Augmentology" a concise manual of reality for our digital age."

Mark Hancock,_Augmentology: Interfaccia Tra Due Mondi_

[Sponsored by The Ars Virtua Foundation/CADRE Laboratory for New Media]

_In real life_ [irl] is a phrase employed in a wide range of networked interactions and used notably in early phases of internet communication [eg IRC, ICQ and Y-talk]. _Irl_ is used as a label to demarcate a subject’s presence on-and-offline. In this dichotomy, definitions of reality are binary with a clear schism evident between the geophysical and synthetic. The title of _Second Life_ is an example of this divide via the implication of a necessary “First Life” [phenomenological reality]. _Irl_ is often relayed with negatively-inflected emotionality towards those who display a perceived preference for online/synthetic immersion.

In contrast, the term afk [_away from keyboard_] indicates an inclusiveness regarding geophysical and synthetic states. Whereas irl evokes hierarchical connotations in relation to reality definitions, afk indicates a fluctuating, fluid involvement. Afk illustrates a fuzzy presencing that eclipses easy polarisations; a subject’s physical body is removed from the synthetic environment whereas their synth/avatar is still actualised in-world:

“Away from keyboard means a user is not at their computer. There is a command, /afk, which marks the user as AFK. The name of the character will show up as <AFK>Name, and an auto-response will be sent to anyone who sends the flagged user a tell…


Person A says: /afk eating food

Person B says: /w A Hello.

Person B receives: A is Away from Keyboard: eating food”.

The afk concept demonstrates the murkiness of establishing reality gradations when considering synthetic environments. Paul Milgram suggested the Reality-Virtuality Continuum as a type of linear reality scale where at one end lies Geophysical Reality ["The Real Environment"] and the opposite end houses the Virtual. In-between lies an area defined as Mixed Reality: a mixture of augmented virtuality and the corporeal.

This Reality-Virtuality Continuum as such offers a vectored compartmentalisation of reality within scientific confines. An elastic, contemporized version of this Continuum might read:


…with each mode spawning distinct “swarmic variables” or “notional massing”. Conditional examples of such masses/variables are:

[Synthetic] = Avatar Fluctuations / Non-Player Character Annexing / Auxiliary Proprieception / Networked Socialisation

[Mixed] = Layered Attention / Identity Extensions / Augmented States of Consciousness / Multiple Theories-of-Mind[s]

[Cartesian] = Euclidian / Non-Euclidian / Human Area Networks / Dimensional Consciousness

[Geophysical] = Primary Consciousness / Ego-Mediation / Geospecificity / Geolocation

These masses could parallel volume [in the audio sense] in terms of measurement and production of reality clusters that map and mix composite modes simultaneously. For instance, the phenomena of Geocaching or mobile gaming such as _Parallel Kingdom_ which: “brings new meaning to Role Playing Games by using GPS to place the virtual world on top of the real world“.

In relation to the creation of such a _Reality Spectrum_, one intriguing by-product could be a redefinition of established principles regarding conceptions of consciousness, perception, identity construction and associated mental health conditions related to “normalcy”. If reality isn’t what we once thought it was, perhaps the inclusion of an Internet Addiction Disorder in the DSMV should not be a desired aim. Instead, should there be a proposal to include a range of disorders that diagnose the inability of a subject to adapt to reality contouring? For instance, a type of _Geospecificity Complex_ that highlights a dysfunction perceiving modalities that exist apart from concrete geophysical markers?

24 Comments to “Reality Mixing + the Geospecificity Complex”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Perhaps it’s not really a disorder as such, more yet-another-side-effect resulting from the evolution between middle-order and higher-order consciousness, as some of our species shift up a gear to reliance on the cerebral cortex…?

  2. jeremy hight says:

    “IRL” Is increasingly such a goofy term semantically and contextually on so many levels.

    What is most “Real” as codified? cubicle time? stuck in a long plane of freeway designed only for transport at zero space? flesh based communication space despite the occasions of miscommunication,small talk or silence?

    Is augmented reality not “real”? Is web based interaction not “real”?

