Just before Channel 4 News’s chief correspondent Alex Thomson set off on a reporting assignment to Ebola-hit Sierra Leone earlier this month, one of the show’s digital producers pulled him aside and suggested he should “do some Vines” while he was there. “I looked at him blankly,” says Thomson. “Images of vineyards floated into my head.”
Last week a Silicon Valley billionaire asked me a question. Not, unfortunately, “what are your bank details?”, but something rather more testing: “Name one way in which journalism companies are not the same as software companies.”
For the past decade, cognitive neuroscientists have been studying the concept of “body transfer illusion”, the idea that the brain can be “tricked” into taking ownership of a body or body part that it is not one’s own. Through affordable VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and Sony’s forthcoming Project Morpheus, we may all soon be given the chance to project our identities beyond cyberspace; to inhabit different bodies. It could be that this experiment, although extreme, may signpost where we’re all heading.