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]

Part 1: Absurd Assumptions

As many opinion leaders have noted, Augmented Reality (AR) may very well be the next evolutionary step in bringing the metadata of the web into our day-to-day lives. Some suggest that AR technology may even surpass the Web in its sustained impact on culture.

While I whole-heartedly agree with this observation, the use of the term “Augmented Reality” may actually impede any progress forged by these technologies, especially in terms of broad/mainstream acceptance.

The first reason why the actual phrase “Augmented Reality” may impede the cultural uptake of associated technologies is via the use of the word “augmented” – meaning to raise or make larger. AR enthusiasts seem to be comfortable implying that this new technology is somehow the first technology to augment or enhance our reality. This seems absurd, as human societies have a well-documented history of using biochemical technology to augment reality in the tradition of psychotropic plant-aided shamanism. The innovation of written language was a concrete visualization of reality-augmenting metadata. The city may also be considered an extension of reality considering cities are highly constructed frameworks of architecture, roads, sewers, electrical and telephone lines. It seems more relevant to utilize a word that more accurately describes the idiosyncratic peculiarities of a mobile web-ready experience.

My second reason for objecting to the AR term stems from when the word “reality” is employed in relation to what are (in most cases) mobile-web applications. This usage implies that other computer applications are not affecting reality, or at least are not affecting reality sufficiently to be labeled accordingly. This also seems an absurd assumption; the host of software which has prevailed during the history of computing have had an affect on reality too (this, of course, is a total understatement). If it were not for preceding software which has already changed our reality, these so-called “augmented reality” applications would not even exist. Furthermore, this use of “reality” in this context indicates that there is one concrete reality which we are in the process of altering with specific technology. Yet, each of us have our own subjective “reality” experience, with some physicists even postulating theories of a holographic reality. While standards for augmented reality ought to be open to ensure accessibility by any mobile web-enabled device, it is a fallacy to interpret these standards as a consensus on reality itself. This new technology is posed to allow us to customize and tweak our own experience of our reality like never before, as well as the “reality” we share with others.

<to be continued in _Part 2: Infinite Summer Afternoons_>

The User named “showmeurcock” from Kentucky does not respond to the picture I send of the space heater next to my desk. The User named “whispers” from California rates a picture of my feet three out of five stars. The User “guest43723” from Germany sends a picture of a jar full of coins. I reply with a smiling emoticon and receive “Uu” in response.

A World of Photo is a geosocial multiplayer game during which:

…you ‘spin’ your phone, like spin the bottle, to select some random user, and then they take a picture and send it back to you. Once they do that, they can ‘spin’ and get a picture sent to them”.

Users involved in A World of Photo [AWOP] are a tightknit community where users’ attentions dilate and episodically contract along with fluctuations from their Android devices.

Although this background-running application rarely seems to have more than 100 users currently active, the game prods you towards constant connections with other users as it yanks you into a space of outright voyeurism.

This voyeuristic space is laid out on the screen through a map of the “thread” of users with whom you have connected. Few conversations carry past two messages: those that do weave scintillating life-tapestries glimpsed through a typically external visual representation. Few users send portrait pictures of themselves and instead expose their recipients to their contextual environment: the opposite seat of a subway car, a DJ Hero controller, someone drinking a beer and sitting on the floor in front of a TV. One photo displays imperceptible imagery on a television screen located in a dark room. Like the lives behind these cell phone cameras, this indistinguishable/unfocused image seems tantalizingly real, yet is ultimately unknowable. The game provides no discernible contact data or history. It is, however, possible to save the photos you receive. Once a user decides to stop replying to a textual message thread, that thread is over. It is conceivable (but unlikely) that two people would connect more deeply than the AWOP program intends without the compulsive motivation of biological and/or sexual gratification.

The possibilities of AWOP are subtly revealing in terms of a user’s constant awareness/presence. The game weaves randomized tangents from a global user-base. Like much collaborative software, AWOP emphasizes continuous threaded networks rather than merely linking individual lines of communication. Menus allow access to various statistics, including a user’s uploaded photo total, a user’s current image record and user rating system. Ratings are instrumental to the game element: User “Rob Zombie” rates my “Pretending to rock out” picture 5 stars and in return comments “Yeah!”. This comment prompts me to find objects in my surroundings that will rate highly based on user names. User “americansoldier” rates a similar picture of myself 2 out of 5 stars: as this is considered negative feedback, I am forced to lose a turn – to receive a photo from another user – and must fulfill a request positively in order to be rewarded. Thus, the game turns everyday life into an evaluation of personal experience that borders on the perverse. This may explain the missing ‘save’ functionality for a user’s sent photos.

Through peeking into the lives of others via AWOP, a user is left with reminders of spaces that exist outside the range of their mobile phone. These spaces overlay the objects that exist in the user’s “real life”/geophysicality, contrasting and contracting with[in] the corresponding layers constructed by AWOP’s present and potential social contacts. This augmentation does come at a price: such evaluation patterns (by the self and others) are, on some level, internalized. This internalization may contribute to a constricted reality sense that projects overarching importance to immediate (“real”) stimuli over the awareness of other possible environments. The gap between the two is likely where the user resides, conscious of their perceived and reinforced shortcomings. AWOP’s strongest hook is in harnessing the user’s desire to socially (and successfully) produce items for the community. Community approval becomes currency. This currency production produces struggles between internal and external systems of representation which are hashed out in lines of resolution via a personal digital assistant. If substantial narrative does not emerge, like music, “from the dimensions of ambient night” [Harry Partch, 1949, Genesis of a Music] then AWOP certainly allows the user access to its root: the personal, the spatial, and the physical.