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Augmented Reality and history

Just a brief post this time, since I’m still trying to write the conclusion to the book and don’t want to be too distracted, but here’s a thought: …

virtual worlds help to redefine what our notion of history actually is. Understanding what translates from the physical world to the virtual world when buildings with which we have an historical relationship are reproduced within a computer-generated environment leads to questions about our experiences and how these become associated with space. In part the new virtual builds may recall our own personal historical connection with the physical version of the building, but our emotional connection with that space is probably at one remove if we are just observing it within the virtual world. However, it is possible to imbue virtual spaces with their own history, through the design of activities, such as in Ian Upton’s Ritual Circles, to foster these experiences and through the actions of people exploring, using and attributing meaning to those spaces under their own auspices. The different nature of the various Globe Theatres within Second Life is testament to that, in that some, though less historically accurate, are located within community spaces and so have a historical significance to the community in which they are embedded, others which are historically accurate survive as showcases of the building skills and interests of its creators, and others are no longer in Second Life and now only exist as 3D models and photographs.

As we move more towards using virtual spaces, and in meaning being accrued to physical spaces via augmented realities, will history itself become a more fluid concept? As people modify the augmented aspect of buildings through their own adding of geotagged paradata, will this augmented aspect be considered part of the intrinsic historical meaning of a site, in the same way that a Banksy graffito is preserved and lauded in the physical world at present, or merely ephemeral or a nuisance? As different applications layer different paradata onto sites, will the history of spaces diverge, depending on whether you follow an Apple or an Android historical perspective?

And a final thought:

Through augmented reality, the mingling of avatars and physical bodies, as pioneered in the Extract Insert installation, will become more commonplace. The worlds through which we move will become tagged with paradata and the wider psychological immersion that comes with understanding a space will be greater. This will have its bigger impact, potentially, in those fourth places within the physical world. Places of ritual significance, performance spaces and game spaces are all those that possess greater semiotic significance and benefit from having that wealth of meaning made manifest.  As paradata are tagged to the artefacts and people around us, then boundary objects become more accessible and the other members in our communities become more known to us. If we can enter these spaces projecting our avatars to others, through mapping them onto our physical bodies, identity becomes more malleable and roleplay more attainable. Potentially new types of spaces will arise, with new conventions and new ways to communicate as the affordances of both worlds collide and create a new synthesis. Those of us who can will live constantly in a state of metaxis. Those who cannot adapt will become increasingly alienated and isolated.


5 thoughts on “Augmented Reality and history

  1. So does that mean artefacts also have identity and presence? Reminds me of Actor Network Theory and the concept of actants and non-actants interacting. Also James Wersche’s work on the notion that everything is socio-culturally located, i.e. has a history.

  2. No I didn’t mean that, but only because I’m not familiar enough with ANT. 🙂 I’d say bots and AI definitely have identity and presence in the way I mean it, and am presenting a paper on how bots have social presence at EDMEDIA and am doing a workshop on identifying the degree to which learners experience copresence with bots next month.

    I’m not too sure whether I’d be comfortable with talking about simple artefacts having identity, because that implies something more sophisticated and nuanced to me than simply design and its connotations. Similarly a chair has a presence, in that i can see it’s there, but this is a very much downgraded version of the idea of social presence. And they can’t have self-presence can they? Maybe we’re talking about something more like design-enhanced characteristics (DEC).

    But then I’ve never been able to tell the difference between ANT and DEC anyway, :-p

  3. You said: “…virtual worlds help to redefine what our notion of history actually is. ”

    I think you’re right…or rather perhaps that it helps us to see what our notion of history might be by peeling back the layers of our understanding. I suspect you’re slipping between using the term history in different ways in what you’ve said (‘historically accurate’, ‘historical relationship’, ‘historical connection’, ‘historical perspective’)

    We tell stories – create history – whether for just ourselves or for others from what we have as meaningful, yes? – as such virtual worlds stand equally alongside the non-virtual. As I see it, if there is something meaningful (for people – or a person) in a virtual world then history is created, and that meaning is located [if only in a metaphor!]

    Location is an important part of meaning I think – I suspect to disregard location may be tied up with (what is attributed to) Descartes – that dissociation of mind and body. Maybe this is the nubble of what you’re tussling with (or rather, maybe this is the nubble of what I’M tussling with! :-)). Less to do with avatars, embodiment and presence but more our very embodiment?

    • Oh interesting point … yes, historically accurate refers to actually something that objectively physically existed, but which we may need to recover our knowledge of, and historical perspective, which is how we as a culture remember the past. And historical relationship which is how we as individuals develop a personal connection with places or events.

      “Meaning is located” is kind of the point of the entire book, I hope i get that across sufficiently well overall. The thing that gives virtual worlds the sense of being a space is that there is a location that we feel connected to, for some reason, and over time that space can therefore acquire history. Yes of course a website can have a history in the objective meaning of the word; an inception date, a series of revisions, but revisiting that website won’t produce a personal history that gives it meaning and memories. Spaces in virtual worlds do. And what was interesting about the work i was reporting on was that Ian Upton / Pahute was deliberately creating activities that would fast track that layering of a space with personal history. And I’d say that a cultural perspective on history is simply an accumulation of lots of individual ones.

      And I’d agree totally, well that’s the point of the work I’m doing mainly, which is that meaning only really becomes possible when we’re embodied in virtual worlds. I’m not sure if this is dissociation of mind and body so much as association of mind with extended body.

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