What Facebook (and many, many others) get wrong about VR

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When Jeremy Bailenson was hired by Stanford University in 2003, he named his work on virtual reality the “Virtual Human Interaction Lab” — back then, he says, VR was considered so ridiculous that “I couldn’t be seen as ‘the VR guy.’”

Flash-forward to 2018: Companies like Facebook, Google, Samsung and Apple are investing heavily in VR and its sister technology AR — short for augmented reality. But Bailenson, the author of a new book called “Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do,” says there’s still a long way to go.

“The corporations, their job is to make money,” he said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “They make money when everybody’s using VR and they’re using it all day long. That’s why you’re seeing film and media and video games.”

“In my experience — and I’ve been doing this for 20 years now — VR doesn’t work for these long durations, using it every day,” he added.

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Unlike laptops or phones or wearables, VR isn’t about “long durations,” he noted; rather, it’s most powerful when a user can put on a virtual reality headset for a short, powerful experience, which Bailenson calls “intense, teachable, aha moments.”

”[I’ve] been watching companies who think they can do everything they’ve always done in VR come to grips with this fact,” he said. “There’s a reason people aren’t playing video games for 10 hours a day in VR, or why you haven’t seen a feature film that anyone has gone to.”

Bailenson’s lab — still called the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, even as acceptance has grown — is focusing on “content worth doing,” such as experiments around how virtual reality affects our minds. But on the new podcast, he elaborated on why telling stories in VR is so difficult, which may be why the medium hasn’t yet yielded a must-watch media product.

“When you have a listener to a podcast, you have her attention,” Bailenson said. “There’s no other sounds going through those earphones. In VR, if you want somebody to look at a specific spot at a specific time, you can’t force that.”

”VR is anarchy, people can look anywhere they want,” he added. “Film is fascism. It’s great! The director tells you where to look, when to look, and they have your attention.”

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This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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