Two kinds of immersion

There are many movies that I love, and I get lost in their stories. Yet on a physical level I am just sitting in a chair watching a flickering rectangle.

I have never experienced a work of virtual reality that was able to transport me, on a psychological level, the way a good movie can. I can be transported physically by VR, and feel as though my body has been to another world, but on an emotional level nothing has spoken deeply to me.

I wonder whether this is just because the medium is new, or whether there is something fundamental going on here. Is it possible that the rectangle around the frame of the film is part of the process of psychological immersion and emotional engagement?

If so, this would be an irony indeed. What if it turns out that, on an emotional level, we can only experience true immersion when we are not actually immersed?

Happy Halloween everyone!

Asymmetry and future teaching

One thing you get used to when you teach is that the communication is inherently asymmetric between teacher and student. There is only one of you and there are many of them.

Traditionally we have accommodated this asymmetry in specific physical ways. We build classrooms and lecture halls with a large blackboard or whiteboard in front, and perhaps a raised floor as well.

The physical arrangement of classroom instruction reiterates the performative aspect of the act of teaching. At the end of the day, the teacher is essentially giving a performance.

As education migrates from physical to virtual classrooms, there are some interesting questions to ask about how teacher and students should be arranged. Do we emulate the physical classroom, or do we try something different?

On the one hand, there is something reassuringly familiar about what has worked in the physical world. On the other hand, we may not want to be bound by limitations that no longer apply.

I suspect the best solutions will start from the inherent reasons that classroom instruction is asymmetric, and will explore the ways we can use that asymmetry to best advantage.

Streisand reconsidered

Having rewatched Funny Girl after many years, I am thinking about the entire oeuvre of Barbra Streisand. In many ways she was tragically before her time.

Films like Yentl, Prince of Tides and The Mirror has Two Faces are extraordinary. Had they been directed by a man, they would have been far more widely talked about, examined, analyzed and copied.

Instead, they were all received with a kind of cultural resentment. In the general critical discourse, there seemed to be a troubling undertone of “Who does she think she is anyway?”

Like Ida Lupino before her, Streisand has been an auteur female filmmaker in an American film industry that couldn’t conceive of such a thing. Until recently, a masterful writer / director / actor who happened to be female was simply ignored by the Academy.

In Europe things were different. A Vargas or Wertmüller was widely recognized as an original voice — ironically, even in the U.S. But America did not extend the same courtesy to its own.

Hopefully we will continue to evolve. Alas, some kinds of progress are woefully slow. And that is tragic, partly because brilliant young artists will be discouraged from enriching our lives, simply because of meaningless and destructive cultural preconceptions.

Logical conclusion of audio-only MR

To follow up on yesterday’s post, what is the logical conclusion of audio-only mixed reality? For a while now, I’ve thought it would be very good spatial audio for telecommunication.

Imagine you have an excellent pair of earbuds connected to a powerful computer. Both your head movement and the physical characteristics of the surrounding physical world are fed to that computer.

The computer computes an audio channel which makes it sound exactly as though another person is in the room with you. You can hear your friend talking, walking or speaking, exactly as though they were physically present.

The only wrinkle is that your friend is invisible. You can do this with multiple friends at the same time — you will all hear each other perfectly well as though you are standing next to each other or sitting around a table together, but you will all be invisible to each other.

Someday soon, as technology supports mass adoption of such capabilities, we may come to take this mode of communication for granted. It will simply seem like a normal way to converse with our friends and colleagues.

Future seeing versus future hearing

I was chairing the Visions session of the ACM/UIST conference today, and one of the speakers talked about ubiquitous future mixed reality glasses. Somebody asked him a question about seeing versus hearing.

The question was whether the visual sense would dominate the experience. The answer from the speaker was an emphatic yes.

Now I am on a conference call with researchers at Bose that touches on how to create compelling spatial audio for future wearables. So here the focus is clearly on what everyone hears versus what everyone sees.

I must say that I’ve been having a far more compelling experience in the audio-only High Fidelity experience than the highly visual experiences of AltSpace and similar VR apps. Such apps all include spatial audio, but they don’t focus on it.

Maybe there is something to be said for simply hearing other people in a mixed reality teleconference without the distraction of also seeing their avatars. That might be a great question for a research study!