towards theorizing an augmented reality
Tim O’Reilly coined the phrase “Web 2.0”, and while the term has been differently used, I have boiled it down to the recent explosion of user-generated content (thus the focus on prosumption). This past summer, O’Reilly has declared another new era, what he calls “Web Squared”:
“There’s […] a qualitative change happening as the Web becomes more closely integrated with the real world via sensor-based smart phone applications. Web Squared is another way of saying “Web meets World.”
We can boil this phrase (if one wants to even preserve it) down to a fundamentally important trend: the increased blurring of the digital and material worlds. This trend has been discussed in some of my previous posts on “geotagging” and “location awareness”. These tools, often used via “smart”, GPS-enabled mobile phones, track and display users’ geographic locations in many different ways, such as on one’s Facebook or Twitter accounts. I have argued that (1-macro) these technologies are the further intrusion of capitalism into increasingly intimate aspects of our selves and lives, and (2-micro) the documentation of one’s location is a new task of performing the self and identity, fueling the ‘digital culture of narcissism’.
In addition to “geotagging” and “location awareness”, another important trend is that of “augmented reality”: the merging of material reality with digital information, as well as the augmentation of digitality with materiality (note that this later trend is not focused on by either O’Reilly or the Wikipedia article). Google’s Street View gives us this implosion (real-time versions of this already exist [video]) and Google’s Picasa can now recognize billions of people’s faces and tag them automatically. Video games have been trending towards the addition of materiality, most dramatically when the Nintendo Wii took the market by storm by making the digital game play less about pushing buttons, and more about traditional material-world movements. Sony has announced that it will also release a “motion controller” for the Playstation 3 system and Microsoft is creating a motion controller for the Xbox 360 that will also incorporate a camera, depth sensor and a microphone, creating a video game experience where one does not have to push any buttons at all.
This speaks to a fundamental way of conceptualizing and theorizing the Internet specifically, and spaces and places generally: that digital and material realities dialectically co-construct each other. For example, social networking sites (e.g., MySpace, Facebook) are not separate from the physical world, but rather they have everything to do with it, and the physical world has much to do with digital socializing. No longer can we think of a “real” world opposed to being “online”. Instead, we need to think with a paradigm that centers on the implosion of the worlds of bits and atoms into the augmented reality that has seemingly become ascendant. ~nathan