Sunday Sound Thought – A Perspective on the Growing Pains in VR

The term “VR” encompasses it all. The platform, the technology, the medium, the content, all of which are experiencing a rapid development, rapid failure period during which we have no agreed upon procedures or format. Currently we have just a few key players developing different pieces of hardware with different capabilities and its yet to be seen whether they will continue to co-exist, or whether one will succeed in setting a standard, going on to either monopolize the hardware development or license technologies out allowing dozens of VR hardware brands as we have manufactures of TVs.

But while most are focused on the technology, be it on the hardware or software side, I’m far more curious about two less often discussed aspects of VR that it faces as the result of it (at least partially) being a new medium though which information and entertainment can be delivered both in passive and interactive forms.

Those two aspects are the increasing sophistication of the audience / users in the form of “VR-literacy” (consider the term coined!), and the development of a language for the medium.

For some context, I’d like to take you back in time as you see, we’ve been here before. No, I’m not talking about the Virtual Boy. I’m actually talking about  Auguste and Louis Lumiere (who’s last name appropriately translates as ‘lamplighter’) who devised the Cinematogrphe, both a camera and projecting device. They exhibited first at the Grand Café on 28th of December 1895 in Paris. Their film, “L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat” (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat) alarmed audience members. G.R. Barker, a journalist wrote “The station is apparently empty when the train is seen approaching and gradually gets nearer and larger until the engine passes where we are apparently standing, and the train stops, the guard comes along, passengers get out and in, and all is real!


L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat) by Auguste and Louis Lumière

There were even reports that audience members shrieked in terror, ran for the doors, some even fainted, though it’s hard to deduce how accurate those reports were. Regardless, there’s no doubt that in these early days of film, audiences were being exposed to a new medium that offered a window into a new reality which they didn’t quite know how to process. They were as children learning to walk, learning how to consume this new medium of streaming information and what role it could play in their lives.

Compare those audience members to those who inhabit a movie theater today. We now have color and sound, but the medium itself and the way it’s presented is essentially the same. The audience member has changed drastically however. They’ve grown up with the screen in theaters, at home, at work, they’ve watched “behind the scenes” featurettes, their favorite actors discussing their latest role on a chat show, the facade has been lifted and many today would find “L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat” laughable. Today’s audiences are extremely literate in film, TV and video games. Children growing up today even expect all screens to react to touch. Yet we are not VR-literate.

I suspect the VR experiences you try in these early days which are to some degree designed for a audience that isn’t VR-literate, will fast become outdated, “retro”, perhaps some even laughable in the assumptions they made about how audiences and users would interact with these devices or in the language they used, which brings me to point number two.

George Melies, practical effects pioneer

George Melies, practical effects pioneer

Early filmmaker George Melies began by making scenic scenes. When filming one in the Place de L’Opera in Paris, his camera jammed. It resumed filming a minute later during which the people, buses, vehicles had moved. Projecting the film having joined the break, he suddenly saw an bus changed into a hearse and men into women. The trick of substitution, called the trick of stop-action, had been discovered. Melies want on to become the foremost producer of “Trick Films” and pioneered numerous practical effects used in film.

D. W. Griffith

D. W. Griffith

Similarly, D. W. Griffith is credited with having developed numerous film techniques such as the close-up. It’s strange to think of the close-up shot as an invention of sorts, but indeed there was a time when it was first used. It proved effective, and so it saw repeated use and became part of the language of film which we take for granted today. Things as simple at a cut from one perspective in a scene to another. A cut to a different location. A cut in time to a different period. Flashbacks in time. Hearing a character’s inner thoughts expressed in their voice while their lips aren’t moving, the idea that shooting a car on its fuel cap will cause it (most likely) to explode immediately in a ball of fire! All of these conventions had a moment in which they were first used, and have over time become part of the language of film.

I don’t mean to say that a language is fixed and not malleable as the language of any given medium can change over time, often influenced by technology and new creative voices. You can certainly also break the rules and disregard the language for creative effect. All this is simply to say that the language of a particular medium can be thought of as the rules by which the vast majority of content adheres to to be immediately effective and comprehendible. At this point, I believe VR is in the very early stages of developing its own language while leaning heavilly on the existing languages of film and video games.

While so much energy is being put into defining the hardware side of things, its natural that VR’s first experiments would be extensions of existing mediums such as video games or film, taking these existing content forms and placing them in this new medium, making them more “immersive”. And it’s clear already that even simply as an extension of those entertainment forms, VR already offers unique tools, opportunities and challenges. But when you accept that VR isn’t merely an extension of existing technologies, but instead a new medium, then the mind then boggles when you consider what VR could not just be extended to, but give birth to.

I find it hard to think of an industry that might not have some use for the potential of VR. As we move further along the VR trail, its language will develop. It’s already being written in the do’s, the don’ts, the what works and what doesn’t. What’s the most effective method of control, movement, audio feedback? Should experiences be 1st person, 3rd person, no-person? What sorts of narrative interaction work within VR? How do you communicate signals? How do you accommodate for the outside world and interrupt and experience if necessary?

All these elements go hand-in-hand. By easing people into VR via familiar forms such as video games and films, you introduce them to a new medium in a way they can at least partially comprehend as the content at least is a known quantity. As you start to create an increasingly VR-literate audience, you make room for more unique experiences and tools that could only exist in VR. It’s then that VR will lean less on the established languages of film and video games and instead develop its own.

It’s not very often we see the birth of a new medium where the creators and consumers both are grappling trying to figure it all out. I find it fascinating and I can’t wait to see how the language of VR evolves and develops as we become more literate consumers of the form.

