Tag Archives: cyborg

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.


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.

Crisis Camping

by Sally Applin

Preface: Before I write anything further–I want to acknowledge and appreciate that all help in a crisis is valuable (virtual and bodily) and that my thoughts are with those who are currently suffering in Haiti.

The earthquake in Haiti has had a tragic impact on that country and its inhabitants. For those in other countries, there has been a desire to help. Millions of dollars have been raised from generous individuals and organizations to help the Haitian recover effort.

That said, there has also been an interesting development of others wanting to help–those in the technology community.

“Crisis Camp” is the name given to a group of technology types (programmers, software engineers and architects, UI designers, geographers, data miners and other such types) who gather in meeting spots in different cities, for a full day/night to work on the “data crisis” for Haiti.

On the surface, it may seem unnecessary: the people of Haiti need medical assistance, food and water, how can people in a room on computers help them?

The Silicon Valley Crisis Camp had a charter of the following:

Project Proposals for CrisisCamp Haiti
Base layer map for Port Au Prince: This project would create a new collection of imagery and a new base map for NGOs and relief agencies. Post available imagery to share with the public for open source applications.
Family locator systems: Uniting efforts of interested technologists, developers and communications experts to provide technical assistance.
Tech Volunteer Skill Matrix/Volunteers: Create a role of volunteer as well as
Managing News Aggregator: Provide content channel management to coordinate data feeds
Defining the Collective: Create what we are and why we are doing this. Coordinate and post historical timeline/archive for the CrisisCamp efforts.

In a way, this is terrific. It addresses needs that the infrastructure needs to become more efficient and to communicate more clearly in a crisis. It also assists with helping those on the ground (and the big assumption is that there is power, internet, cell towers and all else there) find and aid others. It helps family members outside of Haiti connect with the rescue effort and to potentially locate their loved ones.

Another great thing about the Crisis Camps is that they are being passed around different locations. The first one was in DC, then Silicon Valley, now Portand and other cities. In this way, as one group gets fatigued, the other can build on what was done before and continue.

The trend that is interesting to me here is the new way of helping. The Crisis Campers are people who are talented and have resources to give in what they do and like other types of dontation collection–its all happening remotely.

The people in Haiti seriously need: doctors, blood, blankets, medical supplies, water, food, shelter–the physical things that sustain human life.

The Crisis Campers are donating time, expertise and mental effort, but are almost cyborg in what they are doing. The Crisis Camps aren’t collecting supplies for the Red Cross, nor even blood. They are connecting by brain, and their bodies work with the machine to solve the problems. They are safely and remotely working very hard, but completely detached from the body: theirs and those in Haiti.

I find I’m in a conflict about it: on the one hand, all help is valuable. On the other, shouldn’t the Crisis Campers be donating blood, blankets, spare clothing, etc, as well?


Crisis Camping: no tents, no bugs, no dirt, no blood, no blankets, no medical supplies

Crisis Camping: plugging the data holes that are problems in a crisis and helping to facilitate communication during a crisis.

Trend: Hard to put my finger on. I’d say its helping while remaining detached from the body.

Its the new kind of help in a new kind of merged world.

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