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21 Alice Bonasio.

Sat, 03/23 04:17PM 29:49


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immersive technologies, technology, moving, podcast, audience, alice, world, hardware


Alice Bonasio, Damian Radcliffe

D Damian Radcliffe 00:04

Hello, and welcome to the first Demystifying Media podcast for 2019. Today we're going
to be talking Lego, Madonna, immersive media and much, much more. I'm Damian
Radcliffe, the Carolyn S. Chambers Professor of Journalism at the University of Oregon,
and my guest today is Alice Bonasio, the founder and editor-in-chief of TechTrends. Alice
is the first speaker for Winter 2019 in the Demystifying Media series, a program which
brings to the University of Oregon inspiring thinkers from across academia and the
creative industries. Alice, welcome to the podcast.

A Alice Bonasio 00:32

Hello. It's lovely to be here. Thanks, Damian.

D Damian Radcliffe 00:34

So let's kick off by talking about your website TechTrends. For people who are not familiar
with the site, what's it all about? And where did the idea come from?

A Alice Bonasio 00:44

Okay, well, the elevator pitch version of it is that it's a business news and opinion website.
It really covers the entire spectrum of the digital technology industry. So it comes down to

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anything and everything that I'm interested in, but also, just anything that has an impact
on people's lives. That's the stories I look for is is technology with a purpose.

A Alice Bonasio 01:14

And it's also a platform for my consultancy work--strategic consultancy. And that's where
the idea for it really came about. Because I come from a mixed background: I am a
journalist, I freelance for several external publications as well. Some of that content, then,
is cross-posted to tech trends, too. But at the same time, I have a PR communications
background, so we leverage our expertise and our context to advise clients on their own
communication strategy, digital adoption strategy, and also around immersive
technologies, which is an area that I've developed expertise in as well. And now we also
brought in lots of external contributors so the site is is expanding, and sort of getting a life
of its own, which is really nice, where we've just celebrated our third birthday as such, in
January, so three years on, it's very different from when I first started it, but we're really

D Damian Radcliffe 02:20

And are you finding their particular topics and themes that really resonate with an
audience? Or is it hard to tell?

A Alice Bonasio 02:27

It's sometimes surprising! Some of it has gone according to plan as such, because I, very
early on, developed this interest in immersive technologies, and I've personally covered it
and a lot of the content in TechTrends is about virtual, augmented, mixed reality--really
the cutting edge of that. So that's been very popular, and I think that a large part of our
audience really follow us for that type of content. So at the same time that things like
immersive technologies have proved really popular, I actually found some of the content
that I was, I don't know, sometimes even nervous about introducing--things like some of
our guest posts or product reviews, for example, infographics--they proved really popular
with the audience as well. So we've kind of mixed it up a lot more. And some of our
contributors, they have a very different sort of voice and tone to what I would produce.
And that's great, as well. So it's moved away from being solely a showcase of my own
work, to also just being in a more of a platform, which I'm really happy about two, three
years on now.

D Damian Radcliffe 03:48

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And you mentioned immersive media as kind of the overarching theme for a lot of the
work there. How would you explain and define what immersive media is for people who
are perhaps not familiar with it?

A Alice Bonasio 04:01

It's really the spectrum of technologies that really integrate the physical, the real world as
such, and the digital world of information.

A Alice Bonasio 04:16

And some of it is mediated, you know, by screens, and some of it, you experienced through
things like VR headsets, or other headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens, which then project
holograms, but also let you see the world around you. So, some people really distinguish
between the form--augmented reality is largely used to refer to screen-based experiences
at the moment, so things that you need a tablet or phone screen to see that content,
whereas virtual reality tends to be enclosed experiences where you need a VR headset for
that, and the mixed reality more the holographic stuff that has been Microsoft HoloLens
(and now Magic Leap is also in that space).

