News reaches the third dimension

“Will we let our audiences step over dead bodies the way I step over my son’s dirty socks?”

2021 will be the year when things get a lot less flat.

Ten years ago, I remember a dean at a major university, close to retirement, complaining about the viewing experience of the miniature screen during the early days of the iPhone. No way, he snorted, would anyone watch movies on that tiny little box.

Change is hard, right? Get ready for more.

What may not yet be obvious is that those same devices that vastly enhanced our ability to create and consume 2D imagery are now powering a new transition, which will accelerate during 2021. We’re about to step outside that tiny box that the dean complained about so bitterly and begin experiencing the world as it really is — instead of as flatties constrained to square slices for viewing.

The iPhone 12 takes a technology that used to cost tens of thousands of dollars and puts it in your pocket. Now you can capture everything around you with dimension — the lidar camera on every new iPhone underscores Apple’s commitment to this shift. (And now that it’ll be commonplace, folks, we can stop spelling it LiDAR.) Using just your phone, you can create a representation of any room and share it so that anyone could potentially “walk” around that room using any AR/VR device as a window into that space. Yes, now my son will be able to send me a true reflection of his dorm room, and I’ll be able to cringe as step over the dirty socks and beer cans on the floor.

It’s true that the current capture technology can have some blurry edges or other artifacting, which requires some cleanup by a digital artist, but that’s being addressed by a number of companies. Also, what about timelines and story? We’ve been working on how to create a browser-based no-code solution to let anyone assemble 3D experiences with REACH.Love. It was supported at its inception with a grant from the Knight Foundation, and a second grant we received from Mozilla means we should have a beta candidate this spring — just in time for people to start thinking about how to share and enhance those lidar captures on their phones.

Journalistically, though, we must consider the real ethical questions posed by the availability of this technology. For years, I’ve raised questions about the type of material we’ll soon be able to capture — from bombings to homicides. Will we let our audiences step over dead bodies the way I step over my son’s dirty socks? I don’t think so, but we must start addressing how lessons learned in previous media technologies — such as when we started sending footage from the Vietnam War into viewers’ living rooms for the six-o’clock news — should be applied to three-dimensional journalism.

2021 will be the year when things get a lot less flat.

Ten years ago, I remember a dean at a major university, close to retirement, complaining about the viewing experience of the miniature screen during the early days of the iPhone. No way, he snorted, would anyone watch movies on that tiny little box.

Change is hard, right? Get ready for more.

What may not yet be obvious is that those same devices that vastly enhanced our ability to create and consume 2D imagery are now powering a new transition, which will accelerate during 2021. We’re about to step outside that tiny box that the dean complained about so bitterly and begin experiencing the world as it really is — instead of as flatties constrained to square slices for viewing.

The iPhone 12 takes a technology that used to cost tens of thousands of dollars and puts it in your pocket. Now you can capture everything around you with dimension — the lidar camera on every new iPhone underscores Apple’s commitment to this shift. (And now that it’ll be commonplace, folks, we can stop spelling it LiDAR.) Using just your phone, you can create a representation of any room and share it so that anyone could potentially “walk” around that room using any AR/VR device as a window into that space. Yes, now my son will be able to send me a true reflection of his dorm room, and I’ll be able to cringe as step over the dirty socks and beer cans on the floor.

It’s true that the current capture technology can have some blurry edges or other artifacting, which requires some cleanup by a digital artist, but that’s being addressed by a number of companies. Also, what about timelines and story? We’ve been working on how to create a browser-based no-code solution to let anyone assemble 3D experiences with REACH.Love. It was supported at its inception with a grant from the Knight Foundation, and a second grant we received from Mozilla means we should have a beta candidate this spring — just in time for people to start thinking about how to share and enhance those lidar captures on their phones.

Journalistically, though, we must consider the real ethical questions posed by the availability of this technology. For years, I’ve raised questions about the type of material we’ll soon be able to capture — from bombings to homicides. Will we let our audiences step over dead bodies the way I step over my son’s dirty socks? I don’t think so, but we must start addressing how lessons learned in previous media technologies — such as when we started sending footage from the Vietnam War into viewers’ living rooms for the six-o’clock news — should be applied to three-dimensional journalism.

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