3D Virtual Reality Is the Best Storytelling Technology We Have Ever Had

Humans do not experience life as a linear narrative, but storytellers from journalists to script writers typically tell us stories that way. 3D virtual reality is an opportunity to live stories the way we live life.

Ralph Rivera:  The first wave of digital is going by where people have essentially been focused on digitizing what they already had. So you have newspapers online and radio online and TV online. And a lot of people first thought well, that’s it. And now they realize that’s just the first part. And now it means starting to do things online that you otherwise would not be able to do offline. And that’s what a lot of companies are discovering now. The ones that are the incumbents in the offline world are just starting to discover that that’s just the first part of being online is being digital. And now we’re getting into the piece where it’s about being connected. Being connected in a way that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to be connected. Being able to connect to individual people. So in media connecting with the people formerly known as the audience. But you can take that into education and you can connect with the people formerly known as students. Or you can connect with the people formerly known as patients because the technology exists now to be able to engage with individuals and also get the massive amounts of data that come from that. So that’s a significant shift that’s occurring right now.
Some of the immersive video, 360 video experience that we’ve done have been of Syrian refugee camps so that you get more of a visceral feeling for what that feels like, what it looks like by being able – and by the way it’s not just the video.

The sound being able to get 360 sound so that when you turn your head you hear things in a different way. So that experience has to come together. And that is much richer, has much more information packed in it which gives you more context for the story, right. Now let’s not forget that whether it’s straight linear video or VR oftentimes you’re still trying to tell a story. It isn’t just visiting the Grand Canyon and being in your living room but you’re in the Grand Canyon and you’re looking around. That’s not a particular story. But when you’re doing journalism about hey what does life in a refugee look like. There’s a narrative there. There’s a story. And so being able to immerse yourself adds more texture, more richness to that experience. But still you have to do it in such a way that it doesn’t detract from being able to pick up the story. And that’s where I think this is tricky because I think that the technology is ahead of the storytelling around it.

Because I think storytellers still feel more comfortable in tight linear narrative, right. They’ve already written a script and they’re just out there to shoot things according to the script, right. Versus being able to open that up and then how do you do that while maintaining the storylines that you want to provide. People are still figuring that out. The example I give to folks is like when Grand Theft Auto came out, you know, as a video game. And it wasn’t just a set of missions that you progress through but they created a world and you can roam freely throughout the world and that world was then loosely coupled to these missions. So sometimes you were just roaming around experiencing what that was about and then you’d go back into mission progression mode, then you’d jump out. And I actually think that’s the way that we operate. You know we’re not always in transactional mode. We’re transacting, we’re progressing and then we’re experiencing everything around us. And I think that’s what VR, 360 video gives us the opportunity to do.

 

Humans do not experience life as a linear narrative, but storytellers from journalists to script writers typically tell us stories that way. 3D virtual reality is an opportunity to live stories the way we live life.

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Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
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The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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