A Tale of Two Trends: Augmented Reality and Transmedia Storytelling

Two distinct trends – one is sticky, the other is not. A look at the psychology behind the momentum.

Not that it’s a competition, but two distinct trends have emerged in the last two years that are coming to a level of make it or break it – Augmented Reality (AR) and Transmedia Storytelling (TS). Last summer innovators were buzzing about Augmented Reality (AR). This fall the buzz is about Transmedia Storytelling (TS).  Is the marketplace so fickle that we hop from one ‘next new thing’ to the other, or is there something deeper going on?

The promise of immersive technologies, from which AR is the shiny newborn, is its potential to bring the imagination into the experienced world, and to turn the experienced world into a magical place of the imagination. With AR objects can reveal latent information and transform into games, messages or links, and things we imagine can be overlaid onto existing objects.  That’s nice, but there’s still a piece of technology between you and “it”. With technology as mediator, how immersive can it really be?

Transmedia storytelling is the buy-direct version of the imagination.  Though it may be interacted with via technology and media, the real storyworld of TS lies in the mind of the user. The story may start with a film or a TV episode, but the real value of TS is that the user carries the storyworld with them from one life event to the next – chatting about The Matrix with a friend on the phone, thinking about it in line at the grocery store, or Googling a question about Neo that popped up while they were driving home.  Any of these thoughts may then manifest in a user-generated YouTube, a blog post or an original script submitted by a fan.  There the technology is simply the transmission device, it’s not the driver of the experience.  It is, really, the imagination unplugged.

In the ring, TS is a much stickier trend than AR.  Which isn’t to say that AR doesn’t have a place – once it moves beyond the romance of the gimmick to the technology actually disappearing, then users will re-engage at a higher level.  Requiring no goggles, screens or devices, TS is a true, immersive and pervasive media. By existing in the minds of the user the reach of TS doesn’t stop at the number of dvds bought, comic book revenue or box office take.  It is potentially 24/7, which is exactly what this generation of social media users expects. For a generation accustomed to creating their own media content, having technology as a screen between themselves and experience is an anathema.

I would still place money on AR – it would just be a long-term bet. Ask any child if the world is a magical place and they’ll show you the lions, tigers and bears hiding behind a parked car or a tree. It would be fun to see that through a screen, or even your sunglasses, but why wait? Stories have been around forever and by the time you find the glasses to see them on your kid has already moved on to dinosaurs and rocket ships.

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