Immersive (AR, VR, mixed reality) represents a new medium for communication, collaboration, and experience. Just as radio, telephone, and TV transformed all aspects of society and culture, immersive will have a similar, and potentially broader impact. It isn’t just about technology – immersive changes the way we think about our world, and by extension, what it means to be human.

Think about how TV changed sports; every aspect has been touched by the medium. Fans became able to experience a game from their home or local watering hole. It could be a solitary or shared experience, but they didn’t have to go to the stadium. Yet attendance at the stadiums did not fall off, but rather interest expanded. Players went from being local heroes to national and international stars, while ad revenues pushed salaries from blue-collar wages to 7-8 figures. Coaching went from using limited real-time information (watching a game) to expansive recording, archiving, and analysis capabilities. The medium of television wasn’t just about a fan watching the game from home – it altered every aspect of the sport and the associated industries.

Immersive, as a new medium, will have similar repercussions, the breadth and depth of which we are only starting to understand. Even in these early days, we know that immersive will take the fan from the couch to the field in new ways. While broadcast has been getting more sophisticated with multiple camera views, zip-line and drone feeds, player mics, etc, the end-user experience is still at arms-length no matter how big the screen. Immersive will eventually allow the user to not just see and hear what is happening (in real time and asynchronously), but move into the action. Right now the focus is on visual presentation, but as sound and haptics become more advanced, one can imagine a fan being able to get an even deeper interaction with “the game.”

The experience will change for players as well, depending on how the technology is implemented. Currently computers are ubiquitous on the sidelines. The days of drawing a play up in the dirt moved to the chalkboard, to the dry erase board, to the computer, and to the tablet (much to Microsoft’s chagrin – witness the recent NFL playoff game issue with Surface computers). But while each of those technologies represented new capabilities, they remain a flat screen representing profoundly 3-dimensional action. Immersive changes the game, literally and figuratively, and now provides information in time and 3D space. Reviewing plays becomes highly experiential, and trends emerge organically. And that experience could move to the real-time action.

Similarly coaching will transform. Analysis of big data has already changed the way teams staff and play. Being able to immerse management into information will allow new insights into strategy, tactics and performance. Wearable sensors will figure into the mix, and will help drive assessment metrics in ways we’re only now just imagining. Big data rendered in an even bigger infinite virtual space. But that begs the question – how do you make this effective?

All of these changes are driven by digital – all those 0s and 1s being generated, manipulated, transported, remixed, and consumed. Part of the challenge is that humans are not digital, but rather are profoundly “analog” – we are part of the physical world that is continuous and monitored by our highly evolved multiple senses that digital only roughly approximates. So that relationship between the digits and the human is challenging to understand. Being able to make experiences meaningful (rather than just “gee whiz”) remains more art than science. I view humans and digital as oil and vinegar – the don’t mix, but if you shake them up in the right combination, you can get a tasty salad dressing – an emulsion. The problem is if you stop shaking, eventually they separate, just like humans do with digital information/experiences. But just as a little egg yolk turns oil and vinegar into mayonnaise (a stable emulsion), we think story can help make for stable and meaningful human-digital experiences.

Somewhere in the digits is a story – and story is what humans are hard-wired to respond to. The trick is finding that narrative and building that into an immersive experience. Story can be one of the binders between the digital and analog. The new immersive medium will touch and change every aspect of society one way or another. We need to figure how to leverage that power in ways that will help us thrive as humans.