As an additional look at the world’s increasing moves into visual public relations, I recently had the chance to meet Taylor Freeman, 26, who was named with cofounder Will Mason, also 26, to the Forbes list of 30 Under 30 in Media for 2017.
Freeman is CEO of Upload, a Silicon Valley company that is working enable the growth of the VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) ecosystem to make it available to the consumer masses. The company is focused on skills training for individuals and corporations, educating the masses through an online media channel, uploadvr.com, and providing coworking, incubation and studio space for VR/AR startups.
Taylor Freeman is CEO of Upload (image courtesy of Hannah Tillson)
More than 45 companies use the company’s San Francisco incubation space. Thousands more take part in its online education program, created in partnership with Google, HTC and Udacity. The company that started as the outgrowth of a Meetup group in 2013 has now hosted more than 20,000 people at 200+ events. Like many 30 Under 30 recipients, Freeman and his company are not driven by a product but by a sense of mission. The company’s description of itself is a manifesto: “Virtual reality is transforming the way we learn, interact, and understand the world around us… Virtual reality opens the door to experiences we have yet to imagine... The potential of virtual reality is limitless. ”
Why now? “Every 10 to 15 years, a new major computing platform arrives,” the company says. “First it was the internet, then personal and mobile computing. Now it’s immersive computing. We live in a time where every idea is new and exciting in VR. It’s the Wild, Wild West and everyone has the chance to step up and make a serious impact in the areas that matter most to them. We are on the brink of a technological revolution.”
Freeman is quick to point out the benefits of VR that extend beyond gaming such as education, training, and remedial applications for conditions such as depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). One of the most-read articles on UploadVR.com is the story of a man who recently lost more than 50 pounds by playing a virtual reality game. How do these technologies impact the world of media and public relations? Freeman talks in particular about the growing trend of Augmented Reality in which specialized glasses and smartphone based solutions can offer access to 3D material around any contextual situation. Think enhanced street directions, or historic or story background around the sites you are viewing or the story you are reading.
In essence, AR allows us to interact with computers in a “more human” way —voice and eye tracking can provide us with the material we need, when we need it, by providing a layer of connectivity that understands the world around you. The concept of AR provides potential health benefits as well, as it could cure the trend toward increasingly bad posture and “tech neck,” from the habit of continually looking down at devices. Freeman’s cofounder, Will Mason, refers frequently to the “20 degree rule” that occurs when AR devices allow people to view the online information they need while continuing to look straight ahead.
Like any technology, VR and AR can lead to negative consequences as well. People (especially children and youth) could become so dependent on augmented reality for learning and entertainment they could eventually find it hard to cope with “non connected” reality. Too much AR could also heighten the tendency and symptoms of ADD or make it more difficult to focus on being truly present with family members and friends.
Imagine the implications, however, for fields of medicine—advanced surgeries—architecture, music and entertainment (let alone the additional branding and PR opportunities this technology holds.) On the whole, VR and AR present a compelling addition to the growing realm of visual communication—an arena where Freeman and his company intend to be leading the way.