Augmented Irrationality

by Sally Applin

It isn’t much of a surprise that Augemented Reality (AR) is gaining traction. In the past 7 months that I’ve been following it, AR developer software has been getting more robust, more distributed and there are more and more people using it, and talking about using it to develop applications. In a way, layering information over the world through a visual field to bring contextual information to people can be a great thing. It enhances reality with the data that can support a more contextually and/or historically relevant enriched experience.

Yesterday I was in San Francisco and walking on a pier. A very run down pier. The infrastructure had begun to collapse and parts of it were sectioned off with warnings advising of certain peril. Then, merely a foot away, there were no warning signs and no troubles. It was not hard to imagine what had happened to the pier that it had caused its decay. Cuts in services? No budget for repairing infrastructure? I found myself wanting know true “why” of what had happened to the pier. This was partly out of curiosity, and partly out of a sort of “architectural sadness.”

As I walked along, there were things about the pier that I wanted to identify and couldn’t. It occurred to me, and not more than once, that “An AR app right about now would be great.” It would easily reveal to me the history and significance of the pier and its uses throughout the years. It would tell me why the pier was curved, what purpose it had served in the past, what the best spots on it were for taking photographs of the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz Island, and the even the history of The Dolphin Club of San Francisco and why that man was swimming along side it in freezing water without a wetsuit.

Then I thought about it.

Would it?

AR might be an easy way to get at that information, but to get at it, I would likely have to look at advertisements, graffiti, people’s messages to one another, catalog ads, bot profile “suggestions” and who knows what else. (I was already negotiating skateboarders, casting fishermen, segulls and other pedestrians.)

Do I want the sanctuary of my body space, which I now augment with eyeglasses, clothing, and a mobile phone, to get another layer…..of advertising?

“Oh, but AR is transparent!”

AR is touted as a semi-transparent layer over existing data and one of the buzzwords that seems to have been going around for the past few years is “transparency.” It was one of the Obama campaign promise platforms and has come up over and over again in my research. What is “transparency”? Who wants it? In some ways, people are demanding it. In others, the mere fact of getting it–and seeing what is really underneath, is frightening.

In parallel, the world has been getting more, well, cryptic. Opaque. Last night on the Twitter feed, @bruces wrote:

9-11, Enron, Iraq, Katrina, mortgage crisis, bailout, euro crisis, climate crisis, oil spill — we’re led by liars and sleepwalkers. Every major event that hits us is a fake, a fraud, a provocation, a panic or an organized denial — never anything we foresaw or averted. We’re way past the point of rationally managing events and into a business and politics of “lemming retention.”

How much is data augmenting a distraction? If we derail ourselves from the world at hand, we won’t have to see what “piers” are crumbling. The more we are distracted, the more those who remain opaque can, and will continue to practice their opacity.

The disasters that Sterling refers to aren’t happening to those who are building and shaping AR.

Yet.

The people with good jobs in the computer and data industry who are on the edge of the next technology wave are employed, as people are rushing to build and deploy AR software, entertainment and advertisements. For them, Augmented Reality will enhance reality in the same way that I wanted to just simply “learn more” about the pier. That said, for those whose reality has just been augmented without choice, through disaster or corporate or political oversight, (or hey, all three) it creates almost the opposite experience.

My questions:

How much do my brain and body want to fight it out?

Would money be spent to describe the history of something rather than actually preserve its usefulness?

If my brain continues to be “enriched” what is the cost to not only my body, but to the collective bodies of all of us and the space that we inhabit?

Trend: AR is on its way. For now, it will be your choice whether to augment your reality, or to look deeper into what’s left standing and determine how to augment that, instead.

©2010-2014 Sally A. Applin. All rights reserved.

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2 responses to “Augmented Irrationality

  1. “For now, it will be your choice whether to augment your reality, or to look deeper into what’s left standing and determine how to augment that, instead.”

    True, but this statement works outside of the narrow focus of augmented reality or whatever else is being hyped as the next big thing.

    In the early days of my career as a programmer/developer/software engineer we learnt how these new fangled computer thangs worked, at the chip level, at the instruction set level, understanding why an integer overflow caused havoc, understanding what walking the stack really meant and why an unruly process could walk all over it.

    We’re shielded from a lot of this now in our Web 2.0 environment and it’s almost unfashionable to teach this sort of stuff.

    We’ve lost a fundamental connection not to why something works but to how something works.

    There’s a parallel here … sometimes we need to delve deeper and learn to question what the interweb in all its various forms tells us … because sometimes it’s wrong.

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