12 Oct

Reality: To Augment or Mix?

One of the things I’ve been struggling with lately is the premise that the addition of the virtual onto individual consciousness somehow alters that consciousness such that it cannot integrate the virtual into its horizon. Let me try putting it another way: when we interact with screens, we are simply experiencing reality within some context of mediation. However, when we add the element of the virtual (read: virtual world), the real, as a state capable of assimilating mediation into its fold, becomes something that collapses to the point of having to ‘augment’ itself into something different, or mix (sit alongside) something discreet. Why isn’t a singular reality capable of dealing with “reality representations” (in the form of virtual worlds) without having to compromise its integrity or ability to deal with mediation? I think it is. This might sound mundane, but perhaps we should shy away from using terms like reality to define information-enhanced spaces and/or virtual environments. Digital media, like all media, comprise the perceptual material through which we assemble our individual understandings of reality. They don’t sit along side it, or augment it, in ways different from “traditional” screen media. So, whether a narrative is displayed in an urban square, or an urban square is recreated in a virtual narrative space, we continue to assimilate these representational modes in a reasonably cohesive environmental knowledge. In other words, I understand my neighborhood and my city in a particular way – whether it is influenced by virtual immersion, cinematic representation or information, or simply conversations with neighbors and strangers, it is manifested, in practical terms, into a single understanding, or lifeworld.

While I understand that these terms have rich histories in disciplines of inquiry, from virtual reality to augmented reality to ubiquitous computing, I wonder if it isn’t more productive for the humanistic disciplines to assume an integrated reality rich with varied signals. This redirects the problem from figuring how to assemble fractured notions of the real to figuring how to avoid contradiction and displacement. Technologies, from virtual worlds to tiny screens, can accomodate presence and integration, just as much as they can bisect perceptions of the real into two overlapping or juxtaposed fields.

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