A Alice Bonasio 05:28

So, that covers the entire spectrum., but I don't really focus on the hardware that much,
because it is evolving so fast. I think the tendency will be towards some sort of
amalgamation of those. So that's why I like to refer to the spectrum because some
experiences in future will really, I think, go between being fully enclosed, and you have a
graphics-generated environment, to the real-world environment around you augmented
by graphics. It really should depend on the purpose of that content, rather than being
dictated by the hardware that you using.

A Alice Bonasio 05:54

So we're moving fast towards towards a future where information and people will interact
inreally intuitive and fluid ways and the hardware will increasingly disappear and become
invisible, so that you can walk around and wear, you know, even your normal pair of
glasses, that technology will be embedded so that you can use your Google Maps in a
voice-activated way and see the directions on the corner of your eye rather than having
to take your phone out of your pocket. That's that's the kind of future we're moving
towards, I think.

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D Damian Radcliffe 06:31
So that's something we can look forward to at some point down the line. What are some
of the things you have seen over the last couple of years that have really caught your eye
in terms of experiences and engagement or engaging content?

A Alice Bonasio 06:43

Well, there is really such a range. And that's what got me into this in the first place was the
fact that because this is actually a paradigm shift, rather than one gadget-one thing, then
I was able to really investigate so many different use cases, go into every industry and
every application. I've been really fascinated about how it can be used in education and
training, because that is fundamentally something that's kind of been the missing link in a
lot of areas. So for example, medicine, that's a huge example there.

A Alice Bonasio 07:25

And there's no wonder that so many companies are moving into that space, developing
products around, for example, training surgeons, because training a surgeon is such an
expensive and complex area. They often work on cadavers--that's exceedingly expensive,
and is a compromise! I mean, the dead body does not behave the same way as a living
one. But obviously you don't want to let somebody inexperienced, you know, sort of mess
around with a living patient either. So how do you bridge that gap? Because surgeons
needed to not only sort of have a realistic look about how things in work in a procedure,
but there's also feel. And now there's such amazing work happening with not only
immersive environments, where they really see this beating heart, and they will be able to
practice that procedure safely, hundreds of times before they even, you know, go near a

A Alice Bonasio 08:29

So that that practice is what makes for a good surgeon. And then at the same time there's
haptics so that they're actually getting the sensitive feedback on resistance and tissue,
that mean are you cutting through bone or sinew or whatever, and that will feel different.
And that's done in--companies are working with surgeons to just calibrate and get that
right. We're already so advanced in such areas, and I was kind of blown away as I was, you
know, demoing things. And, again, I probably killed the virtual patient as I was operating.

D Damian Radcliffe 09:06

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But it wasn't a real one, so...

A Alice Bonasio 09:07

Exactly! But yeah, it's really amazing just how realistic it really is. So that area, which is
called cognitive embodiment, when you really have the physical action that accompanies
your learning, you retain things a lot better as well. And your brain is not expending that
energy in sort of converting words or 2D drawings into visualizing those procedures as
well. So again, you you using all of that power to actually understand what you're doing.
And that's a real shift and learning. So learning is a big area. And then things like social--
the way that people will interact with each other in these environments, when they have a
real sense of presence, I think, once we get that, then it could have a real impact, even
environmental, for example, cutting down on the need for business travel, and all of that.

A Alice Bonasio 10:21

If you can really effectively get that feeling of meeting people outside--you don't get that
at the moment in a Skype meetings. Obviously, it serves a purpose, but it's not that. But
I've now been in a few VR conferences and even with, you know, compromises and
cartoony avatars. you're getting to that sense of presence. So I think that that's going to
be another big one. And that's just two off the top of my head, but it literally is every area.

D Damian Radcliffe 10:50

Well, I think what's interesting about those examples is that they're kind of more business-
oriented, the kind of the training focus, where I would argue that a lot of the kind of
popular conception of these things is around entertainment media and entertainment
activities. And they're not the examples you've just highlighted.

