Welcome to the Washing Machine

Dan Pacheco, Chair of Journalism Innovation, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse UniversityBy Dan Pacheco, Chair of Journalism Innovation, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

It seems like every day another groundbreaking technology appears that has the potential to fundamentally change the way consumers relate to media. From flying cameras to virtual reality, it’s clear that how we publish and receive information tomorrow will bear little resemblance to how we do it now.

If you’re thinking you only need to make it to the next big shift (for example, moving from print to digital), I have bad news for you. This cycle will continue into infinity. Even relatively new media technologies, such as computer-based Web browsing, are in the process of being disrupted by mobile phones. And look out mobiles, wearables are on their way to relegate you to the technology bone yard.

The truth is that the cycle of media disruption has sped up significantly in recent years as information is shared not through physical infrastructure but as digital bits. While it took 483 years from the time Gutenberg made it possible to mass publish texts to the ability for people to send their voices out over radio, it took only 5 years from the appearance of the consumer Internet on personal computers to access the Internet on a mobile phone.

In my classes at the S.I. Newhouse School I refer to this as the media washing machine, and it’s the new norm. The only way to be successful in a media career is to embrace change, run toward it and simultaneously avoid getting stuck in last year’s paradigm.

Part of my job as the Peter Horvitz Chair in Journalism Innovation is to look on the horizon and identify trends that might lead the next waves of disruption. I also challenge my students to do field tests of disruptive technologies, then use what they learn to predict where things will be in another 5 years. Following are some trends I believe will uproot current media businesses and empower entirely new ones.

  1. Virtual reality: While they look a little ridiculous, a number of scuba-mask-like headsets hitting the market later this year pose what I consider to be one of the biggest fundamental leaps in media capabilities since the rise of the Internet. It will soon be commonplace to virtually transport someone’s consciousness somewhere else using 360 videos, eventually even in real time. If I were in broadcast news I would be seriously thinking about how this will change my job. “Our reporter on the scene” standing knee-deep in the water at the next big hurricane may soon be all of us, virtually transported through a 360, 3D camera manned by a robot.
  2. Augmented reality: A close cousin to virtual reality, AR headsets like Hololens (from Microsoft) and Magic Leap (backed by Google) will allow you to see and interact with computer generated stuff inside your physical environment. Want to watch a sports game on your own big screen TV in the train station, or watch the characters in a movie act out a scene as if they’re standing in your own living room? Strap on your goggles and they’re there.
  3. Structural photography: Our concept of the photo is going to change dramatically as cameras gain the ability to capture the physical structure of a room. It’s already possible to strap a depth camera onto your iPad and generate a true 3D model of a personobject or space with its visual imagery wrapped around it. This is an exciting new tool for everyone from photojournalists to advertisers to allow people to not just view, but experience real places and products in three dimensions. I refer to this as “transferred reality.”
  4. Wearables and implantables: After years of rumors, the Apple Watch and Android Wear are finally here. While neither are perfect it’s clear that the race to move information onto our bodies is on. Even Google Glass, considered dead by popular opinion, is coming back in the form of “smart eyewear” designed by engineers who are being hired right now. The next logical, admittedly creepy step is implanted technology. In the future, will we all listen to our Podcasts through implanted earphones, or read headlines on oculuar implants? Or maybe even open up apps on a touch screen embedded in or projected onto our skin? The dreaded Terminator of tomorrow may just be … us.
  5. Drones and sensors: Three years ago, Congress mandated that the FAA find a way to integrate Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS for short) into the national airspace by October of this year. These so-called peaceful “drones” have great potential for media, including the ability to capture aerial photos and video, and the FAA has proposed rulesthat will kick in over the next 18 months. Five years from now, expect tens of thousands of drones to be sensing and sharing all kinds of data. Delivering Internet over the air to your house, structurally scanning entire cities from above, and automatically measuring air and water quality are just a few examples. I can also imagine an array of drones flying out in formation to capture 3D video of any event, similar to what FreeD does for sports. And yes, it does look like you can expect to receive Amazon packages by drone. Who knows, maybe Jeff Bezos will even deliver his Washington Post printed newspapers by air.

About the Author:  Dan Pacheco is the Peter A. Horvitz Chair of Journalism Innovation at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, and instructor of the Emerging Media Platforms class in the new Communications@Syracuse online masters program. Prior to teaching, he worked for nearly two decades in digital journalism, pureplay Internet companies and startups. Among other things, he helped launch Washingtonpost.com right after the birth of the consumer Internet and worked as a principal product manager for AOL community products.