Augmented reality (AR) refers to a family of technologies that allows us to see images of the real world and computer generated images in the same field of view in such a way that they appear to be part of the same reality. It has existed as a field of research for more than a decade but most theoretical writings confine themselves to technological problems and evaluation of their solutions, or to attempts to taxonomise the solutions in some way. The actual content, and issues surrounding its design, is mostly ignored. This could be for a number of reasons:
Firstly, augmented reality, and the technology surrounding it, is still in its infancy and taking its first shaky steps out of the laboratory into the consumer domain. This makes it hard to see AR as a medium since the technology itself still barely works, and has few established standards and high level tools. It will be some time then, before designers can gain full access to it, and even longer before an audience can begin to engage with it.
Secondly, the very idea of content implies the existence of a container and that a communications technology should aspire to total transparency, to effectively disappear from the awareness of the user. In doing so, we ignore the effects that medium and message can have on each other (or that they may be the same thing). We also implicitly deny the possibility that a medium can hold and convey meanings in, and of itself. The idea that one can make a technology, completely free of the norms and values of those who conceived of, built and financed it, is the kind of belief that we associate with a Modernist world view.
By Modernist, I refer to an early twentieth century world-view built around scientific progress. Modernism is characterised by belief in the human power to improve the world through science and technology. It is driven by an idea of the individual creating new and original ideas that obsolesce pre-existing ideas — an abandonment of tradition. In technology, it is understandably the default approach to theory and reinforces its position with experimental evidence upon which are built frameworks, taxonomies and hierarchies. Because this has been highly effective in driving the continued development of technologies, it is naturally the foremost discourse in technological circles. Unfortunately, the prominence of the Modernist worldview can deafen us to other voices that might influence how we think about how technology might contribute to human experience.
Rodney Berry (Australia) Biography
National University of Singapore, Communication and New Media Programme Interactive Digital Media Institute
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