Ye Olde Pirate Shippe

New Plotagraph Pro pricing

See today’s photo ? I also made an animated version that turned out great! You can see it over here on Facebook – it should auto-loop!

And if you go over to the Plotagraph Pro page you’ll see they have new pricing including a monthly plan. Give it a whirl… very fun! If you check my Instagram Feed you’ll see I’ve been posting a lot lately 🙂

Daily Photo – Ye Olde Pirate Shippe

On my last night in San Juan, I went around to do a little exploratory fun walk with my friend Scott Jarvie. After moving around and through the town, we ended out by the docks. How pretty eh? It was a nice and moody night with all the clouds that made it even more romantic. I mean, I love a good romantic night with Jarvie.

Ye Olde Pirate Shippe

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2017-01-26 09:02:48
  • CameraILCE-7RM2
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time0.4
  • Aperture4
  • ISO800
  • Focal Length13.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

Poem of the Day: Elegy for the Native Guards

We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overhead
trailing the boat—streamers, noisy fanfare—
all the way to Ship Island. What we see
first is the fort, its roof of grass, a lee—
half reminder of the men who served there—
a weathered monument to some of the dead.
Inside we follow the ranger, hurried
though we are to get to the beach. He tells
of graves lost in the Gulf, the island split
in half when Hurricane Camille hit,
shows us casemates, cannons, the store that sells
souvenirs, tokens of history long buried.
The Daughters of the Confederacy
has placed a plaque here, at the fort’s entrance—
each Confederate soldier’s name raised hard
in bronze; no names carved for the Native Guards—
2nd Regiment, Union men, black phalanx.
What is monument to their legacy?
All the grave markers, all the crude headstones—
water-lost. Now fish dart among their bones,
and we listen for what the waves intone.
Only the fort remains, near forty feet high,
round, unfinished, half open to the sky,
the elements—wind, rain—God’s deliberate eye.
Natasha Trethewey, “Elegy for the Native Guards” from Native Guard. Copyright © 2007 by Natasha Trethewey. Reprinted by permission of Natasha Trethewey.

Source: Native Guard(Mariner Books, 2007)

Natasha Trethewey

More poems by this author

In love with this Form ring set


Back in my high school days (early 2000’s) I collected silver rings. They were an eclectic mixture of rings my mother made in her metalwork class during college, some given to me for birthdays/Christmas and a couple I could afford with the money I earned working retail part time. I went through a phase of wearing this wide silver band on my thumb and stacking the others together on most fingers of both hands. My dad used to tease me that I looked like a gypsy, but I loved those rings for a long time. After all these years I’m not sure where most of them went, lost and probably give back to my mom. The fond memories of those rings, worn daily for years, making funny tan lines on my hands during the summer and always having to take them off during pottery class, these memories though are still found.


Now in my early 30’s I still like rings but it’s impractical for me at home, with two kids, to wearing a metal band on every finger, neither do I want to if it were practical to do. However I still like to have one, or two bands (sans jewels) to add a bit of shine and motivate me to keep my nails manicured.
J.Hannah makes a set of two rings called Form that absolute is PERFECTION. You know I’m sincere about this because how often do I write here in all caps? Next to never. Reminds me of my high school days but much more sophisticated and fitting for me now.

Wishlist? No. NEEDlist.

Current Obsessions: The Art of Efficiency

From a Japanese minimalist with a cult following to NYC’s newest micro-apartment units, here’s what we have on our radar as of late.


Above: Opening in June in NYC: Carmel Place, a new small-space apartment project by “all inclusive coliving” company Ollie. With super-efficient storage, fold-out tables, and Murphy beds, Carmel Place apartments offer the tiny home experience to city dwellers.

Goodbye Things by Fumio Sasaki, W. W. Norton

Above: We’re looking forward to Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism, a new book on living with less due out from W. W. Norton this April. Written by Fumio Sasaki, a self-described minimalist living in a 215-square-foot apartment in Tokyo with only 150 possessions, the book has sold more than 150,000 copies in Japan.


Our Latest Instagram Obsession

Love of Linen_instagram_remodelista

Above: We’ve waxed poetic about linen time and time again, so it’s no surprise Justine’s latest IG favorite, For the Love of Linen, has us all obsessed (@loveoflinen).


Looking for more design finds? Visit our recent posts:

Paddleboard Yoga Class

Paddleboard of my Own!

Here’s a photo of the first time I tried paddleboard yoga. This is extremely difficult, by the way… And when you fall off, there is simply no way to look cool. It reminds me of the other way it is impossible to look cool: When you crawl under a conference table to unplug things.

Yours Truly on a Paddleboard

Daily Photo – Paddleboard Yoga Class

You know what would have been really impressive? If I was doing yoga down there on paddleboard with all those ladies WHILE flying the quadcopter to get this shot. Can you imagine? Well… that’s a recipe for disaster I’m sure… I almost fell over while standing over on the nearby beach!

Paddleboard Yoga Class

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2017-01-19 10:20:39
  • CameraFC6310
  • Camera MakeDJI
  • Exposure Time1/640
  • Aperture6.3
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length8.8 mm
  • FlashNo flash function
  • Exposure ProgramProgram AE
  • Exposure Bias

Poem of the Day: Canary

Billie Holiday’s burned voice
had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.
(Now you’re cooking, drummer to bass,   
magic spoon, magic needle.
Take all day if you have to
with your mirror and your bracelet of song.)
Fact is, the invention of women under siege   
has been to sharpen love in the service of myth.
If you can’t be free, be a mystery.
Rita Dove, “Canary” from Grace Notes. Copyright © 1989 by Rita Dove. Reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: Grace Notes(1989)

Rita Dove

More poems by this author