Thursday, January 13, 2011

AR is not VR

Augmented reality is distinct from virtual reality.  The technologies of virtual reality try to "block" the user's perception of the physical/external (ie, non-computational) world, favoring instead a totally immersive experience within a 100% computer-generated field of audiovisual sensations.  James Vallino clarifies this distinction in his webpage Introduction to Augmented Reality:
The user [of virtual reality] is completely immersed in an artificial world and becomes divorced from the real environment...The visual, and in some systems aural and proprioceptive, senses are under control of the system. In contrast, an augmented reality system is augmenting the real world scene necessitating that the user maintains a sense of presence in that world. The virtual images are merged with the real view to create the augmented display...Augmented reality lies near the real world end of the line with the predominate perception being the real world augmented by computer generated data. 

Given AR's imperative to blend human senses with computer sensors, as well as the landscape with the mediascape, the development and use of such technologies should be extremely relevant to the (transdisciplinarly) theoretical projects of posthumanism and ecology.  Furthermore, from the standpoint of grammatology and writing studies, one might ask how AR as a digital writing system is transforming the location/dynamics of thinking in a posthuman age.

Search engines and other forms of information databases on the web have already affected thinking in obvious ways.  For instance, the frustration one used to experience when unable to remember a commonplace fact--the named of the actor that starred in that movie or the approximate travel time between two cities--is already becoming an ancient sensation thanks to websites like IMDb and Google Maps.  Without these sites, the location of thought remains in one's head; thinking is the ransacking of one's memories, augmented by whatever cognitive processes can be called upon to piece together what I know in order to channel what I don't know (or, in this case, what I once knew but am now unable to recall).

Of course, I could ask someone this question that stumps me, but doing so would not lead to a qualitative change in the location of thinking--it merely shifts or extends to location of thinking from my head to the other person's head.  We could also try to find the answer to the question by reference to some print form/institution, and yet looking at a map or flipping through a reference book are much too clumpy (at least in digital hindsight--the expectation for customization and interactivity) to accommodate our everyday, perpetual search for information.  As one consults the alphabetic writing systems (or information structures) of print culture, the location of thought is not redistributed beyond the individual mind/cogito.  (Indeed, this form of identity experience--the subject--is a function of alphabetic writing and literate metaphysics.)

The writing of alphabetic writing bears meaning for readers only to the extent that it simulates a verbal utterance or conversation, which, as we already said, only relays between various individual human minds as the exclusive location of thinking.  (Moreover, somewhat resemblant if not perpendicular to virtual reality, alphabetic writing--as evidenced throughout the history of rhetoric--generally conditions its users to immerse themselves in the virtual/verbal significations of the written word, while systematically downplaying their awareness of the actual/visual sensations of the writing technologies.)  When a print map starts to wrinkle or fade over time, these signs of visual transformation are not said to constitute thinking.  In other words, the wrinkle is not taken as an expression of the map's intelligence.  The map as a material has no intelligence except for what has been written/printed onto it by a human author; this is, whatever agency the map has is only considered in terms of the unique material affordances its supplies to the ready hand of the thinking subject.  With the augmented reality apps of digital media, however, such visual transformations are signs of thinking, if not (a crucial coordinate in) the new location of thinking.

No comments:

Post a Comment