There’s a lot of talk about virtual reality (VR) and I’m hopeful that Meta’s foray into it falls flat on it’s face based on their track record with social media. Can you imagine the horrors they’d breed in a closed virtual reality? That said, the market seems to favor the closed-loop of a VR environment so let’s just leave them to their late stage capitalist frenzy, shall we?
I’m far more interested in how augmented reality, AR, will play out. And in this sphere, it seems that Microsoft is taking the slow-and-steady-by-way-of-the-DOD path. None of this is new technology but a lot of it is difficult.
The easy thing about VR is it’s closed environment that is completely controlled. AR has to function within the limitations of our daily reality, or ‘meatspace’.
AR’s extra steps of scanning, processing, and then overlaying a digital construct, seem like a roadblock. Turn your head too quickly, stumble on a wrinkled rug, and the projection could glitch.
But consider that scanning and processing is key to self-driving cars and other assistance technologies. You know, like Roombas and gun-toting parkour drones. So that roadblock is more of a speed bump.
The twist will be when AR becomes widespread and stable. After all, there’s no reason to assume that everyone will experience the same reality at the same time.
Why see a billboard when your AR can filter them out for you? Why see hate speech when your AR can blur that person from your sight and make them sound more pleasant?
Why experience the homeless person’s suffering?
Then there’s persona projections. In an AR environment, you can have your meatspace self and your AR self. And depending on the AR environment, you could have several AR personas. Just like we have profiles for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc, etc, we would have AR personas for the GoogleAR, fBook-AR, etc, etc.
And what if the funding for these AR environments comes from the same places as current websites? Want to use the GoogleAR? You gotta submit to scraping your location, personality variations, etc. Imagine a fully branded Coca-Cola persona, one where they pay you, per second, to look like one of their mascots on the largest ARs.
In response to that, some people would go voluntarily ‘blind’, skipping the AR concept altogether, relying solely on meatspace. Some people might go ‘fiend’, only existing as AR concepts, never turning it off, walking around in formless, completely obscuring clothing, maybe even finding ways to transmit to the ‘blind’ with projectors.
How do we tackle this new onslaught of multiple realities? After all, a significant portion of the world is still having trouble dealing with just the Internet. Even the solutions of the youths, like finstas, are simply replications of previous solutions.
And who says we have to tackle anything? The way I see it, each AR would function like a subculture. Like Hawaiian shirts for Parrotheads, or puffy vests for tech-bros, each subculture in the world has it’s costumes. So why wouldn’t that translate out into ARs?
In fact, the killer application of AR would be to allow people in subcultures to identify themselves to their peers without exposing themselves to the general hoi-polloi. The person walking down the street in non-descript clothing might be an eight foot tall wobbling neon giraffe in their subculture’s AR. And unless you were part of it, you would never know.
For every splinter cell of a subculture, a new AR and a new form of signaling within that AR would arise.
And in meatspace, the need to further signal would be less impressive or impactful. So you could roll out of bed in your comfy clothes and head into work, your professional AR overlaying a suit and tie with a ticker of your current projects floating over your head for others to see. You could head out for a night of dinner and dancing in slippers and sweats, knowing that the people that matter to you would see you as the liberty-spiked, PVC-booted, punk rock maven you are.
Maybe we will express ourselves in AR and connect with each other in meatspace in different ways. We might stop caring about subcultural markers, like sports teams and television shows. We might start caring more about who we are, individually, outside of those definitions. Or we might just find new ways to be horrible to each other.
Either way, it’ll be way more interesting that watching tech billionaries digging through the early 90’s to find a VR movie they want to steal ideas from.