I’ve been thinking a lot about VR lately – specifically the social implications of a technology that is making a lot of noise and is certainly a focus of some giant dollars and companies. What I’ve been thinking about isn’t the implications of the technology or whether it’s The Next Big Thing or a bubble; rather, what I’ve been thinking about is how this will start to bleed into the online social behavior of billions.
The short answer of my independent musings: it will barely affect us at all for a long while yet. And the reason I feel this way has to do with how other major movements have bent in an altogether other direction in the last five years. My thoughts, and our cumulative research for nearly 7 years in online behaviors (and looking back much farther than that) have led me to notice another trend altogether.
Niche snack or loot boxes by mail, concert videos of that one song, picked up for pennies by a cab you tracked for miles, food and drink documentation, ordering pizza by yelling to a device across the room, or the entire legion of selfies that are uploaded every second…
The arc of behavior seems to be heading away from being content with where you are and instead about moving elsewhere or improving and working on where you are. “Plusing” your circumstance – if I can borrow Walt Disney’s term for overhauling an attraction.
Of course there’s an intense narcissism to this arc that highlights “wish you were here” but it’s also rooted in the actual idea of a constant churn of recognition and improvement among those doing the witnessing. It’s what brands want, all the time, from their advocates: they want you to make others want to have what you are having.
We are a nation of people who are interested in being both “Daniel” and the guy saying, “Damn, Daniel.”
Damn Daniel pic.twitter.com/Va10hmpePO
— Joshua Holz (@Josholzz) February 16, 2016
Which brings me back to VR. Again, this isn’t a commentary on the technology – it is mind-blowing and purposeful – it’s just far off from affecting social behaviors. No matter how big the new tech hotness, there’s future, and there’s far-future that starts to shape culture. And while VR/AR is powerful, interesting, and potentially Earth-shatteringly important, it’s also completely isolated from us. And not just in terms of price, but because at its very best and optimal, we’re talking about an independent experience that takes you out of your current environment. Consider the rise of esports – even the most insular of games are made to feel massive and participatory. Yes, there are feeds to watch someone head off into a single-player campaign on Twitch, but for a VR game experience you would need the same kind of rig to watch such a thing, and by then – why not just be playing yourself? VR has so much potential, but the promise of those goggles seems incredibly compartmentalized while the rest of technology appears to be about freeing yourself from particular technological constraints and using technology to facilitate interaction.
More simply put, our social right now is based on “Get Here” – suggesting that “Here” is a place you are, want to be, wish you could be, or are interested in observing. Nearly every major social technology of the last twelve months has been bending to become more in line with this trend. From live video (Periscope, Facebook Live) to Twitter’s emphasis of “Moments” to even the practical tech of Uber and the rise of experiences from fundraising to sporting events who seek to make you present and a part of not just something larger, but something live. I saw it for myself at a recent concert when I saw men and women from around the world thanking me for posting photos of their favorite band’s opening night of the tour show. They were seekers, looking for their advocates in an experience. It was by proxy, but it was also a surprisingly fresh, deep connection.
The best strategies then, will not seek to take us away or expect us to wallow in a single experience like VR (yet) – but rather give us a way to express a kinetic movement or draw others to the experience at hand, facilitating forward. It’s what we claim we want from advocates anyway, but rarely make it past simply throwing a share button on something. Consider how you can help someone express “Get Here” and who is looking for their advocates within your advocates.
by Dean Browell, Executive Vice President and Co-Founder