With this nice weather of the past few days, it’s so lovely to stroll outside and let myself get surprised by what I see. For example the Beurs van Zocher from 1848 or the design of the new Amsterdam Filmmuseum, due in 2012. Yes, I am talking about Augmented Reality here. My smartphone is all I need to enrich my environment with all kinds of extra information, from text and images to video or even 3D models. AR truly adds a new experience to daily life.
This experience isn’t just an addition though, it changes the way we deal with, think about and see reality. Canadian scientist Marshall McLuhan summarized this as ‘the medium is the message’. So when developing a new medium it’s important to analyse not only the content which it holds, like the kinds of apps in AR, but especially pay attention to the properties of the medium itself which in AR seems to be connectivity: opening up new worlds by adding extra dimensions, thus providing new ways to connect to the past, future or just other realities. So far, AR seems to be pretty bright and shiny.
But maybe a bit too shiny. Because, while nowadays everything is just in the beginning stage, in the future, the rapid growing number parts of reality that can be enhanced with extra information, may be bringing along the risk of information overload. To not be blinded by all those possible layers of digital information, selectivity is key.
Selectivity is a regular psychological mechanism also at play in ‘the real world’. Yet the difference and the danger in the augmented reality is that the selective mechanisms shift from user to medium as with the need for selection usually also comes the call for personalisation. So the augmented reality is likely to become more and more personalised with preset filters that depend on what interests you, allowing you to make a quick and smooth way through all the extra information, but restrict you at the same time to a so-called filter bubble, a term coined by Eli Pariser.
So AR bears not only the promise of connectivity, but also the risk of confinement. While AR keeps on developing and enhancing our outer world with extra information and experience, let’s ensure it will keep enriching our inner world also and not narrow down all those options to the interests of the thin line of the I, the person who you are now, taking away any elements of surprising confrontation and therefore future personal growth. Being able to stroll and wander around with your phone to find unexpected things truly enhancing your reality, is after all a far too great promise to lose in some kind of filter bubble.
This blogpost is also published on TedxAmsterdam