How Will Wearable Tech and Augmented Reality Change Content Creation?

If you’re drinking the Google Glass haterade or laughing at the idea of talking to a smartwatch, Robert Hernandez, an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, thinks you just may be on the wrong side of history.

In a packed session at the Online News Association’s 2014 conference in Chicago, Hernandez pointed out that aside from a handful of early adopters, the vast majority of people viewed cell phones and car phones with similar skepticism. And just as telephones have evolved over time—becoming smaller, less expensive, and more customizable—so have computers.

Wearable technology may be more than a popular fad; it could be the next evolutionary step for computers, which evolved from clunky machines taking up an entire room to mobile devices you can hold in your hand to devices you wear on your head or wrist.

Hernandez was hesitant to make predictions about how these emerging technologies could change journalism, but he thinks the change is coming quickly, especially since adoption periods for new tools come fast and furious.

“The thing that’s exciting about Google Glass is that there’s barely anything on there and none of the apps really focus on content creation [beyond photographs],” Hernandez said. “There’s nothing there yet.”

The best argument for using Glass for on-the-ground reporting is the ability to provide hands-free point-of-view journalism, telling a story from the reporter’s literal perspective. Although Hernandez acknowledged this seems gimmicky and may get old fast, he’s not ready to dismiss the idea outright, pointing out that many people were initially confused about why they’d need a camera on a phone. “Glass is still in beta and there’s a lot of problems with Glass,” he said. “But there’s still something there that should pique our interest.”

Hernandez is interested in contextual storytelling, which takes advantage of the ability of devices to know the time of day, the user’s location, and, in the case of Google Glass, what the user can see. This will allow reporters to create stories that are relevant to a specific time and place. “How can these screens be windows into another layer?” Hernandez asked. Augmented reality could provide that window, enhancing real-life experiences.

“It’s always on, it’s a nice little window, it’s not truly intrusive, it’s not immersive, meaning that it doesn’t take up your full field of view, and it can enhance your real life right now in real time,” he explained. “That, to me, is a really good combination for storytelling, for engagement, and for all these different actions that users would want. I think journalism and storytelling fit nicely into that mix.”

In one semester, Hernandez’s class on augmented reality storytelling and journalism created an iPhone app that allows users to learn more about the history of the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Branch, view augmented art, and unlock the library’s special collections using 3D models. In the future, Hernandez’s class will try to augment City Hall with interviews, photographs, archival footage, and data visualization to increase civic engagement. His Glass journalism students are experimenting and testing extensively.

As developers continue to explore new ways to use wearable technology, the barrier of entry for content creators will continue to fall. “You don’t have to be a coder to do augmented reality. You have more control, and you can customize it if you’re a coder, but that’s not required,” Hernandez said.

So what are some other unique possibilities?

Point-of-view reporting, for NBA draftees or international reporters.

Gesture-controlled interfaces—think the swipe from Tinder and Grindr—using devices such as the Myo gesture-control armband. Perhaps readers could swipe to save a story?

Controlling virtual characters, which could be very popular with gamers.

Immersive storytelling, such as the Des Moines Register‘s Harvest of Change project, which can be viewed with Oculus Rift.

Augmented reality browsers like Junaio, which can be used to find a build new AR projects.

Hernandez’s final piece of advice? Tap into your curiosity and start thinking about ways you could tell stories in an ethical, compelling, and user-focused way with new tools.

If the right side of history is here, now’s not the time to turn your back on it.

Image by Myo
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