What Virtual Reality offers Conservation Activism

A blog post from filmmaker and CMG founder, David Conover:

New media formats are always on the horizon. And just like the ocean waves crashing below me on a rocky Maine shore this September morning, they are also always piling up one after another, relentlessly shaping the ground on which we stand. The latest breaking wave is VR360, or 360-degree Virtual Reality (VR).

My first impressions a few years back, upon donning a beta version of the Oculus Rift headset system was simple: Digital Tsunami! My worst nightmare. As if my social life was not already challenged enough by the silent poking and swiping of smart phones, now, with virtual reality, we can each strap a smart phone to our heads and go somewhere else entirely. We can visit Syria or go inside the human heart or travel to Pluto. I saw my future in 360-degrees: A virtual world where I could go anywhere and see anything I wanted... without the laughter of gulls or the sea breeze.  VR seemed like a fast and easy way for my body (and the world I inhabit) to disappear and for my dog, Harley, to wander off and look for a new best friend. 

This risk aside, but not forgotten, I've now seen the excellent potential VR360 holds as a media tool for building upon activism and conservation towards healthier oceans and renewable energy solutions. As with any new technology crashing on our shores, it brings with it the capacity for opportunity and destruction bundled into one package. Here’s four reasons why I think we should embrace the opportunity to develop VR360 as a tool for positive change:

  • It's easy to use: Just stand up and look around. If you have eyes and ears, you’re pretty much ready to go. Expensive and complicated viewers are no longer required for access. To get started with a VR viewer, all you need now is a smart phone, a free app, and some cardboard.
  • It's innovative and there is an undeniable gee-whiz factor: People who love trying something new often find “newness” makes them vulnerable for a moment, which gets us thinking about our lives, what we value, and what we will fight to defend.
  • It's increasingly popular and gaining a foothold outside of the die-hard techy world: Last October, the New York Times sent out 1 million VR Cardboard viewers coupled with their free VR app. To date, they’ve had almost 1 million downloads. That’s a healthy rate of new media adoption. And, finally;
  • It can attract new-found attention: to your cause, your campaign, and your mission. And what organization or cause would raise objection to attracting new interest?

Consuming VR360 is one thing, but what’s involved with producing it? At the moment, on the low-cost end, you do have to find a mediamaker who knows how to strap 6 or 7 GoPros together to shoot footage that then needs to be stitched together in a presentable manner. Believe it or not, that's the easiest part. Oftentimes, we forget the effort and planning required to distribute our creations and measure their engagement and impact on our world. But we're discovering that this fast-growing format is worth the learning curve. Be prepared to make mistakes and keep moving. Everyone working in VR360 is just getting going.

As a filmmaker and activist, I began exploring VR360 just about two years ago, and, here at Conservation Media Group, we are building a database of talented mediamakers well-versed in the gear and techniques. We're also consulting with conservation organizations who wish to media-match with such talent in the context of action-oriented campaigns. We're also very excited to be able to provide funding and support through our grants programs to filmmaker-explorers who are riding this new wave and using it for positive change in RL (Real Life). You can explore their current projects at the links below...

Erik Rochner: Kelp VR

Now, back to the real waves!  Who could forget?