In case any of you uneducated plebs don't get home delivery of the NY Times, you may not be aware of the Times' big virtual reality launch this weekend—everyone with a subscription was sent a cardboard-encased VR contraption that allows viewers to experience "a new [immersive] form of storytelling," which is a lot like the old form of storytelling, just more new (and immersive).
In all seriousness, it's pretty neat! In this particular instance, the technology greatly adds dimensions to the reporting. You don't even really need (you REALLY don't need) the VR cardboard to appreciate it—just download the app, and play around with it on your phone right now, subscription or not. There are two stories so far, the incredible The Displaced, which focuses on three portraits of children driven from their homes by war and persecution, and Walking New York.
Of course it's not perfect: when I tried it out this morning (because I am a learned man who would never stoop to newsstand prices), I had to close one eye to be able to see clearly. Other people got sick using it, and the Times advises, "Make sure your phone is zoomed out and aligned with the bottom of your cardboard." And The Verge, while praising The Displaced, highlights the shortcomings as well:
And as a total shift in journalism, the NYT VR project is frustrating. That description puts VR forward as not just different, but massively superior, ignoring the complexities of human communication. And it downplays the powerful role older media plays in The Displaced. Google Cardboard's unique properties, like the way it demands someone's full attention, vividly illustrate the children's experiences in a way text can't. The short film is most powerful, though, when you've read the more complex written story of their lives as refugees, getting context that pure immersive video can't deliver. The Displaced is a perfect example of how virtual reality journalism can work well — but only because it's not just virtual reality.
But the other big, meaty takeaway to keep in mind here is that THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT DEVELOPMENT IN THE HISTORY OF JOURNALISM!!!! And no amount of hyperbole should be spared in describing this life-altering moment.
— sree sreenivasan (@sree) November 5, 2015
— Chris_Drago (@Chris_Drago) November 7, 2015
— David W. Chen (@davidwchen) November 7, 2015
— Ami Nahshon (@AmiNahshon) November 7, 2015
This changes everything.
— Stephanie Losee (@slosee) November 6, 2015
Before this, it was illegal for journalism to make you cry. That all changes today.
— Udi Ofer (@UdiACLU) November 7, 2015
Here is an exclusive video of people trying the VR glasses for the first time:
But who cares about all that when you can take #CardboardSelfies?
It may surprise you to learn that the actual experience of the @NYTmag VR is more awesome than pictures of people wearing the cardboard.
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) November 7, 2015
Oh but...is it? Some might disagree.
— Muri Assunção (@MuriAssuncao) November 7, 2015
New York Times corrections are unbelievable in VR. pic.twitter.com/3MYXHk5xlp
— Josh Greenman (@joshgreenman) November 7, 2015
— Josh Cogswell (@joshcogs) November 7, 2015
Personally, I thought VR technology was cool before it came in a clear plastic bag accompanying a blue plastic bag stuffed with pieces of dead trees. As ever, porn companies were way ahead of the curve on this stuff.
Spotted on the LES: Two boho-stylish 20-somethings—who look like they've never before bought a @nytimes—freaking out about their VR glasses.
— Freda Moon (@fredamoon) November 7, 2015
Anyway, welcome to the future of news. In the long run, I still think telepathic indigo children are our real future.
I still don't understand what a VR reader is but I'm fairly certain it's stupid and awful
— Anna Merlan (@annamerlan) November 7, 2015