I’ve been reading about a pilot study done by (it seems) Hewlett Packard and Bristol University. For three weeks around Easter 2004 people could book out a iPaq (remember those?) and a pair of headphones, and walk around Queen Square in Bristol, listening to a location-based audio drama (or “mediascape“). This write-up isn’t brilliant, but it is based on a good sample, and does touch upon the idea of of periods of emotional immersion brought about by the experience, which the authors identify as “magic moments.”
They can’t cite much evidence for the first type they identify - being surrounded by a “sea of voices”: one respondent, for example, calls it “quite nice” which doesn’t sound very magical to me. But a second type, which they describe as “Physical and virtual collisions” is better evidenced. What they mean is the sometimes scripted, sometimes accidental, moments of resonance when whats going on in the audio drama echos the physical world, for example: a seagull flies by in the real world co-incidentally as one screams in the audio-drama. Or when a name mentioned at one particular location is visible near-by. I think this resonance of real and virtual is also at the bottom of their third type of magic moment, “synaesthetic confusion” when for example, the sound of a skateboard in the real-world is perceived as the sound of bullets by the listener to the drama. And it also has something to do with their fourth magic moment, which about the realization that you are in the place where history happened. All of this reminds me on the moment that I sat reading Homage to Catalonia in the Mocha cafe on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, and realised as George Orwell described a gun and grenade fight between to cafe balconies, that I was sitting in one of the cafes I was reading about.
Without ever using the word then, this paper makes a strong case for resonance as one trigger of emotional immersion