Mel Slater's Presence Blog

Thoughts about research and radical new applications of virtual reality - a place to write freely without the constraints of academic publishing,and have some fun.

20 November, 2015

The Presence of VR in the News

This is a response to the comment posted by Jon Angel on my blog post 'In the Presence of Freud'.

My view is that all news however presented is distortion. This ranges from the selection of WHAT to present, HOW to present it, WHO is presenting it etc.. While there may or may not be an underlying 'objectivity' - as soon as someone transforms those events into a medium that is different from the multi sensory, infinitely multi faceted events, there is distortion. This is not a negative statement but just inevitable - when you transform something from one media to another and the transformation is not 1-1, then there cannot be anything else but distortion.

What matters in terms of distortion is the political / economic stance of the people who present the news in relation to those who absorb it. I.e., WHAT is selected depends very much on the political stance of the news maker. How it is interpreted and received depends on the stance of the 'consumer'. Take any news story and see how it is presented in the Guardian and how it is presented on Fox news. Are these even reporting the same set of events?

So I do not see anything special with respect to VR on this issue. It is another medium. It has the exclusive property that it technologically puts the viewer into the action. Note that there is a fundamental change since the 'viewer' is no longer just a viewer but a participant. It is totally different to watch a masacre on tv or read about it in the newspaper than to be in it, all around you. This will give consumer-participants a different understanding of the news events. This understanding is neither superior nor inferior to any other presentation - it is just different, it has different qualities reflecting the fact that VR is a different media. 

Is showing the news on tv more biased or distorting than showing it in a newspaper? No - they are different and they have different qualities of experience associated with them.

So overall - I disagree with the point of the article that VR is something special regarding its 'distortion' capabilities. It can be used to deliver different information, which is neither more or less 'objective' than any other method. 

Finally it depends on the goal of the news presenter. If the goal is an analytical understanding of the events and putting them in some overall context then VR - by itself - might not be  a useful option. If it is to give people an experience of how it might have been to have 'been there' then probably it delivers more appropriate information than just a written story. However, even that is not certain, since people turn written stories into vivid imaginal experiences. These imaginal subjective experiences based on reading are not less 'objective' than watching it on tv or being in VR - basically we perceive what we expect to perceive.

So the only thing I would argue in the end is that VR is a different medium and can deliver quite different experiences.