Digital Innovation And The Impact On Immersion

Wow, I feel like we've been fed a TON of information and theme park updates this past week, I can barely keep up! One of the biggest and most impactful recent announcements is the brand new Disney Genie, coming to Disney World and Disneyland, which I'll get into more detail on in a sec. The idea for this blog post actually stemmed from a place of frustration. I'm planning on a family holiday to Orlando next year, and as the resident king theme park nerd of my family and apparently the most tech-savvy for some reason even though I'm really not, the task of doing the Disney World planning side of things falls to me. 

And part of me loves it, lord know I love planning a theme park trip and the associated excitement that comes with that, but this time around it just felt daunting. Planning every single day down to a tee, knowing which time we'd want to be on which ride so our Fastpasses were booked for the right time, the guilt of knowing you've let your family down if you don't nab the Fastpass they want? Awful! And don't get me started on the feeling of overwhelming dread any time I dared to try and figure out how to get a Rise of the Resistance boarding pass. As the wife of a Star Wars nut, I couldn't bear to face the disappointment of letting him down if I didn't get one, but also the idea of waking at 6am every day of my holiday to try and do just that? Also no. 

And whilst I was sat, day after day worrying about this, along come Disney with their shiny new Disney Genie model! Hurrah, our prayers are answered! For me it's very clear that this thing is designed with vacationing families in mind. The way I see it, there are three different areas of Disney Genie: Disney Genie which is the basic thing everybody gets to help plan their day, Genie+ which is a replacement of the old Fastpass system with a few differences, notably that this one isn't free and not all E-ticket attractions are included, and Lightning Lane, the option to simply purchase front of the line access to the most sought-after attractions. Sure, it will cost a little more but honestly I'm here for it if it's going to save me the stress of planning so far in advance/disappointing my family by not getting up at 6am every day for a boarding pass. So yes, I am pro Disney Genie. 

But that's not the point of this blog post. What I actually wanted to interrogate was how this digital innovation will potentially impact the level of immersion we experience when visiting these juggernaut parks like Disney and Universal. Essentially, is there a graph somewhere that shows a decrease in immersion the more reliant on digital technology those experiences become. And when I say digital technology, I essentially mean smart phones and apps.

So firstly, my worry is battery life. As somebody who takes a ton of photos and videos on theme park trips, I'm seriously worried about my battery life not that parks are introducing more phone-reliant services to enjoy my day out. I already bring a spare battery pack, but let's face it, they're not the lightest of things to carry and at this point between wanting to take photos and video and then needing to use the park app to manage queue jump, dining reservations and whatever else, especially during a 12 hour park day like Disney are known for operating, I feel like I'm going to be experiencing some serious phone battery anxiety. Becuase if your phone dies, and literally everything needed to have a seamlessly fun day at the attraction is on there, what the heck do you do? 

Secondly, do I really want to be checking my phone all the time. As a self-confessed social media addict, I'm pleased to say times when I'm at parks are times when I'm probably checking my phone the least and focussing my attention on the environment I'm in. Programmes like Genie force me to break that immersion, to keep checking back if the ride I want next has a short line now or my dining reservation is coming up soon. I adore being at a park where I have lost track so much that I have no idea even what time it is, and the constant checking will for sure break that. I want to feel like I'm lost in a jungle or on a mission to outer space, not experiencing a theme park ride where I'm only a few short minutes away from the next thing on the schedule. It's like an internalised ticking clock - must keep checking lest we miss out on that thing we want to do!

Then there's the social media/real life side of things. In the theme park visits of old, my phone would be in my bag or pocket and I don't tend to upload anything until the evening or day after so I'm not distracting myself from my experience. It's a good way to draw a clear line between the two and ensuring I don't miss out on anything because I have my head in my phone. If I'm constantly having to check an app, I fear the temptation may be too great to sneakily check on a few social media apps, maybe a work email or two, then before you know it you're down the digital rabbit hole, completely distracted from the experience you've paid to enjoy. Not good. 

There are, of course, ways this sort of tech will improve immersion too. AR developments, for example, that will bring certain characters or area of the park to life add an extra layer of enjoyment to an already immersive experience. It develops the world-building outside of just the park itself, and this is an aspect I'm really looking forward to seeing developed further. There's also the convenience side of things - having all your tickets, cards, hotel room keys and everything else you need stored digitally in one app on your phone is incredibly useful, especially if you're a family whose bags are already full to the brim with the necessary theme park essentials to survive the day. 

So yes, it's not all bad, but they're things that've been on my mind for a while that I would love to see further explanation from the likes of the Disney Parks as to how they are going to tackle these. Because they're real things to worry about, from my perspective. As somebody who loves to lose myself in theming and world-building, the ever-present need to refer back to the app threatens my enjoyment on a fairly large level, and I'd like some reassurance that it will be fine. Yes, it's better than having to plan my trip weeks and weeks out. Yes, it's better than waking up at 6AM every day to try and make a booking. Yes, I think it's a step in the right direction. BUT, I do think we're teetering just a little too precariously into the realm of this reliance on apps spoiling things, and I'm intrigued to see how the next few years pan out in terms of toeing that line between maintaining the magic and immersion and continuing to innovate digitally to improve the theme park experience. 


What do you think? Are you a fan of Disney Genie? What do you think attractions could do in the future to protect immersion from being impacted by our increased reliance on digital tech? Let me know in the comments, I'd love to have a chat!

Talk later xoxo,