The Written Word in a Spatial Medium

PRiSM Writer in Residence Update 2021

20 August 2021

In March 2021 we welcomed 4 new PRiSM Associates, PRiSM Writers in Residence Abi Bliss and Leo Mercer, and PRiSM Scientists in Residence Rose Pritchard and Patrick Sanan. We introduced them and their projects here 2021 PRiSM Writers and Scientists in Residence. We wanted to check back in with them and see how their projects were developing. Today’s update is from PRiSM Writer in Residence, Leo Mercer.

The Written Word in a Spatial Medium

by Leo Mercer

PRiSM 2021 Writer in Residence, Leo Mercer

In my project, I’m looking into the role of “the written word in a spatial medium”. Futurists and virtual reality evangelists are imagining a world in which the current tech paradigm – in which we use smartphones to see into the virtual world, like constantly peering through windows – is replaced by wearing goggle-like glasses to immerse ourselves entirely in a 3D virtual world.

As Virtual Reality (VR) is such a visual medium, it’s predictable that there are predictions of the imminent death of the written language. But think about computers, which have added whole new chapters to the history of language, from expanding the alphabet with emojis, to interlinking language with hyperlinks and hashtags, to making huge amounts of writing available at the click of a finger, to instant messaging. I’m hunting for ways that VR could offer a new chapter to the written word, by creating and prototyping.

As I’ve been doing this, I’ve felt my imagination evolve: at first, I imagined the future as “current reality + VR” (what will a newspaper look like in VR? a book of poetry, a novel a children’s story, a social media feed?). However, this doesn’t account for the other new technologies that will come into the equation – which should perhaps be more like “current reality + (VR x machine learning x any number of new technologies)”.


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