I’ve always been a little bit besotted with completely immersive experiences. I put it down to a day of awe and wonder in my days at infant school when the assembly hall of Watford Fields was transformed into a submarine by the local drama in schools group. A tent-like structure filled the space, and within submariners went about their business, seemingly unaware of an influx of seven year olds. The memory is still vivid today, probably more than anything because the event was a complete surprise.
Roll forward a few decades and the early exhibits at the Tate Modern in London included a room that at first glance appeared to have not yet been fully vacated by the builders. Wooden pallets, step ladders, half-drunk cups of coffee, empty cigarette packets and more.
But after a while one started to realise that the room was completely false. Everything had been hand-carved from some sort of foam material and hand-painted. Once the illusion was broken the trick was obvious, but no less impressive for the complete sense of disbelief that the installation had conjured up.
More recently, the artist Matt Collingshaw fused virtual with physical reality in his work Thresholds. A room of objects perfectly matched with a virtual reality environment of the first exhibition of photographs from the 1800s. It was a transfixing experience, even if the technology wasn’t quite up to the challenge.
Over the weekend, through one of those random conversations that makes Twitter for me the wonderful thing that it can be, an idea occurred to me. What would happen if we could drop modern teams from modern businesses into the office world of the 1980s, a point at which computing still wasn’t networked. How would a team cope if it found itself having to rely upon memos and Roneostats and typing pools?
Is technology so embedded into modern working life as to make the 80s office unusable? Or would it force teams to confront how they are using technology today to communicate and ask questions about whether their choices are aiding or hampering their ability to connect with one another in our supposedly hyper-connected world? Could such an immersive experience help to build better teams?
The response to the idea has been significant enough to make me wonder if there is an idea worth pursuing here. I’m certain it would be a fascinating experiment and experience – akin to the trends in recent years of TV production companies for putting people “back in time” to understand more about how others lived or ate…
I realise I’m capable of more ideas than I can execute, but this one I’m having difficulty shaking. So… all I need to find is a willing sponsor, a location and a stack of vintage office equipment.