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Writing and Reading as Technology (8): Augmenting Reality

This Side Up - Fragile" Shipping Label -


For those who came in late, here’s everyone’s favourite online encyclopedia on AR:

Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience of a real-world environment where the objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities… AR can be defined as a system that incorporates three basic features: a combination of real and virtual worlds, real-time interaction, and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects. The overlaid sensory information can be constructive (i.e. additive to the natural environment), or destructive (i.e. masking of the natural environment). This experience is seamlessly interwoven with the physical world such that it is perceived as an immersive aspect of the real environment. In this way, augmented reality alters one’s ongoing perception of a real-world environment, whereas virtual reality completely replaces the user’s real-world environment with a simulated one.

And here’s everyone’s favourite techno-uncle on written language:

The invention of writing systems for language and math structured this [language-based] learning even more. Ideas could be indexed, retrieved, and propagated more easily. Writing allowed the organization of information to penetrate into many everyday aspects of life. It accelerated trade, the creation of calendars, and the formation of laws—all of which organized information further.

Printing organized information still more by making literacy widespread. As printing became ubiquitous, so did symbolic manipulation. Libraries, catalogs, cross-referencing, dictionaries, concordances, and the publishing of minute observations all blossomed, producing a new level of informational ubiquity—to the extent that today we don’t even notice that printing covers our visual landscape.

Kevin Kelly – What Technology Wants

Now Look Around

Our reality is already augmented. Among other things, text and symbols superimposed on our environment enable us to…

  • … know what’s in a box or bottle without opening it*;
  • … know who made an unfamiliar product, what’s in it, and what it’s good for;
  • … predict where a bus or other public vehicle that we’ve never seen before is going;
  • … know how to turn something on or off;
  • … and all the other things we use labels for on our devices;
  • … identify and (dis)assemble components;
  • … know how to behave by reading signs – where to go, how to queue, what to do – in unfamiliar places;
  • … deliver and receive just-in-time information – often location specific – through informational posters;
  • … prevent accidental deaths through warning labels and signs;
  • … operate unfamiliar machinery;
  • … operate familiar machinery more safely;
  • … Beware of the Dog;
  • … know what’s available;
  • … know who to call when something goes wrong;
  • … locate components or information rapidly via indexing and archiving;
  • … know what street we’re on and how to get where we’re going;
  • … have an idea of what’s going on in the buildings all around us;
  • … and know if we can go in;
  • … move goods and information to far-flung places without sending a courier;
  • … forage for food and drink more efficiently;
  • … identify one specific vehicle out of millions on the streets;
  • … use the correct names for people we’ve never met;
  • … make each other laugh;
  • … make each other thing and change each other’s minds (maybe).

Let me know what I’ve missed in the comments.

*Text also gives us the opportunity to mislead in most of these cases.

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