    So new ideas in science over time in history by the same uber yardstick were not “real” either as they were not the mode of the time as if in any time in history one could nail one centrality of measure of what the ideal life activity and experiential processing of time as codified anyway.

    If you work 60 hours a week online isn’t that arguably your “real life” and the flesh space is an off time secondary space?

    A lot of the terminology for avatar space and net based space goes back to 15 years ago or beyond when the net was still compared to the old west and was massively list based with gopher and pine and text based vr etc. It is antiquated is it not? But what alternatives are best? or is it time for proposals of new systems of measure?

  3. Nino says:

    I’m not convinced that there is anything so special about virtual realities that somehow they create new realities on some other plane of existence.

    A while back I went thru a phase of reading up on theories of consciousness, specifically Daniel Dennett’s writings. His current theory might be summed up as “fame in the brain” — when something in the brain becomes “famous” in terms of usefulness and neural pathways etc, it rises to the level of consciousness.

    I think virtual reality may be a case of just that — “fame in the computer” — but that doesn’t make it any more real.

    It’s just a really really usuful analogy to help us make sense of our experiences when we’re using VRs, and a really really good illusion.

    For example, when you’ve got voicemail messages waiting for you, you wouldn’t say there’s a “virtual person” somewhere.

    And you wouldn’t say there’s a “virtual movie” on a reel of film sitting in its can.

    The technology has to be turned on, fired up — literally — and someone’s got to be sitting in front of it.

    Then the illusions kicks in.

    But I think it’s just that.

    An illusion.

    “Fame in the brain”

  4. mez,

    if i were to throw in on this, i’d suggest that “cartesian” not be a category descriptor, as i think it’s inaccurate on three counts.

    first, descartes forwarded a more or less unambiguous mind/body split — something not well-suited to the kind of alloyed, mixed set of gradations this continuum seems to want to suggest.

    second, because of the first, coloring the entire category by this term dismisses the reality of embodied cognition that a whole host of sciences employ daily as a basic tenet (eg, psychophysiology, affective neuroscience, and psychoneuroimmunology).

    third, descartes refused to attribute mentation and spirit to anything non-human; nor did he allow that consciousness could reside even partially in a cyborgian reality (networks or “dimensional consciousness” — see his notes especially on clocks). this means that “reality” as defined under this term is going to connote not only human-only reality, but a very narrow conception of what is meant by human.

  5. mez says:

    Hi rebecca,

    I’d actually attest that _Geospecificity Complex_ *could* be placed accurately with a disease-model orientation/current DSM system. What would be entirely preferable is a re-assessment of the entire framework of psychological [not to mention medical] classification. At present, Holism is manifesting in interesting ways [ecologically for sure] and I’m confident there will be a restructuring of the very nature of _Disease vs Healthy_. It just depends on when:)

  6. Ashendar says:

    I’m not convinced that “afk” “illustrates a fuzzy presencing that eclipses easy polarisations”. In my view it represents a digital status where the person is ‘offline’ as opposed to ‘online’. While the synth/avatar may still be actualized in-world, to the extent that the avatar ceases to have a functional purpose once the person is absent then surely the individual must be considered at the geophysical end of the reality spectrum. (I could see this changing if artificial intelligence evolves to the point that an avatar can carry on some tasks in the synth environment while one is afk, perhaps with the AI influenced in some way by your actions and mannerisms when in the synth environment). However, it is true that it demonstrates abrupt fluctuating states where one may shift from one end of the reality spectrum to another quite abruptly.

    The contrast of afk with irl is nonetheless interesting from the perspective that the later sometimes carries – but not always – a value judgement in that the later is somehow superior or more worthwhile compared to the synth environment/experience (i.e. hierarchical connotations).

    I have to agree with Jeremy in that irl is a somewhat obscure and/or fluid concept. Arguably it is often used as a historical construct that describes ‘what was’ or ‘is’ in terms of social interactions and personal characteristics (i.e. employment, hobbies, location) in the physical sphere. However, the evolution of technology has blurred these norms with respect to their offline/online demarcations.

