When online becomes real

by Tania Gianone

TORONTO – Over the past year, we all needed to change our behaviors to avoid compromising our health.
One of our habits that went through drastic transformations during this pandemic period was how we interact with each other by shifting many of our social activities to the online environment.
Even though virtual interactions had already been part of our routines over the last decades, they were primarily to complement our face-to-face appointments, to promote product and services, or share information and leisure activities. 
But since the pandemic broke out virtual meetings practically substituted in-person events.
In the entertainment world, as most of the performance venues and exhibition centers remain closed worldwide, artists had to shift to digital platforms to connect with their public.
In the beginning, virtual entertainment worked as compensation for social isolation. But, as the social distancing measures last for more than a year, audiences seem to have lost the initial enthusiasm for the virtual live sessions.
As people have been working or studying primarily online, the mandatory activities alone require long hours doing or watching live presentations. There are many complaints about online content fatigue and struggle to deliver the messages without physical interactions. Simple gestures such as eye contact or head tilt sometimes mean more to us than long video explanations or messages in chat boxes.
Considering these issues, it is understandable that people would expect different means, outside from the digital environment, to spend their free time.
The devices and technologies we use for our routine tasks proved not effective to produce and attend virtual entertaining events. Performance arts usually require camera movements to follow the actions of the presenter. And, in group presentations, artists need to be all in the same place instead of appearing in separate windows like in the social media or video conference platforms.
Moreover, considering how the images are displayed, the online platforms create a layer that prevents the audience from the feeling of being in the same space as the performers, so it is challenging for the productions to trigger the desirable emotions.
On the other hand, according to the entertainment businesspeople, there are many advantages to shifting the performances to an online format, such as reaching more people worldwide since there is no need to commute from distant places to attend the events.
But is there a win-win solution that mix both in-person and virtual meeting
One exciting approach was introduced at the Microsoft Ignite 2021 event, where Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, digitally shared the stage with the creator of HoloLens, Alex Kipman. They announced an upcoming social platform called Hanai World that will mix in-person and virtual participation for creators to share their work.
Even though this idea has been around creatives for a while, there were no widespread technological solutions to implement it. But now, according to the creators of Hanai World, this dream will become reality by the combination of 5G, cloud computing, and Microsoft Mesh technologies.
The announcement generated positive reactions and some controversies as well. Among the adverse reactions, we can mention the early adopters of 3D immersive game experiences who are arguing that this kind of platform is not a novelty since it is already in use in virtual game environments.
But the team behind Hanai World explains that there is a difference in the tech tools employed. The new platform will use Microsoft Mesh tools to enable synchronicity, allowing virtual participants to feel like they are present in the live event’s environment instead of just connecting to an online platform.
These tools are already serving professionals in fields such as telemedicine and engineering. But artistic performances have been underserved by this technology, and pandemic accelerated the need to improve it.
Regardless of controversies around its effectiveness and concerns about the price of the required equipment, entertainment events enthusiasts are looking forward to the launch of the Hanai World platform, announced to happen at the end of 2021.  
Not only does it give the audiences the expectation that online events will become more appealing and similar to real-life shows, but it also brings hopes that performance arts will become more resilient to future crises.

Link to join Hanai World: