‘VR can be a religious experience’

Interview with media pioneer Aina Abiodun

, Elja Looijestijn

The world is changing and the media is changing with it. Makers are using new technology and strategies to bring their stories to the public. VPRO is a sponsor of this progress, which can most keenly be felt in the field of technology, media and storytelling. This progress also creates new professions. VPRO Gids presents the forerunners of modern media in a series of interviews.

The third portrait in this series is the American Aina Abiodun, who is involved with the future of media on a daily basis. VPRO Gids talked to her at VPRO Medialab’s Conference for the Curious during STRP Biënnale in Eindhoven, where she was one of the speakers.

How would you describe your profession?

‘I combine two things. I started as a filmmaker and have now turned my focus towards technology. About seven years ago I founded Storycode, an organisation that brings together storytellers and techies. Storycode now has branches all over the world.

Advertising was one of the first fields to start experimenting with storytelling through the use of technology. There is huge pressure to do something new and interesting in the world of advertising. So this is how I rolled into the field and now I’m a strategist at an advertising agency in New York. I do a lot of research and development of ideas.’

What do you think people currently want from the media?

‘There are so many different kinds of media competing for attention. We see screens and electronics everywhere around us and we are inundated with information. We, the makers, are all trying to grab as much attention as possible from the viewer. But consumers are often looking for less, not more. People are mostly looking for something they can feel emotionally attached to. In between all the distractions, people want to experience something really personal. Some people gain this from a TV programme, others with a virtual reality experience. Or in the cinema: the lights go out and you become completely immersed in the story for the next 90 minutes. Something that offers me an experience that makes me drop everything and forget everything else, that is the future.’

'Something that is truly new is artificial intelligence. As yet we have no idea where it will lead. It is sure to generate some complex questions, and is the most challenging thing coming our way.’

Aina Abiodun

What are the latest new developments?

‘I find it important to place things in a historical perspective. Nothing is truly completely new. I see virtual reality as a new form of theatre, for example. It has all the elements of a theatre experience. Another possible application of VR that I see more and more is that it can offer a kind of religious experience. A special place that you can go back to time and time again to relive a special experience. And both theatre and the church are thousands of years old.

Something that is truly new is artificial intelligence. As yet we have no idea where it will lead. It is sure to generate some complex questions, and is the most challenging thing coming our way.’

What are the biggest hurdles that still need to be taken?

‘Hardware is always a big hurdle. You have to wear big, heavy goggles, or go somewhere. I believe that in the future there will be a more invisible connection with technology. This is why I now often find augmented reality more interesting than virtual reality. It’s interesting to think about how this technology can become part of our daily lives. Unlike the escapism of VR, AR is often also a social experience. Perhaps you haven’t yet seen such spectacular examples, but I think it will have an enormous impact on our lives. What would happen if our bodies fused with technology, I find it incredibly fascinating.

Another problem is that very few people have access to this new technology. This means that a large proportion of humanity is excluded from making it and therefore also excluded as target audience. I find this problematic. Changing this is difficult, as it requires a lot of money and dedication.’

What kind of media consumer are you?

‘I have to try out everything for my work, but my personal consumption is rather average. I like to watch really long films and read a lot on my e-reader. My function at work is to analyse things, so I need to maintain distance. When I’m not working, I like to read, meditate and do yoga. This helps me look after myself.’