    To the extent that the rise of synthetic environments have altered personal and social norms, then caution does need to be exercised with respect to introducing any internet addiction disorder classification into the DSMV. The internet represents a form of technology or ‘tool’ that has changed the nature and increased the ease with which we access information and interact with others. Its overuse as part of any possible ‘addiction’ may therefore simply be a symptom of other underlying problems (i.e. depression, severe social isolation, other specific addictions e.g. pornography) which should be treated directly. Nonetheless, restrictions on synthetic environments may form some component of the treatment process for such underlying problems. Its for these reasons that I think caution needs to be exercised with respect to specifying any internet addiction disorder rather than people being unable to ‘adapt to reality contouring’. It is not so much new principles of reality but different ways of doing things.

  7. unsubscribe says:

    Isn’t being afk in game similar to someone being in a coma or drugged out (alchohol/lsd/whatever..) to the point that their interaction with the surrounding reality is no longer relevant?

    In ‘game’, an afk avatar still has importance in maintaining the rest of the reality around it, even though the controller isn’t there.

    In ‘reality’ someone in a coma or experiencing an out of body (meditative / drug) experience remains for the consistency of the reality even though the controller (conciousness / ego) is no longer at the keyboard of the brain.

  8. mez says:

    Howdy All.

    JH: Regarding “But what alternatives are best? or is it time for proposals of new systems of measure?”- this is what is being attempted by this very project. Do you think the conceptual plugging via Augmentology is, in fact, illustrating a narrowness of scope/direction/orientation?

  9. mez says:

    Nino: “I’m not convinced that there is anything so special about virtual realities that somehow they create new realities on some other plane of existence.”

    Neither am I:) I’m interested in suggesting a _Reality Spectrum_ that essentially spirals away from linear or hierarchical notions of realities/existence/planes [ie presenting synthetic manifestations as "the shiny new thang"]. Hopefully there are more exciting aspects of exploring the complexities of synthetic environments?

  10. rubaiyat says:

    Where to start, this is so fertile and the comments even more-so.

    Let me begin by offering some thoughts on the acronyms IRL and AFK. I am not sure that I buy into the inherant hierarchy of the use of IRL, it would appear that it can easily stand in for F2F or face to face. Is it the use of the word real that causes the hierarchical interpretation? In that case it may bee seen as a real vs fake dichotomy. I don’t think that has any relevance here, bit it may be lurking in some minds.

    AFK on the other hand is a politeness thing. It is so much harder to tell if a person is paying attention if the only thing you have to gauge it by is the avatar’s actions. Leaving an AFK message is to say that IRL the person is no longer there.

    the linear graph seems to leave out a certain aspect of things and perhaps it should be a plane or even a space, here is my initial attempt and I am left with the question: what are the red dots?? (sorry I cannot figure out how to embed a pic)

  11. To chime in again on the Cartesian thing, my lay-person understanding is that current leading theories of consciousness pretty much discount Descartes’ approach.

    Basically that there’s no there there.

    Which I think is what I was trying to say about augmented reality being an illusion.

    It may be worth looking at what Daniel Dennett has to say about Descartes again.

  12. Ashendar says:

    Re rubaiyat, some clarification of what precisely you are measuring on the axes of your graph may prove useful here (im not really familiar with the term ‘mediation’ in this sense). I interpret it as follows: if the vertical axis represent the proportion of the “user experience” that takes place in a synthetic environment, while the horizontal axis represents the proportion of the “user experience” that takes place in the physical world, then any “user experience” must lie on a straight line between ‘synthetic worlds’ and ‘the woods’ on your graph, where ‘synthetic worlds’ represents a 100 per cent synthetic experience, while ‘the woods’ represents a 100 per cent physical experience. The central red dot would then reflect a 50 per cent synthetic and 50 per cent physical world user experience.

    I’m not sure that one can classify areas of the reality spectrum between the two extremes. While it may be useful to define particular areas for study purposes, the incremental nature of different synthetic-physical user experiences tends to blur the boundaries between particular areas of the spectrum. Then again, we have a system for cataloging species of plants and animals which often have an incremental nature. Perhaps user experiences need to be defined in terms of functional or technological characteristics.



