The New York Times completely rocked my world on the morning of Nov. 8. I waddled to the driveway, cup of joe in hand, and picked up the thick wad of newspaper that always greets me on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t until I got inside and unwrapped the thing that I noticed the cardboard box.
It turned out to be a virtual reality machine, for lack of a better term. The result of a partnership with Google, the box unfolded to form something that looked a lot like the Viewmaster from my childhood. A sheet that came with it instructed me to download the NYTVR app on my cellphone. After that, I clicked a link to a video – a 10-minute documentary really. I put the phone in the cardboard and …
There is really no way to describe the experience, but here goes: The New York Times, through a phone app and a piece of cardboard, transported me to war-torn Africa, a Syrian refugee camp and into the ravaged Ukraine. I was alongside three of the 30 million children worldwide who have been displaced by war.
I will never think of video or news the same way again. Period. Here’s the Times announcement.
Of course, I knew about virtual reality. I was vaguely aware that it was being used for gaming and all sorts of training purposes. It seemed to require big, bulky headsets, fancy cameras and who knew what all. It just didn’t seem like something I would be interested in. And I wasn’t alone. …
“… Embarrassing confession time: I’m an editor at WIRED — you know, where we cover the future — and it just hadn’t sunk in that VR was something I could do, too,” wrote Marcus Wohlson on Wired in an articled headlined, “Google Cardboard’s experiment just hooked an entire generation on VR.”
(Google Cardboard, by the way, is the name of an offshoot of the famed and diversified Internet giant. And you can buy a viewer – or learn to make your own! – here.)
“Experiencing VR for the first time isn’t just cool,” Wohlson wrote, “it’s revelatory.”
Importantly and to the New York Times ever-lasting credit, the news organization didn’t just roll it out by putting viewers, say, on stage with Taylor Swift or in an NFL backfield (though you can be sure that is coming as well), it put us with kids in trouble. It seemed a tacit acknowledgement that in the not too distant future other kids would be using VR in ways we can’t imagine. And Wohlson refers to VR as a powerful “empathy engine” that can not just tell us what it’s like to have your parents burned alive in the Sudan, but make you feel it.
Video seems so 2005. Drones were cutting edge in 2010. Because of a powerful partnership between Google and a legacy media company that has been the standard bearer in our business forever, VR has changed everything in 2015.