Immersive experiential history

Posted on November 13, 2010 by


From time to time, I discuss the “architecture” and development of digital history, and one area that fascinates me most is the potential for creating immersive experiential history (and yes, just a few steps short of the holodeck) In its present form, I don’t think the tools for the Web are great enough to do what needs to be done. For starters, browsers on a flat screen don’t facilitate the immersion of the visual. HD and 3-D features are now optional in our televisions, so I think we’re close to the idea of some sort of wrap-around Web screen (take a look at C.A.V.E. and where that technology is, at present). Once we get to this type of device (and hopefully, it won’t be cumbersome… or so “wired”), we’ll be a significant step closer to having what we need to develop these dynamic digital history set-ups… though there’s much more to do to make the “experience” even more dynamic beyond the visuals.

Frankly, for now, movie theaters may be the closest we can get to immersive experiential history… but it isn’t interactive outside the imagination (…yet). Think about it… how many theater-experienced movies have you enjoyed where you’ve lost, even for seconds at a time, sense of self? Oh, come on, admit it… it happens. Sometimes you might even walk out of a movie feeling that (as opposed to how you felt going in) life outside the theater is more surreal than real.

Maybe it’s the high-def and audio systems set-ups that push us to the threshold with “experience”, but don’t take us quite over the top. But then, do we really want to go over the top?

Just how far do we want to go with experiential history? At what point can experiential history merge with real life, and blur our ability to distinguish real life from imagined life? At what point can such dynamic experiences warp our personal sense of time and place(ment) within existing culture and society? Additionally, could such “experience devices” make us addicts to virtual environments? After all, wouldn’t it be easier for some to live in “the virtual space” vice the reality of the present? While it could serve as a fascinating tool for education and… even a form of amusement/escapism… at what point would experiential history become more than we would want?

There’s a lot to consider…

But then, aren’t we already privy to some forms of immersive experiential history?

Certainly, to a point, reenactors engage in it. In addition to living in “the bubble” from time to time, they can even serve as facilitators for others to sneak glimpses into the past. Yet, even in this situation, the experiences aren’t completely immersive. We are able to keep ourselves in the present. In the “bubble”, whether as a reenactor, or as one who becomes engrossed observing living history, the reality check is in the environment, and in and on us… there are all forms of anomalies. It’s sort of like that penny what’s his name pulls out of his pocket in the movie, Somewhere in Time. We’re usually kept grounded in the present by something.

Even though we haven’t fully adapted to the current phase of digital history, what’s the next step for dynamic forms of history?