Augmented Reality and the Loss of the Exploratory Impulse

Curator's Note

Augmented reality mobile apps continue to emerge as the ‘next big thing.’ The promise of the Articulated Naturality Web (ANW), as presented by QderoPateo Communications, is to add in-depth data to the physical world. This video focuses on marketing, describing the process of renting office space or finding a hotel room. Like much of the web, it’s not surprising to see such new technologies find a niche in the marketplace.

Of greater significance is the newfound ability to visualize the mundane: 3-D weather forecasts (with disturbingly large precipitation) or the virtual floor plan of any building. These utilitarian uses call into question whether this added data is necessary. In the race to add more features to devices, ANW may be the point where more becomes less. Whereas simpler augmented reality apps have us looking upward to identify constellations, newer offerings compel us to reconsider our immediate surroundings.

Manuel Castells’ concept of the 'space of flows' describes the ability for technology to instantly bring people and ideas together without the constraints of physical space. ANW threatens the opposite. Locations that are in proximity (across the street or across the hall) are mentally placed at a distance, either by holding up a cell phone to one’s face or by wearing a less outwardly intrusive device such as technologically-enhanced glasses or even contact lenses that can overlap augmented reality graphics over the real world. The addition of location-based and time-based information (Where am I? What will this look like later?), while useful, threatens to diminish our experiences.

A world may be in your pocket, but at the cost of less engagement with the physical. If social media is accused of limiting face-to-face contact, ANW could diminish exploration of space. An inevitable (and hard to resist) use of this technology will be as an alternative to the tourist map. Where the old-fashioned approach merely provides landmarks, ANW will provide comprehensive information. No more will people explore but instead will arrive where they intend; the liberation and discovery found in those moments of being lost in a new place will disappear, replaced by efficiency and always knowing where you’re going before you get there. If the excitement of living comes from the exploration of uncharted territory, then having a detailed map of every room leaves no door left unopened.  Does augmented reality help us escape from the screen, just to reposition reality out of reach?


The notion of "augmenting" reality surely is an odd conceit, isn't it. By providing data linked to space, we imagine that we someone improve our appreciation for the landscape and materiality around us.  In fact there appears to be a loss of spatial awareness as a result of using gis-based navigation tools. I am also struck that the conversations about these tools generally pertain to marketing, rather than cultural information.

I would argue (and do to some extent) in my Curating the City presentation here, that the disciplines already have developed means to augment reality through our approaches, arguments, and interpetive claims. The challenge, it seems to me, is to embed those in the mobile revolution in a fashion that recovers place rather than replaces it with a new layer of mediation that takes us further away from understanding it. 

Discovery of landscape and place is indeed extraordinary!

 To me, ANW is a scary idea. Technology is currently advancing at such an exponential rate that I cannot even fathom what will come next. It seems that the world is about to transform completely into a virtual reality with huge disconnect from physicality where we, as people, are no longer able to connect with our surroundings. The video describes how, with ANW, our human minds will be the only barrier. This is discomforting to our humanity. Who are we without connection to the space we inhabit? Will we lose all our senses? It is very Matrix-esque.

I do understand the opposing side, however, where apps such as these can be beneficial. The way ANW is marketed in the video shows how it is unarguably helpful in many ways, such as granting the ability to lay out a space as an office with a certain amount of desks before ever even committing to rent it or seeing the availabilities of hotels and the actual rooms simply from standing across the street. At the same time, our society is already immersed in such a vast flow of information that it seems we may not need this advancement. Where are we to go afterwards? How far can we take technology before it ruins us? ANW appears as a technology straight out of a sci-fi movie plot, and I am not necessarily on the bandwagon that it is a positive move forward for our society.

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