A Alice Bonasio 11:08

Yes, and I've had lots of fun in VR. But yes, funnily enough, the things that I've had most
fun with were some of these practical demos. One of my favorites, was actually a
Microsoft HoloLens demo, where they set it up so that I could fix a light switch. And that
was really fun. Also, because I'm useless at DIY, so it was just a real sense of
accomplishment, in being able to do something that you had no idea how to do, but then
somebody is instructing you step-by-step, not only telling you but showing you, and your
hands are free, so you can do things as those things are projected in front of your vision.
That's incredibly powerful and really fun! And I have that from other people as well, that
when they get into VR, they just really enjoy being in the environment and doing mundane

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things often. So that's a surprising thing about the medium.

A Alice Bonasio 12:11

But I've tried a lot of games, and I think--I know the perception because you see the
gadget, and then you think well, that is what it is, is it's a gimmick, it's something that that
you try on for fun. And I've had those experiences, and some of them are good, but I think
that is selling it short for what it is because it is about so much more. And often, those
experiences are not designed specifically for VR, and then that can also be a problem. I
think that some of the the video games that are expected to work really well in the
medium, they just they were just a bit overwhelming. The example I had when I first tried
the PlayStation VR and I tried Resident Evil, I couldn't play for more than about 10-15
minutes. It didn't allow for that long-term exposure, which is essential for enjoying that
title, because it's not a casual game, you know.

A Alice Bonasio 13:14

So I think that there's still just a disconnect between the content and the medium there,
and it will probably get a lot better, because there's just so many amazing game-makers
that will probably move into the VR space. And I think that that's what's needed. Those
people need to just tackle the design issues around comfort and really get their heads
around how to make satisfying VR games that do something that wouldn't be possible
without VR and at that stage, then you probably get that push as well. But I don't think
that consumer adoption as such--people buying it for entertainment--is the essential
thing for the technology at the moment because you do have a sustainable business
model around the other use cases. And that's what I think guarantees the longevity of this
rather than, you know, we didn't sell that many units at Christmas, therefore, it's a dud. It's
not going to be like 3D TV in that sense.

D Damian Radcliffe 14:23

So we've seen a lot of excitement from our students about this kind of vision that you have
painted, and they were really interested and very engaged in some of the examples that
you have shared with them over the last couple of days. What are the implications of this
future world or present world that you've just described for content creators, for brands?
What sort of things should we be thinking about that perhaps we're not right now?

A Alice Bonasio 14:46

I think that the main thing would be the skill set that's required. It's going to be very

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different. But at the same time, you will be able to re-purpose some of those skill sets from
other media. But it is a balance, I think that if you come to VR or to immersive
technologies with a set of expectations, that it will be like this, or like other media, then
then you likely just fitting a, you know, square peg in a round hole. And that's not what it
needs. You need to explore what the medium does in its own right. And that takes just a
particular sort sort of creator. And I think we have a lot of brilliant people in that space
that are already doing some amazing work on that. And not all of it is great straight away.

A Alice Bonasio 15:49

And I think that's like in the tech industry, you have this concept of "fail fast and iterate."
And I think that that's what's needed here: we're going to have a lot of failures! And we
just need to learn from them, and move on and map our way around that. The quote that I
used in my presentation was actually from Thomas Edison that says, You know, I have
results, I know thousands of things that won't work. And that's exactly how I feel about this
technology! You need to find all of the things that don't work, because it's like feeling your
way around a dark room to map it out, really. And then talking to the students was really
good, because I feel that this next generation of communicators is really the one that is
going to need to figure out this rule book. And it's nice to have people coming in with a
fresh perspective that is informed by having studied media, but then they don't have 30
years of working in a particular medium.

D Damian Radcliffe 16:56

They're not restricted by thinking "this is the way you do it."

A Alice Bonasio 16:58

Exactly. And you know, you inevitably, as you do things, then you will find your
comfortable, settled way of doing that. And it's not to say that established media makers
can't change. and a lot of them will pivot into immersive [tech]. At Rain Dance Film
Festival in London, I talked to this producer, and he was well into his 60s and had worked
with every Hollywood legend you can name and was just, like, a film legend. And he was
gushing about the potential of VR. And he said, "I found a new career at 60. But I'm
learning everything over again." So that's exciting in its own right. But then you also get
the brand new fresh-eyed perspectives coming in there. And these people get to write the
rulebook of an entirely new medium and you don't get that sort of opportunity very often.
So that's what I find exciting about it.

