Real life consequences of virtual and augmented realities

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Recently I did a paper on virtual and augmented realities, especially the latter is in the spotlight of todays New Media studies. Lev Manovich remarked in his article The Poetics of Augmented Space: Learning from Prada: The 1990s were about the virtual, and it is possible that this decade will be about the physical space filled with electronic information, or augmented space.

The interesting thing about the two is definitely the fact that the virtual seems to be something we can always step out of, while the augmented is something we can become so immersed in that it is hard to let go. Sure, in both cases there is an on and an off switch, but if we take a look at the GPS systems which are becoming very common in cars today we need to emphasize that if we trust the augmented too much it might take along our real life for the ride, leaving the digital in the driving seat. And we all have heard about the drivers, trusting their GPS, and blindly riding in a river, or to the top of a mountain. Those situations are destroying the option of just turning the GPS system off when you want to. To repair the damage to your real life, you have to do a lot more than just turn it off.

The virtual also had ways of immersing the person in such a way that it had consequences for real life, for example the recent ‘gaming deaths’ in World of Warcraft. In these cases the gamers didn’t take care of their real life bodies, prefering the welbeing of their game characters. But in the case of the virtual, real life and the virtual are clearly distinguishable from eachother. One gets neglected, the other gets all the attention of the mind.
For some of these gamers there were ingame memorials, beside the memorials in real life. This also emphasizes the clear line between the two. It is one or the other. Never both at the same time. At all times it is possible to disconnect from the virtual, the button is always there waiting to be pushed. The only thing stopping it from being pushed is you.

The augmented reality on the other hand is a case of both at the same time, as the demonstration video below shows.

In this example it is used for business purposes, showing the colors of a car or the shape of a new building. What is interesting is that what I see (I can’t speak for everyone) in front of me, blended in my own real life, is something I believe much quicker. Without asking questions. Of course, if the programming is done correctly and there are no flaws in the software, this is amazing. But what if there is an error? We have seen it before in GPS technology, which is/was sending people to the wrong place. Trusting the construction of a building on an augmented simulation would be very tricky business. If flaws in the ‘augmented production process’ are discovered when the building is already there, there is no simple on or off switch. The damage is done in real life. Of course I trust the skill of the architectures, but we need to be very clear on augmented reality: It is just a simulation, not a real thing we can trust, even if we see it with our own eyes. We have to keep asking questions when we see the augmented coming into our real life further and further. Question what you see, even more than you already questioned the things in real life. Seeing is not believing.

Actions in the virtual have consequences for the virtual. For example you create a game character and through your actions you gain experience and higher levels, neglecting your real life body has death as a consequence. Two different actions and two opposite consequences.
On the other hand we have the actions in the augmented, which have consequences in both the augmented reality and in real life/the physical. Using your GPS (the action) has the consequence that you go to a place in real life and arrive at the destination (consequence). Or not. Because you can’t always walk away, and the line is blurred. Making you trust or use something, because it seems to be there but really isn’t.

Why not compare this GPS augmentation to a circus act? The audience watches the show in awe, totally immersed and all their attention is focused on the fact that it is a show. They continue watching when something goes wrong i.e. a clown cathing fire, thinking that it is part of the show. But when the audience suddenly realizes that the burning clown isn’t part of the show when the ambulance comes along, they are already too late and the reaction will be something like: ‘Why didn’t we see it earlier?’ For a moment they thought that real life was a show, but the burning clown was all too real.
The same thing goes for GPS, you trust the show that is given to you on your system when you drive your car. But when you are misguided (either by software error, or just clumsy route information) it is already to late too go back. For a moment you sit in your car and don’t see that real life is actually show. A show made up for you by your GPS system. But the wrong route you took was all too real. And the reaction?

‘Why didn’t I see it earlier?’

All my MA research logs are part of a work in progress and can not be distributed, copied, displayed or performed.


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  1. […] I’ll keep this blog updated with the progress on my thesis, which will continue my thoughts on the consequences and effects of virtual and augmented realities. And of course all the other things I wonder about in the new media landscape. Some posts will appear on both the Masters of Media blog as well as my own New Media Wanderings. […]

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