    (P.S. a help section on how to embed links etc may prove useful as im not sure on the precise commands myself.)

  13. jeremy hight says:

    I am definitely not saying that this is a narrow or wrong direction by any means. It is just that the categories of “Real life” “virtual” etc are frustrating as it is a needle thin linguistic contextualization of things that are so much more hybrid, layered, subtle, advanced…

    I agree with many of the comments on this thread in that it is hard to “name” these things. I am concerned about a backlash against a perceived “buzz” around augmented reality like it is some new flash in the pan (it has been around for near ten years at least). I saw it happen with locative media and it comes in spasms against the co-orbited perceived/desired “births” and “deaths” of new media (itself a very problematic name).

    Away from the keyboard is so obtuse, like a place marker on the machine of interface with anything from tying a shoe to riding a train 3000 miles with the computer left online absentmindedly at home.

    I wonder if the concern should be about consider different, more nuanced, sort of post “hybrid” (as it implies some double infusion as opposed to integration in a sense) concepts of what our states of being are whether sans machine or immersed to whatever range of task and capacity.

  14. mez says:

    Hi Again All.

    There seems to be a broad multilogue developing here, which includes the definition + appropriate usage of the terms _afk_ + _irl_ and questionings associated with the relevance of the “Cartesian” mode and corresponding philosophical associations. It’s exciting to see the various comments weaving through de/in-duction, exposition, speculation + explanation.

    In relation to a “Comment Help Guide” I’ll add that to the _to do_ list [alongside the "Glossary"].

    Instead of chirruping away about each point as they are raised, I’ll instead offer a type of discourse dilation. After all I’m here to provide a type of cognitive springboard [+ I do *so* enjoy a good intellectual "leaping off" of sorts;)...

    ...which brings me to the 1st dilation: I do hope commenters realise that the _Reality Spectrum_ above isn't presented as an absolute method of defining various states of synthapticism [look out for an explanation of that in a future entry;)]. The emphasis and formation of reality-related concepts [or, as Jeremy H says: "post 'hybrid' concepts"] is open-ended + [hopefully] expansive. The example of the R-V Continuum + any contemporary alternative is presented as suggestive, not definitive. Personally, I’m more curious about the development of reality clustering[s] + the suggested modular/notational/swarmic potentials.

    The next entry will focus on _AFK_ Case Studies/Snippets + the associated sense[s] of projected consciousness. If other contributers would like to have their experiences documented, please send me [say over the next day or so] any afk snippets they’ve experienced _in world_ or _in game_.

  15. I’ll repost something Mez posted on Facebook about an Orangutan that saw people spear-fishing and decided to give it a try:

    I joked that the Orangutan was trying to “augment his reality”. But it’s actually not a joke I guess. He has a representation in his mind about a “virtual reality” he has seen “in real life” associated with using a specific tool. And he uses the tool to try to create that virtual reality. But he doesn’t actually have the fish. Not yet anyway [though he can spear fish that human fisherman have already trapped.]

    I think the analogy I’ve been trying to make is that we are trying to “spear” a reality that doesn’t exist. In actually-existing “real world” reality Orangutans aren’t yet capable of spear-fishing on their own. It’s an illusion too.

  16. I would love to comment more on this but I am AFK at the moment ;-)

  17. rubaiyat says:

    @Ashendar I guess the line felt restrictive to me but I am seeing that the graph is just leaving me with more questions. By mediated I am thinking along the lines of through some medium, I think out experience of the woods can be a pure in the moment in the body one, though I suppose it could be argued that the body mediates for the soul.

    OTOH it feels like the synthetic experience is moving towards one that is entirely mediation and not related to the physical (though again I suppose the mechanism for mediation is itself physical).

    But I diverse, the meaning of AFK in light of mediation is a sort of temporary resignation from the medium, often (as with AFK BIO) to deal with the necessities of the physical entity. IRL on the other hand seems to relate more specifically to a position or location and less so to the type of mediation.