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D Damian Radcliffe 18:06
And we've also heard from people working in other mediums about the fact that if you are
a little bit older, have a few more gray hairs, then you do need to consistently be adding
to your skill set. So you know, we've talked to photographers in this in this series, and
they're saying, well, I started out doing photography, and it was on film, then we move to
digital, then I had to start doing video, you know. So it's not just students who are coming
in with new interests to the workforce with a wide skill set, you know, everybody who's in it
also needs to constantly adding new things to their skill set. And I think one of the other
things that really resonated with students was when you talked about skills as being like
Lego. Do you want to say a little bit more about that?

A Alice Bonasio 18:49

Absolutely. And I think that what you say is really to the point there, because, for example,
with photography, that's a really good example. You can uncouple some of the skills of a
photographer. And those are, what I would say, that they're like your foundation breaks,
really, they will be useful in whatever form of the medium you use.

A Alice Bonasio 19:15

So if you know about how lighting works, for example, it's like going back to the bare
bones of whatever medium. So if they're doing video, that's the same principles; if they're
doing old-fashioned photography, and black and white, that's the same principle. And in
VR, that's going to also be very useful. Even if you are generating that light artificially,
digitally, whatever. I was really struck when I went to a Unity workshop. So Unity is one of
the main engines that's used in gaming, but just generally like making 3D environments.
So a lot of VR content is done in unity. And I'm not a coder, but I was picking up the
general way in which an environment is built in an engine like that.

A Alice Bonasio 20:04

And I was really struck at the parallels between that and stage design in theater. Because
the way that you would place the light would be like placing a spotlight. And then the way
that you have to visualize 3D objects and then place them in the scene, and how does it
look from different places where you place the audience? Your audience will not all be in
the same place, because they'll be seated differently. How does it look for the actors? All
of those things are transferable. So a theater person has a really useful skill set for VR. So
you shouldn't stop teaching that.

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A Alice Bonasio 20:47
And that's what I think is important when we're rethinking how to equip the new
generation's tools to go into that field is that a lot of this knowledge, you uncoupled it
from what is ephemeral. And that's why I say don't get too hung up on hardware-specific
or software-specific things. You know, coding languages tend to be good, because like a
lot of them are transferable. So if you learn something, it's probably more useful to go
back to the basics of coding and have a little bit of that if you're of that technical bent,
rather than "oh, I will learn one platform." And I'll only work in Maya, for example. And that
can be useful, but maybe another engine will come along that's so much better and easier
to work with that everyone will start using and then your skill set will be a little bit
obsolete, and you'll have to rush to catch up.

A Alice Bonasio 21:44

So you can't see anything as the end of the line. It's about how do you have those core
skills, and then always adding the extra bits to it, and every project will be different. And
\you won't have all of the skills that you need--it's a collaborative environment, that's
really important too--project based work, you will always really have to source different
skills, and that's a skill set in itself, to recognize who can help you to achieve something,
and how to bring them together, and to coordinate that, I mean, some of the most in
demand jobs out there in project management. And that is a, a very specific skill as well
that can be for a technical or non-technical person. So really broad opportunities.

D Damian Radcliffe 22:35

So your skills as well as kind of projects as a whole, you talked about them being being
modular, so you have an array of different kind of bricks, if you like, these Lego bricks, and
you kind of bring them together to create something that's bigger than the sum of its

A Alice Bonasio 22:48

Exactly, and that's about having a creative approach to that. So you don't see, if things
change, you don't see it as a negative. You see an opportunity, and then you add to that
and you adapt to it. So, if something isn't fitting in your current construction, then you take
some something away, you build on that, and you have that confidence that your tools
will adapt to the job at hand. So it is like like Lego: you can see a pile of bricks, but if you
have the creativity and the know-how, then you can build any amazing thing that your
imagination desires, really.

