How and why tech advances will transform communications this decade

The CES 2020 event explored and exploited an array of methods for altering reality, and its ripples will upend such diverse sectors as tourism, home design and health care.

CES 2020 kickstarted a new decade for the tech industry, which now touches nearly every sector.

Walking around the show floor, watching demonstrations and learning about all the new gadgets, services and products, one quickly realizes that the Digital Age has given birth to the Age of Experience, with many speculating we are headed for another Roaring Twenties.

Let’s hope not. We all know how that decade ended.

Instead, we can be hopeful that we are collectively creating a decade of sustainable economic growth and prosperity unlike any other thanks to innovation and technology that has transformed the way we work, play, live and communicate. It wasn’t long ago—just over 20 years—that the quickest way to distribute a press release was by fax.

This is not to say that we are on easy street. Today’s PR professionals will need more skills than ever simply because our reality is shifting drastically—and in higher definition.

Consider what more than 175,000 people witnessed on the show floor at CES. Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR)—collectively called XR tech—grabbed center stage, present in nearly every announcement, booth and conversation taking place in the press room.

The future is now

Fast-forward a few years, but not too many, and we are living XR-enhanced lives with augmented homes, restaurants, vacation destinations, banks and news—broadcast, print, online and radio. The question is, where does the XR life meet real life? For communications professionals, will it matter?

That depends on one’s willingness to look at reality from different perspectives.

Despite the thought of XR being more fictional than fact, it’s far more real than many of us can comprehend. In the same way most of us are unable to detect that we are dreaming when asleep, the human brain does not always distinguish between our physical world and what is projected on a screen.

Think of watching a scary movie. Many of us experience fear right along with the actor(s), even though we know it is not real. The brain registers that emotion of fear and triggers a visceral reaction. The same is true when viewing or even thinking of something sad or pleasant.

Virtual reality takes a role in treating addiction

This year’s Digital Health Summit at CES included a compelling documentary featuring a community hospital using VR to create patient-focused addiction treatment. During episodes of pain, patients wore headsets and took in awe-inspiring visuals—hyper-realistic scenes of the ocean, mountains, rivers and streams.

That was followed by a thoughtful discussion on where regulatory bodies such as National Health Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services stand in helping to shape the progress of digital health.

Though the use of VR in health care is in the experimental stage, it has attracted the attention of not only hospitals hoping the technology will help distract patients—or retrain their brains to deal with pain—but also the National Cancer Institute, which partnered with AppliedVR in November 2019 to explore the effects of immersive technology in reducing anxiety in patients with terminal cancer.

In addition to affecting consumer experiences across all industries, XR tech is bound to influence the way news and information is distributed, consumed and shared, presenting challenges and opportunities for marketers and communications professionals alike.

Creatives, who spend more time in the illusory realm—developing unique campaigns, ads and branding—will probably be less encumbered in a XR world. For analytic types, they’ll have to adapt and accept that what’s real and imaginary have always lived side by side. The difference today, as evidenced by the new products showcased at CES, is that the lines are blurring, particularly with false news and deep fakes.

The audience is now the message

In the end, it is important to remember that communication in any form is simply an impression or perspective being presented to a particular audience. These messages will resonate with some but not everyone. It’s the reason why people choose Verizon over ATT, Showtime over HBO, Adidas over Nike, Paris over Istanbul.

Like life, business is a never-ending, ever-evolving story. The way these stories are told and the people who are telling them must evolve, too.

With open minds, we might find these new techniques and technologies taking us all on a very exciting ride into a rich experiential future. Imagine having a plethora of tools to communicate a brand message that people can see and feel, or better yet, immerse themselves in.

Some scientists believe these experiences will expand the capacity of the human brain. At the very least, they are bound to expand the boundaries of human perception.

Valerie Christopherson is founder and CEO of Global Results Communications.

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