Last week’s acquisition of virtual reality outfit Oculus by Facebook raises some interesting questions for the future of the book.
If VR was once the domain of 90’s video arcades and William Gibson novels, Spring 2014 may mark its tipping point into mainstream media. While Oculus’ flagship product, the Oculus Rift, is firmly rooted in the games space, Mark Zuckerberg is clear in his acquisition announcement (which is well worth a read) that he views virtual reality as connectivity, not technology.
I believe it marks the start of web 3.0, the immersive internet. Thus far, the web has been a detached experience and largely defined by the browsing device (computer, phone, tablet, etc) where Oculus-style VR puts the user in the game, in the web.
It strikes me that boring ol’ books have been doing this for ages.
Well constructed fiction prose – black words arranged on a white page/screen – draws the reader into a five senses, emotionally immersive experience. You know what Dickens’ London tastes and smells like (not great!) and what it feels like to compete in Quidditch. Today’s graphic processers, especially Oculus’ new low persistence display are amazing – it’s like being there. But I believe that there is no graphic processer more powerful than the human imagination. And any reader will tell you that they get “lost” in a good book – they are there!
So, at the intersection of technology and fiction (non-fiction has its own set of opportunities and threats), what can we expect?
Technology, like Oculus, that brings the reader deeper into a mythology, closer to a character, and more engaged in a story is probably going to have staying power. I surmise that the Spritz app, as cool as it is, will probably find its place in non-fiction and especially amongst students “cramming” for exams. I’m not sure speed reading brings the reader/user deeper into the story – which is the magic of VR.
If Facebook truly ushers in web 3.0, rolling out VR across socializing, education, and healthcare (three sectors Zuckerberg’s got his sights on), non-gaming entertainment media won’t be far behind – and it’ll be time for everyone in the book biz to be honest and inventive, making sure books still stack up.
The challenge for all of us will be to ensure that our stories, in whatever form they take, remain as immersive and as compelling in whichever reality consumers choose to inhabit.
Jeff Norton’s YA series MetaWars (Orchard Books) deals with life in a virtual world. His interactive ebook Blood Nexus (Freed Fiction) is out now on the iBookstore. Norton will be speaking at London Book Fair about reader immersion in the “Put Me In The Story” seminar.
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