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D Damian Radcliffe 23:32
And this sentiment also applies I guess to the Madonna analogy you gave yesterday and
which I alluded to at the top of the podcast. I thought we might all be voguing in class, but
sadly not. For a future time, next time! Can you explain what you meant by, be like--I think
you said we need to all be a bit more like Madonna in our lives.

A Alice Bonasio 23:51

Yes. I think where it comes to developing your career, then yes, I think we could all be a bit
more Madonna. She is a very good example of somebody who has always--she's true to
herself, she hasn't just changed with the times in her personality. She has a core of what
she is, but at the same time, her look, her music, her attitudes have always been
influenced by her audience and the times. And you compare her early music and her early
looks, you know, and throughout her career, I mean, they could be entirely different
people almost!

A Alice Bonasio 24:43

So that is what I mean, about pivoting and not being afraid to reinvent yourself. It's not
just about following trends. It is about staying true to yourself, but also interacting and
taking in what's around you and moving with the timed. So the the example I gave was
that when we first launched our website, we had a specific focus on just education
technology, because that was my particular area of expertise at the time. And I thought it
would be easier to build a niche website rather than trying to get a general audience. But
actually, then I started seeing how many stories were out there that went beyond that
scope. And I realized that there was no real advantage to limiting ourselves to that. So we
did an early rebrand on the site, which was really effective and allowed us to really build it
to the place that it is now. So that's just one example.

A Alice Bonasio 25:53

And as I said, with tech, you you do have an attitude of try something else, see what
sticks, see what what your audience actually likes, which often is very different from what
you think, and then iterate, like, there could be a small change, it could be a big change.
But you cannot be afraid. There is no end point. It's about constantly evolving a product,
and if you're not evolving, then likely you're not doing it right at that,as well. So it is very
much a sort of Rolling Stone, you know, don't gather moss sort of analogy as well. So um,
you know, Mick Jagger's another great example, if you want the male equivalent, I think.

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D Damian Radcliffe 26:45
Talking of Rolling Stones and your kind of, I guess, next reinvention--you've just recently
relocated to the States. So what's next on the horizon for you?

A Alice Bonasio 26:56

Well, I think that at the moment, I'm really interested in exploring the local scene. I mean,
this is an amazing part of the world--I've got roots here, as well. So I'm, I've always been a
citizen of the world. I've got four nationalities.

D Damian Radcliffe 27:12

Which I think is a record. I don't think anybody else has many different passports. A little
Jason Bourne.

A Alice Bonasio 27:18

Yes, exactly. So they're all real, amazingly enough. So I've been, I've been lucky enough to
have been born with three of them. And I've also naturalized as British. So I still like Britain,
I still have roots there. And I'll go back very often as well. And it's kind of a jewel, you
know, home at the moment. But in this part of the world, I think that there is such an
amazing ecosystem as well. And I think it's almost overlooked. You guys keep it quiet. And
I think it might be part of the strategy as well.

A Alice Bonasio 27:59

Yeah, you don't want too many people to come over. But no, generally I'm I'm very much
enjoying the environment, but professionally, there is a lot of immersive, emerging tech
going on around, well, certainly around places like like Seattle, and San Francisco, but
then coming to this middle part, Portland is a really emerging tech hub as well. And even
in Eugene as well, I've found some surprising finds as well. So I think that I'll enjoy
exploring the possibilities around here and hopefully interacting more with the University
of Oregon and its students as well.

D Damian Radcliffe 28:00

It's a well-kept secret.

Alice Bonasio 28:38

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A Alice Bonasio 28:38
Great. Well, Alice, thank you so much for taking the time to join with us today. A reminder
that Alice's full talk and other materials related to her visit this week will be on our website
at Keep an eye out for that. And in the meantime, it just
remains for me to thank once more my guest today, Alice Bonasio. Thanks for joining.

A Alice Bonasio 29:14

Thank you, my pleasure.

D Damian Radcliffe 29:23

If you've enjoyed this podcast, why not check out another from the University of Oregon
School of Journalism and Communication? The Listeners podcast is a show about the
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Thanks for listening.

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