already live in a world where people invent their own reality after reading blog posts and watching YouTube videos. Can anyone imagine how society will evolve when everyone can use augmented reality to create alternative realities?

how will society evolve when everyone can use augmented reality to create alternative realities?

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So what’s all that got to do with the Republican Convention and the primacy of feelings over facts for large chunks of the US electorate?

Augmented Storytelling: storytelling, augmented by Augmented Reality

Since May I’ve tried imagining what Augmented Storytelling — today’s storytelling techniques, augmented by Augmented Reality — could look like.

I found myself considering this as I stared off into the space, waiting for the metro. Gove, Gingrich and Trump leered back, exhorting me as they floated above a homeless guy, explaining the world to me as they walked alongside some immigrant schoolkids, pointing at the bin, locked shut for security reasons.

It was quite a jolt. To see it for yourself, just watch Fox News for a few minutes, and then imagine its editorial tone overlaid onto reality, using the power of augmented storytelling to explain the world as they see it.

Of course, it won’t be like that at all. Fox News produces a 20th century product. So imagine Fox News dropping any pretence of being a news organisation and instead creating real stories, with actors in motion capture outfits working from scripts to “get that Fox News Reality(TM) properly across”.

get that Fox News Reality(TM) properly across

Science fiction? Not since 2012:

Digital empathy: how ‘Hunger in Los Angeles’ broke my heart in a virtual world (The Verge)

Say hello to Branded Reality

Mass media are likely to adopt such techniques. After all, they’re not in the business of reporting news anymore:

“Right now the left plays to the left and the right plays to the right,” said Glenn Beck, the former Fox News host who started TheBlaze, a conservative network, in 2010. “That’s why we keep ratcheting up the heat. We’re throwing red meat. We’re in a room that is an echo chamber, and everybody’s cheering.”
Divided America, Chicago Tribune

Right now they’re cheering using hypertext, images, video, newsprint and TV. All 20th century technologies, they already allow people to manufacture their own realities to a frightening extent.

Social platform algorithms, created in the first decade of this century, made those realities more compelling by introducing you into a global echo chamber of people with similar views (see resources tagged filter bubble).

And soon, political parties, news organisations, NGOs and corporations will be able to use augmented storytelling to boost their storytelling power many times over.

people will increasingly buy into that reality

Each will continue developing and projecting its own ‘brand’, from Fox News Reality to Guardian Reality. And people will increasingly buy into these realities as they become more and more compelling.

Mark Zuckerberg says augmented reality glasses are ‘what we’re trying to get to’

When it comes to fractured societies, echo chambers and filter bubbles, in other words, we haven’t seen anything yet. Facebook’s algorithm is just the beginning.

Which is perhaps why Facebook sees immersive media as the “obvious next thing after video”.

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