    I am not sure if I am rambling, but the graph was an attempt to find other ground, and for me to see that there is a beautiful unexplored very mediated very physical space as well as an unmediated unphysical space (perhaps thought?) was interesting and perplexing.

    I don’t want to derail the thought again, but considering some issues that came up in a previous discussion of borders it seems that both terms deal with border issues or deliniation, from that I tend to wonder where immersion is? Or suspension of disbelief…

    Okay, now I am rambling.


  18. torill says:

    I think it’s important here to not be to in love with connections, and look at topics a little more disassociated. This is my take on this issue.

    While AFK-ing and other instances of going in and out of communicative states underlines that games are part of the flesh reality or the immediate geographical reality (I stopped using the distinction “real” and “virtual” a long time ago, prefering “flesh” and “digital”), the leap to addiction and reality dysfunctions is too abrupt.

    What we are seeing more clearly than before is that organisations are defined by communication, not by geography. This is something organisation scholars have known for decades, if not milennia. So, the reality of the organisation you join, formally or informally, by playing a game or being active online, is as real as any multinational corporation out there.

    Now, what does this have to do with addiction?

    Not a whole lot, what it does connect to is a desire to be included and not left out of “loop”. As we all know there is no better way to become unhappy and isolated than be being uninformed. In groups depending on real-time communication presence is the only way to stay informed. Otherwise you’ll log on at 8 and find that all your mates went into Karazhan at 7, and you have nobody to play with.

    This may lead to obsessive behaviour, but so do a lot of other groups where decisions are unpredictable and depend on presence for communication. We are talking about networks of friends which are maintained by constant meetings, talk, gossip, inquieries, about sports teams where absence or delay gets you excluded, about families where absence leads to divorce.

    Human beings know the cost of not communicating. What becomes problematic in games isn’t that there is an “alternate reality”, but that it’s the same reality, where the same mechanisms get into play. This means that there is a real conflict between social modes, and players have to make up their minds. Who do I wish to spend my time with, the guild mates, the family, the choir? Choosing one to the exclusion of the two other will carry real consequences for all the people involved, but there’s not really a conflict fo realities. It’s a conflict of priorities.

  19. I am not so sure if there really is such a big difference between “afk” and “in RL.” There are stages in between. Roleplayers make another distinction: between “out of Role play” and “in character” (there are some abbrevations I do not remember). For example, Teleporting and upgrading is seen as outside Role play and needs to be set in between double brackets “((damn, I always make mistakes typing!))”. In regular or ‘normal’ interaction in Second Life, such remarks are not seen as out of character.

    I think there is a difference between a kind of diegetic sense of role play and emotions and receptions from RL. Most players in Second Life do not make a huge distinction between RL feelings and SL feelings. Thus afk is more disrupting than “brb”, or, “just getting a tea/ another glass of wine” (which are references to RL, thus not diegetic) but still part of the communication that makes the immersion happen. Telling something about RL thus may include those things/feelings happening in RL, while “afk” is disrupting it. The avie is still there but showing it is not communicating any more, and thus making an abrupt brake in the immersion, while “brb, need to pee” keeps the emotional bond, although it is totally non-diegetic and out of character.

  20. Andrew Murphie says:

    This is great – so many interesting concepts emerging, I especially like the idea of
    “a range of disorders that diagnose the inability of a subject to adapt to reality contouring” .. and reality contouring is the question. I know that on Facebook a comment or two takes up the apparent Cartesianism above, although it is also true that Descartes for all his problems, does set up an interesting basis for technologies, that was to be made more subtle in the differential calculus that followed. And, drawing from the work of John Sutton, I’m very interested in the idea of animal spirits in Descartes, which do move between his mind/matter distinction, softening it somewhat (I guess I’d compare to some of the ideas in films such as Ghost in the Shell).

    In the end for me, what I like about all this is the fact that you talk about the reality-virtual continuum. For me, very simply, everything is real, if in its own particular way, and all forms of reality are connected. I don’t mean this in any mystical way. I mean a more basic materialism, although one that has to be qualified by change, by movement, and by things something like animal spirits.

    So thanks!


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