There is all sorts of articles and technologies revolving around the development of virtual reality(VR) devices. It is indeed a pretty amazing technology with probably thousands of wide ranging, thoughtful applications. It can entertain, educate and offer amazing "life-like" simulations of entering another room, mountain top or alternate universe. But it isn't real and it requires an interesting amount of anti-social isolation to perform its magic. You are essentially seeing something that appears real to your eyes and yet you are at the same time completely blinded to anything or anyone in your current geo-location. Essentially you still can't be in two places at the same time. Here or there, but not both.
Let's go back a second and see where in the publishing media portfolio VR might fit in. One of the common threads to understanding media today is the formula developed by Mary Meeker of time spent with media. It is usually broken down by an average person's total media usage - how much time is spent with TV, Radio, Print, Desktop and Mobile.
These sectors of media usage have been a moving target for many years, with print diminishing in just a few years from 8% to 4%, radio staying flat around 13%, TV down slightly from 42% to 39%, desktop slightly down from 25% to 22%, and mobile like a rocket on the rise from 8% to 25% in just a few years. So, the digital experience is approaching 50% of time spent with media. There is another report that suggests that by 2021, 90% of all internet traffic will be from smartphones. (Dazeinfo)
Here is my question about VR. Where in the formula of media usage does VR fit in? Will people ride trains and planes in the isolation of a blinded VR headset? Will commuters put them on while driving cars? Hopefully not till cars are self-driving. Will the public no longer go to movie theaters and just sit at home with their families each into his or her own VR world, sitting next to each other yet on completely different planets.
I do see the billion dollar gaming industry utilizing current time spent with gaming platforms using VR technology. I can also see many cases of VR as a teaching tool of the sciences, "showing" the student "things" they might not ordinarily be able to easily see. But where will the vast usage of VR use manifest?
Where will the majority of the public put on these social deprivation sets and withdraw from one world to another? Will the usage effect TV time? Perhaps. I can see some of that happening. Will it affect what is left of print's time in the media equation? No, I don't think so. Reading will drift more to reading on other substrates. Could it affect and replace radio time? No, I think not. Radio has the luxury of being part of a multi-media mix. You can do many things while listening to the radio, which is why the numbers of usage stay relatively high. Once you put on the VR device, I don't think you can multi-task with radio or anything else.
So my question is this - where does large scale VR usage fit into the media mix and where does it grow? How much time in any given day will the public blind themselves to their surroundings and actually use VR? Will the public use it in the office, on the commute, or while waiting in line at the supermarket? Will large sectors of the adult population come home, kiss the wife and kids, and abandon them for the rest of the evening in the remoteness of never-never VR land?
I'm not saying there isn't a new media section of time spent with VR, I just don't see it competing in any large way with social and live-in-the-moment, shared media experiences. VR has its place, but it will be much smaller than print, which is currently standing at 4% of time spent with media.