A form of augmented reality

Kevin Slavin gave this talk about Augmented Reality recently and several people I know linked to it, or discussed it, usually casting it as some kind of smackdown of the AR industry. Oh, whatever. I don’t care enough about the AR industry to care about it being smacked down, so I didn’t watch it.

Until Tom Armitage wrote about the talk, and I gave in, and it turns out to be a very interesting ramble around the pros and cons of this aspect of technology, and it’s well worth a watch:

There are a few particularly good bits, and one quote I liked was:

Reality is augmented when it feels different, not when it looks different.

That made me realise that many people I see every day are already using AR devices, walking around with them activated, experiencing the world through them, and changing how the world feels:

officialofficial by Ian Muir on Flickr

Yes, headphones.

I doubt I’m the first person to describe headphones worn in public as being a form of augmented reality, but still. They certainly satisfy the requirement of making reality “feel different”.

Whenever I pass people in the street wearing headphones, I wonder how they’re seeing the world. Their experience of the same street, the same moment, will be very different depending on what they’re listening to:

But, let’s get back to a theme of Kevin’s talk, in fact the title of it: “Reality is Plenty, Thanks”. I don’t wear headphones in public because I don’t want my reality to be augmented, not in this manner anyway.

I used to wear earphones a lot when I was out. I enjoyed the soundtrack, my personal (and often random) augmentation. But I stopped using them when I started that theatre course a few years ago.

The course was based on the teachings of Jacques Lecoq and one of his, or the school’s, big things was using inspiration from the real world: rhythms, shapes, spaces, characters, sounds, movements… (I say this, but right now I can’t find any reference to this in Lecoq’s book. Let’s go with it anyway.)

So I made an effort to be more aware of the world around me during those times when one tends to switch off from it: walking down an over-familiar street, travelling on public transport, etc. I stopped wearing headphones when out and about, and have never gone back. I don’t want to cut myself off from reality, to distance myself. I like being in the world, and I feel like I’m missing out on something if I blank much of it out with my personal, aural AR. Headphone music feels like the kinds of head-up display Kevin refers to which distracted the user from the world, and made it more dangerous rather than more focused or improved.

This isn’t to say I think you’re doing something wrong if you wear headphones in public, or that I’ll never start again. Augmenting the world in this fashion is wonderful and seductive. But, for now, for me, reality is plenty.

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20 Jun 2011 at Twitter

  • 5:43pm: @russelldavies It is a little contagious isn’t it, no matter how much one tries to stay immune.
  • 5:30pm: @peterjlaw That place seems intimidating. Also, don’t want to see any bikes that will make me regret buying what I’ve just bought :)
  • 5:26pm: After several failed attempts, finally bought a bike off eBay (1970s Raleigh Clubman in what looks like surprisingly good condition). Phew.
  • 8:35am: A woman castigating her male companion at length and at speed, in Polish or similar. I don't understand a word but it's still stressful.
  • 8:02am: A new barista getting to know my regular order destroys any hope that I might be spontaneous and unpredictable. But it's still nice.