Part 2: Infinite Summer Afternoons
Images from Initiations-Studies II by Panos Tsagaris with Kimberley Norcott
Having summarily rejected the term augmented reality for the reasons listed here, I’ll now propose alternate terminology to describe the phenomenon. The following elements contribute to this formation:
- The mobile web will enable us to become aware of metadata that was previously obscured in day-to-day life.
- Many current AR applications pride themselves on exposing indications of present metadata relationships which are not as readily apparent as traditional urban indicators (think: fashion).
- Contemporary visions of AR as something which will merely allow us to hold up our smart phones and look through an AR “window”.
This process of metadata revealing is termed “aura recognition” (or aurec for short). In a future post I will address what I see as shortcomings of visual interfaces for aurec.
In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935), Walter Benjamin makes the following observations regarding aura:
If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch. This image makes it easy to comprehend the social bases of the contemporary decay of the aura. It rests on two circumstances, both of which are related to the increasing significance of the masses in contemporary life. Namely, the desire of contemporary masses to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction.”
Certainly – since 1935 – these two “social bases” identified by Benjamin have reached their apex in contemporary digital life. Never before have we had as much convenience in bringing things – whether physical objects or information – into our immediate proximity (think: Amazon, Ebay, Google). Neither have we had the experience of such widespread meme and brand propagation in our physical environment (eg shopping malls, international airports, and fast food franchises). Benjamin continues:
Unmistakably, reproduction as offered by picture magazines and newsreels differs from the image seen by the unarmed eye. Uniqueness and permanence are as closely linked in the latter as are transitoriness and reproducibility in the former. To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose “sense of the universal equality of things” has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction. Thus is manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical sphere is noticeable in the increasing importance of statistics. The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.”
This “sense of the universal equality of things” is the hallmark of the web. All searches are, ostensibly, equal before Google. Yet, among the ruins of this auric destruction, the web is simultaneously imbuing our lives with all kinds of unique and permanent phenomena. These phenomena make up the essence of our digital auras; auras created less by physical objects than by the specificity of context, relationship and juxtaposition. Aura Recognition is the means by which we access these phenomena.
Consider for instance how unique it is to geophysically meet someone who you’ve only previously known online. In the best case scenario, aurec will help us make sense of the emotional significance of digital phenomenon in ways which are meaningful and helpful. Location based services (think: GPS technology) provoke new experiences which are just as dependent on proximity as Benjamin’s proverbial summer afternoon.
<to be continued in _Part 3: The Crystal Ball_>
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_>
I am becoming something else. In this moment, this being-in-transition, I am willfully stepping into the unknown. I am between realities. I can only imagine what I want to become, and then choose to become that new thing, but it is radically ungraspable, inconceivable. I can never know the reality of what I am choosing to become, desiring to become. My decision to transform can never be the right one, because it is always based on an illusion, a fantasy, a false conception with only a few points of data, not the rich details of an embodied life. As the transformation unfolds, those unknown events begin to occur, like seeing my breasts in the mirror for the first time after shaving my chest closely, feeling the movement in my orgasm change into something new or just walking down the street for a moment as a girl, unnoticed and not needing any special attention. My decision to become something else is always a decision to become mythopoetic, because the reality of the new state is always unknown, imaginary, a construct, a fantasy. Yet I don’t seek to decry this radical state of uncertainty but to embrace it. The very moments of everyday perception are also simply intersections of a real materiality with my symbolic and imaginary processing engines making sense of them, down to the way that I understand what pleasure is and what pain is and when the two become too close so as to be confused. And a choice to not transform is of course still a choice to transform into a different state, as our bodies are all in permanent transition, aging, training, consuming, producing, perceiving, creating new folds in our craniums.
Through this process, I am also becoming an artist. Yet this is simply another fantasy which I use to structure my desires and find direction. Artist, porn star, student, professor, father, mother, husband, wife, lover, child, priest, these are all simply performances of being, yet their being a performance makes them no less real, nor more real, just another fold in the swirling interplay, the kaleidoscope of realities that is our being.
While one can draw one’s fantasy, or write it out in words, 3D virtual worlds bring us one step closer to seeing in front of our eyes the fantasy films which play behind our eyes, yet there are many more steps to bring us closer to dreams. In my dreams I smell, I feel my body in action, I have visceral emotions, yet software such as Second Life is far from emulating such unreal realities. Still, we can make steps closer to dreams, with motion capture, head mounted displays, tactile interfaces, wish pressure interfaces. I wish for another reality, the electricity on my skin changes, transferring the new desired location to the system, and the pressure interface responds, as my chair morphs from a car seat to a comfy recliner in my skybox…loading world…arriving.