Augmentology"...is 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]

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.

<continued>

e) Information Deformation: akin to process centering, this Social Tesseraction involves a shift in the very definition of information:

Information may be defined as the characteristics of the output of a process, these being informative about the process and the input. This discipline independent definition may be applied to all domains, from physics to epistemology.”

These deformed systems of data are constantly in flux and available for perpetual revision. Examples include:

Users are able to simultaneously modify, update and adapt their input in real time:

This type of liminal practice results in a deformation of current information architectures. Although traditional information construction may be flexible over time, it still demands unitary data snapshots for knowledge formation. Deforming such data in real time acts to fundamentally alter meaning production. Socially structured input is the keystone of such a dynamic, perpetually fluctuating system:

Here the notion of Social Froth takes on a new level of importance: information becomes a constantly shifting construct with variable endpoints.  Rewiring information in such a way radically changes its cohesive nature. This in turn effects:

In this deformation system, facts can be reality-edited* in real time:

Information becomes pliable in ways that challenge the perceived authority of institutions. The concept of narrative deforms as:

Narrative progression repositions the representational towards the freeform [think: paidia as opposed to ludic]. An instance of this information deformation in action is troll play [or uncontrolled play]. A social example of troll play is found in the wiki Encyclopedia Dramatica which:

satirizes both encyclopedic topics and current events, especially those related to or relevant to internet culture. The wiki has been the subject of media attention given its focus on trolling and use of shock value, as well as its criticism of other Internet communities. It is also associated with the Internet subculture Anonymous.”

_Encyclopedia Dramatica_ – and the affiliated imageboard/meme propagation site 4chan - showcase the challenge faced by narrative frameworks.  Platforms like _Encyclopedia Dramatica_ encourage troll-based comedic intent. Users remix absurd, and sometimes taboo, content. In particular, invasion boards like _4chan_ utilize shock networking*: where social content attempts to subvert social codas through deliberate agitation. In comparison with established narrative conventions, platforms like _Encyclopedia Dramatica_ offer an experimental system which bypasses strict censorship and ethical constraints. These platforms cater for unfiltered interactions that operate via immediacy-of-response. They are highly idiosyncratic in execution and linguistic formation: censorship and moderation may be limited or non-existent. The output is propagative, with contributors encouraged to riff and rip-off, replace, and even delete content. Narrative is deformed beyond a sequential structure whereby the climax or pay-off event becomes the spectacle:

An example of such modification is Copypasta, which consists of repeatedly copying and pasting blocks of text designed to evoke a heightened emotional response:

A time-tested classic. This ending usually comes into play at the climax of a very troubling or exciting situation. Rather than resolve the story, one of the characters will abruptly say something to the effect of “I had Reese’s for breakfast.” At this point, the other character will completely forget about his/her worries and jump into the corresponding commercial dialogue, enamored by the peanut butter and chocolaty goodness that is Reese’s Puffs cereal. “It’s Reese’s… for breakfast!”"

_Copypasta_ derails notions of story or plot progression, resolution or dénouement. It embodies context-counteraction* and meme perpetuation. Dramatic intent shifts to reiterative moments containing affectivity spiking which ignores the rigors of institutionalized framing [think: morality, hierarchy or ownership]:

.

f) Attribution Modding involves an extension of Stewart Brand’s iconic phrase “Information wants to be free” to “Identity wants to be freeform”. This category describes users focused on mobilization rather than individual recognition.  The group Anonymous* projects attribution modding via collusive identity constructions. The collective’s title is based on the method _4chan_ uses to brand all contributors “Anonymous” by default:

As making a post without filling in the “Name” field causes posts to be attributed to “Anonymous”, general understanding on 4chan holds that Anonymous is not a single person but a collective (hive) of users.”

Anonymous is a social-tesseractivist group who perform raid actions [think: the immediate action to halt the abuse of Dusty The Cat and Project Chanology's DDoS attacks]:

The collective broadcasts non-attribution ideologies where members are viewed as units of a social mechanism with a deemphasis on individual identification. Attribution modding illustrates the rise of collective identity cognizance and the accompanying shift from expert-centric disciplines.

.

g) Decline of Silo Ghettos: as information deformation impacts knowledge formation, there’s an increasing need to provide social tesseractors with comprehensive dimensional engagement. This type of borderless interaction deforms monostreams into cross-channelled productions. Social tesseracts assist in addressing the somewhat restrictive walled garden approach to software and platform production [think: the frustration levels encountered whilst experiencing the locked door syndrome].

Google Wave is one system that removes such constraints and allows users to input directly into previously distinct arenas. Other instances of interoperable systems that require the reorientation of Information Silos:

  • augmented applications that encourage a pairing of geolocative and geophysical needs:

Information Deformation, Attribution Modding, and the Decline of Silo Ghettos are paradigm-shifting markers that highlight socially directed trends. One significant user-centric challenge involves ensuring a smooth migration into a Social Tesseracted future. Such transitions should lessen future shock and encourage a type of overlaid meta-comprehension which promotes the seamless recognition of synthetic conditions.

——

* Shock networking, reality editing, context-counteraction and Anonymous will be discussed in upcoming augmentology entries.

_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…

Example:

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:

[Geophysical]<—-—[Cartesian]–-—–[Mixed]–-—–>[Synthetic]

…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?