Have you ever randomly made a connection and realized that you have plenty of mutual friends? Have you ever felt like you are missing out on chances to bond with people because of the social awkwardness or the threshold that comes with starting a conversation with a stranger? Have you ever been to a party and wondered whether there is anything that connects you with the people in the room? Currently, they are strangers — but are they really?
Social Media Meets Augmented Reality
likewise operates right on the corner of augmented reality (AR), the Internet of Things (IoT), and social data. It pulls your friend list, as well as personal likes and interests from your social media profiles. Running on your phone, it connects with the wearable technology of your choice (smart glasses, contact lenses). Let’s say, you are looking at another person on the street. The motion sensor or iris detector of your wearable device detects the direction you are looking and sends the location data to your phone. Your phone detects the exact location of the other person’s phone, connects with it, and matches your social profiles. Your phone sends the information about mutual friends and similarities back to your wearable device, which displays the information as a real-time hologram over that persons head — exclusively visible to you.
Introducing The likewise App
When opening the app, likewise prompts you to sign in with your social media credentials — Will it be Facebook? Instagram? Something entirely different? We’ll just leave this open for now. The app could also aggregate and analyze your data across multiple social or behavioral profiles.
Once signed in, the main screen of the app is incredibly simple. There is a single switch that allows you to activate or deactivate the app and therefore the real world holograms it produces. Be aware that you are only able to see holograms for other people if the app is activated. The buttons at the bottom let you access more information, help, and customer service as well as your settings, such as preferences and hardware-connection. Addressing the main presumptive user concern, the screen also proactively gives you the option to view and manage your data exchange:
The app lets you manage which types of information you want to have matched with other likewise users.
Don’t we all feel this tiny little rush of excitement when someone across from us on the subway pulls out our favorite book? It is like getting a sneak peek into their personality. It makes starting a conversation with someone much more simple and desirable. likewise means knowing these things right in the moment of the impression. In real-time. In the real-world.
Enough With The Happy Talk
All the happy tech talk aside, a technology like likewise comes with a set of actions and effects. It acts upon and modifies the nature of our societal culture. What are the cultural implications that likewise could impose on us? What kind of world would this technology be creating? In order to not be driving backwards into the future looking into the review mirror, it is vital to address these matters beforehand.
The question is: What if we were to reinvent the way we experience impressions of people?
Looking Beyond Enhancement
likewise re-imagines the way we make impressions of people. Our initial impression of a person is usually determined by their appearance, behavior, and possibly statements and opinions. These initial assumptions are then either confirmed or revoked upon further contact. It takes more than a glance to get to know someone and learn about their friend circles, interests, and hobbies. The app would take the impression-at-a-glance a step further by adding more data and thus making it more accurate. With modern IoT and AR technology, the data can be embedded into the real world in order to enhance our impressions of others.
Marketing and promotion materials tend to praise a technology for what it enhances and for how it makes other media or artifacts obsolete. A holistic picture of the artifact, however, also considers other dimensions that are inherent in each technological artifact from the very start: what is retrieves and what it possibly reverses into. For this exact purpose — critical reflection — McLuhan proposed the laws of media.
likewise has the potential to enhance the process of meeting and getting to know other like-minded people while making initial small talk to find out about a person’s background and interest to start a conversation obsolete. By triggering more real-life conversations through the additional information it provides about others, it retrieves conversational activity (starting up a conversation) within a society, which has been at an all time low ever since smart phones have started to be omnipresent.
When pushed to the limits of its potential, the app could reverse into the single deciding factor that determines who we meet, who we talk to, and what we talk to them about. Why is this alarming? The information that likewise uses is based solely on our online personalities. Our social data and online profiles could be defining who we are and who we interact with even more. Will our online personality trump our real-world personality? Are online-friends, followers, and likes a reliable indicator of who we actually are? Reliable enough to determine who we meet and interact with? On top of that, conversations could start to be less exciting, more shallow, and less complex. We have more information about others up front, on the basis of which we will be able to judge others before we even get to know them. Users might also start to venture out less and stick to their patterns and circles with mutual friends and likes. While originally designed to simplify the process of meeting like-minded people, an app like this could harm social interactions, conversational diversity, personal authenticity, and the importance of a real-life personality.
Convenience, Control, and Articulations
Especially the outlook of what it could reverse into starts to open one‘s eyes to the kind of culture we might be creating with likewise. But why would we even hypothetically welcome such sort of modification to our world? Isn’t likewise a disruption of the natural flow of impressions and interactions? In spite of its potentially alarming consequences, the opportunities that come with it still sound tempting. When attempting to outline a rationale, a few concepts come to mind:
Firstly, we have a strong desire for comfort and ease. likewise would erase the awkward threshold of approaching others. It would simplify the process of figuring out if we are in tune with someone else and therefore enable interactions, in which we feel more comfortable. It increases convenience in everyday situations. By doing so, however, it controls how and with whom we interact. The app aims to improve our control over who we want to interact with. But in turn, it actively controls how we approach and execute social interactions. In a way, the technology is based on the tendential articulation that the desirability of a social interaction is solely dependent on mutual friends and interests. And this articulation matters: It makes some interactions happen and others not. Establishing this kind of articulation has the potential to alter the way in which the different elements of our society (i.e. the people) connect and thus modify this assemblage. While some might argue that the mere availability of the information won’t keep anyone from interacting with people that a) don’t use the app or b) show no similarities, I am convinced that the mere existence of the medium itself — aside from how it is being used — will have a significant impact on our societal culture.
likewise could therefore create a world, in which our digital self (brought to life by our social data) determines how and with whom we interact and thus outweighs the relevance of our actual real-life personality. Just like the like-function on Facebook has blunted the way we evaluate things around us (black vs. white — like vs. no like), likewise would reduce the impression of our characters to a mere collection of likes, interests, and friends.
Is this the kind of world we want to be creating? Is this the kind of culture we want to be creating? It is crucial to think about this before starting to adopt. A sleepwalking-state-of-mind triggers the feeling of inevitability. But inevitability is not an excuse. At least not, “as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.” (McLuhan, Medium is the Massage, p.24).
Bolter, J. D., & Grusin, R. Immediacy, hypermediacy, and remediation. In Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1999. Print.
McLuhan, M., & McLuhan, E. Tetrads. In Laws of media: The new science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992. Print.
McLuhan, M., & Fiore, Q. The medium is the massage. New York: Bantam Books, 1967. Print.
Slack, J. D., & Wise, J. M., (2007). “Progress.” “Convenience.” “Determinism.” “Control.” “Articulation and Assemblage.” In Culture and technology: A primer. New York: Peter Lang.