3-D TV would add little to storytelling
The New York Times has a story about three-dimensional TV. The reporter notes that 3-D movies and television have been tried occasionally in the past but never caught on, and concludes that “the question, now as then, is whether 3-D has staying power or will remain a gimmicky fad.” This ties in perfectly with my previous post about which media innovations catch on and which don’t. The problem is that 3-D television or movies add comparatively little to the experience relative to what is added by a 2-D movie compared to, say, a book or a still image. But think of images on the evening news. What makes video of pill bottles rolling along a factory conveyor belt during a report on medical news tell the story better than a still? And, for that matter, frankly, does a still tell the story any better than no picture at all? The ultimate problem — and opportunity — for multimedia is that some mediums do not tell some stories very well. The trick is to pick the appropriate medium — be it prose, a timeline, a table, a chart, a graph, a map, a photo, a 360-degree panorama, an audio clip, a video clip, or yes, 3-D video — for the story you are trying to tell. Telling a story in an unnatural format may be just glitz without adding anything to substance, and yes, audiences know this. It’s why, even in the movie and TV business where everything is about glitz in the first place, audiences have never grown attached to 3-D movies or TV. There aren’t enough movie plots that are best told in 3-D form. In my opinion, though, there is one hugely important “story” that deserves a better medium than it has right now that the Times article misses entirely. There's great potential for the 3-D viewing without glasses that the article describes in next-generation human/computer interfaces, if not on the evening news. The modern computer GUI’s “overlapping windows” paradigm is a three-dimensional analogy on a two-dimensional screen. I am sure there are significant enhancements that could be made in interface design, and thus productivity, if 3-D ever came to computer monitors. 3-D may not impact journalism by offering viewers 3-D photographs, but what about 3-D infographics or 3-D Web pages? Think about the extra information — or relationships between bits of information — that reporters could communicate in such a format.