Why the Immerse Team is Taking Some Time Inside the Goo

4 min readMay 10, 2023
Two tone butterfly heavily filtered through pixelated and grainy special effects
Image courtesy of rawpixel.com

(Forgive us if you are seeing this twice!)

Dear readers:

When we launched Immerse in 2016 in partnership with The Fledgling Fund, we had no idea what was in store for us. Remember the world pre-pandemic, pre-Trump, pre-Musk? Who knew those were innocent times…

But what we did know is that we were uniquely positioned to document and curate the evolution of documentary practice into new and unplumbed realms. We could see artists and documentarians pushing boundaries all around us, exploring the potential and dangers of new technologies. But the work was elusive, fragmented and inaccessible — both critical discourse and key funding were lacking.

So, as we explained in our first newsletter, Immerse aimed to convene “all of you who are making, supporting and thinking about the field of interactive non-fiction — news, documentary and whatever comes next. While VR is one focus, we’ll be tackling the full range of interactive and participatory technologies, as well as related questions about ethics, creativity, inclusion and the types of futures we’re all making. Our goal is to spark dialogue about this fascinating and confounding field.”

And so we did! Our editorial team and writers ranged far and wide, across disciplines, topics, continents, platforms, modalities and existential debates, surfacing new forms of investigation and expression. We created a bridge between academia and practitioners. We gave makers a platform to reflect on their practice, creators of color a space to elevate their perspectives, and the next generation openings for reflection and dialogue.

Just a glimpse at our archives suggests how far we have roamed: from the history of transmedia to the future of avatars, from the power of decentralized narratives to the promise of constraint, from harassment in social VR to the potential for experiential design to connect us to nature and ourselves.

In the process we captured a snapshot of early conversations about VR, AI, AR, and other technologies that at the time seemed obscure, but are now dominating mainstream headlines. Along the way, we collaborated with leading documentary festivals around the world to publish special issues, lead conversations, and even world-hop through artist-created versions of the Metaverse.

Beyond storytelling and technology, social justice has been key to our mission. As a women and non-binary-led editorial collective, we know we’re unusual in tech and media realms that are still too often male-dominated. With support from our funders at the Ford, MacArthur, Knight foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts, we’ve held space for critics of color — particularly those early on in their careers — to contribute to the dialogue. As champions for inclusion and liberation, our work together supported the creation of the Making a New Reality Toolkit, and the recently published Collective Wisdom: Co-Creating Media for Equity and Justice.

We absolutely love working and exploring together. But now, we’ve decided to take some time to figure out what comes next. Inspired by our colleagues at the Allied Media Conference, we are taking a chrysalis period.

What’s that? It’s informed by the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Inside of the protective shell of the chrysalis, the caterpillar dissolves. It grows new legs, eyes and wings. Its organs take fresh forms, as old tissues are broken down to build a new body. It goes into to the goo — and breaks out anew.

That’s where we are now.

The team is taking time to archive and sunset Immerse as we know it, and to reimagine what the Immerse community and dialogue of the future might be. To keep you posted on our progress, we’ll continue the monthly newsletter.

However things evolve, we see that we’re part of a grand tradition — as David Lang recently wrote via Substack: “The catalogers know something important that most of the startup hype obscures: the purest joy in the technology world is not a big funding round or other high achievements. It’s the simple pleasure of a curious mind and the camaraderie that develops in an amateur technology scene on the verge of something new — a mixture of possibility, personal power, and shared passion.”

We’re not sure where we’ll go next as a team, or which parts will emerge intact. But we know that the role Immerse has played in the ever-changing field of interactive documentary is important, and that the topics we cover are more relevant than ever.

Goodbye for now!

Jessica, Julie, Ingrid and Sarah