Sunday, August 1, 2010

Augmented or Diminished Reality?

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Not Better or Worse, Just Different

If you'd have asked for my definition of "augmented reality" (AR) before I became aware of the technical definition, I'd have replied, "My reality is augmented by family -- including pets -- and friends who love me; art to enjoy and produce; sensual pleasure; communities with which I affiliate; meaningful work, including substantial cultural exchanges; and the means to: give charity, buy healthy food, nice clothes, a lovely home, a comfortable car and gifts."

That definition still works, even as I was introduced to a different, technical definition of the term recently by a colleague and friend who invents AR apps: "...a layer of information on top of reality."

The same colleague pointed me to a link of an AR app demo, showing how IBM let Wimbledon attendees watch games through walls while waiting on line to get in. I told another colleague, who's proudly anti-Web 2.0, about how IBM has created an AR version of Madison Square Park in NYC, so that he could point his smart-phone at the Flatiron Building to learn about it.

He said, "Now *that* would interest me." For him, it would be like turning the world into a museum with exhibit labels.

A relative who's an artist wondered if AR was such a good idea. She, who is a talented photographer as well as painter, said, "I've stopped taking my camera everywhere I go because I was feeling less present with it."

"It's true that this could make us feel more removed from reality than a part of it," I responded. I've been thinking further, though:

The dark side could be isolation and also another dimension of the societal division of the haves and have-nots. The up-side could be cultural enrichment and fun, as well as performance aids, if not full-blown, profound learning, plus universal access over time, i.e., no haves/have-nots.

One of the constant tensions of technology, I think, is that it can remove us from what's traditionally seen as organic/natural *and* it can expand our vista a million-fold, e.g., cars remove us from nature, and from people...and cars enable us to see and enjoy more/other people/nature than we could on our own arms-and-legs power.

Recently, a Group Dynamics classmate in the School Psychology program was complaining about how a number of us from the Adult Learning and Leadership and Org. Psych. programs had amazing access to global resources -- people and technological -- while in his experience, he was lucky to get a desk at work.

It struck me: A) I knew from his Facebook page that he went to one of the most privileged of he Ivy League schools for undergrad, and so perhaps, he was mourning the loss of his prior, routine sense of privilege and B) certainly seemed to use social media outside of work, and so I didn't know why he was complaining. He chose a line of work, where by design, it's all local and nearly all face-to-face.

To me, AR will always consist of the definition I gave above, but my friend's technical definition is intriguing, too. I don't think her AR definition is better or worse than plain-old reality; it's just different. I think that people who feel isolated don't need help from the Internet; they're likely that way offline, too...and at a minimum, AR could make their natural isolation more interesting, and help them feel more connected in other ways.

Personally, I'm an extrovert and yet have also written here about having an unusually large sense of loneliness, no matter how many people appreciate me. For someone like me, ultimately, the technical version of augmented reality seems like a way to help me feel more connected to the world and other people, for example, I'm the sort of person who would likely exclaim aloud, "Wow!" if I saw something cool as a result of AR, and would need to share what I learned with whoever was in closest proximity; for me, AR would likely serve as a conversation starter, i.e., a device for connecting with others.


rucsb said...

Kid..You naturally have all the traits / abilities to connect with others. Augmented reality or otherwise. Jot down my mobile number. Whenever, you get surrounded by large sense of loneliness , call me ;-) For all other occasions, you are already appreciated/surrounded by People. Process is the same,yet treatment is different. Strange, When we dont want it , we term it as -Loneliness. When we want it, we call it - Being Alone.

Stay Well, Stay Happy !

Sarah Siegel said...

Ruchi, good distinction between being alone and lonely.