Week 5 // Augmenting Spaces

(Lev Manovich)

When Manovich writes about how new technologies come with a new spatial logic in which “any information delivered to or extracted from augmented space always occupies some position on the continuous dimension whose poles form a perfect signal and complete noise” I have to think about how these increasing complexities make it increasingly difficult for …

I am not sure what the author means when writing that “the information is personalized for every user, it can change dynamically over time, and it is delivered through an interactive multimedia interface” as there needs to be made a distinction between the perceived augmented reality through the own phone and the surrounding walls intended to be viewed by many individuals at the same time — or does he propose that even those external surfaces can be individualized?

Considering the example of the Jewish Museum Berlin where “virtual becomes a powerful force that re-shapes the physical” and “past literally cuts into the present” in the architectural design of the building, I think this subtle layering of information to enhance our reality and ascribe more information is much more aesthetic and the effect can be much more sustainable when we are not merely given facts about our surrounding on a screen in front of our eyes but when the space itself, its design, its architecture become augmented so that it is not a matter of experiencing the augmentation through the own phone or on large screens but the architecture itself is encoded with deeper layers.

Given that, inspired by the recent readings and simply too many online classes, I would much rather get rid of my phone and take a long walk in nature, I believe forms of augmented reality are likelier to succeed when they do not require the individual to hold or wear a certain device to access the augmentation but when it exists also in non-digital forms in our surrounding, just as the author describes as “augmented space”.

Thinking about such kind of augmentation in the context of a museum, the architecture itself like in the Jewish Museum Berlin, way finding design giving visitors a certain experience while exploring an exhibition, and many more aspects can be considered instead of merely giving access to more information when holding a phone on an object.

I was surprised reading about the history of video installations in modern art institutions and that after initial exclusion from art spaces, video installations were omni-present in gallery spaces. Manovich also talks about the physical interface these video installations take which is still close to that encountered in a movie theater. I recently saw a video installation at the Hamburger Bahnhof, the museum for contemporary art in Berlin, that went against the the familiar “projector on one wall and projection on the opposite wall” structure but projected different videos that kept moving on different walls which created a more immersive experience and I also encountered videos projected on old TVs with bad image quality that create a character on they own in a world where we are used to high definition screens.

I totally agree with Manovich when he describes brands as new religions. The physical space of their stores are so artistically and well created that they resemble museums and what do museums show? Cultural artifacts. So some of these brands simply declare themselves as culturally important. Here we see again that capitalism leads development but cultural institutions like museums have resources like their immense architectural spaces so they could and should invite artist to encourage more experimentation.

Radical Technologies

(Adam Greenfield)

Greenfield’s accounts of the different historically charged locations that were superimposed with Pokémon Go characters hints at the immense ethical responsibility that game developers must face. Having such large impact on players and being able to move such masses of people gives immense power to the game developers and should be used thoughtfully. How could we use similar augmentation in another context for example for environmentally beneficial outcome? A gamification of trash picking? Or direct rewards for helping strangers not just in a selfless act of kindness but motivated by awards, scores and rank lists? The fact that the game developers reacted quickly and removed augmentation for such historically charged sites such as the Auschwitz death camps shows that there is much to learn about social reactions to such use of technology which hopefully builds a list of questions to be considered in following use of augmentation be it in games but also other context. If products such as Google glass augment our everyday life, what information is displayed, where does this information come from, and which site does it take or how can we avoid bias and echo chambers?

As Greenfield writes, it is easy to envision a good use of augmented reality in everyday life to make people’s life easier and to cater to special needs but the practical realization is much more difficult considering the legal as well as technical framework and I think it would lead to more monopolization of knowledge as the information has to be accessible to AR devices in a uniform format.

I appreciate how Greenfield manages to put what I often felt about Berlin into words when he writes that Berlin is in “search for a tenable balance between memory and forgetting”. Would AR in cultural heritage then keep us from forgetting and bind us too much to the past? In a personal development context I once heard that forgetting is essential to develop and grow personally and I want to argue that the same can be true partially for a larger group as well. Of course it is important to remember and even more to understand history in context and interaction but then also to explore new possibilities and realities so I wonder how this will be influenced by the possibility of constant overlay with information and how valuable is information in the form of facts when not thought in context or reflected upon?

Greenfield briefly mentions the elimination of “features of the visual environment perceived as undesirable”. Would this still be classified as augmented reality or move much closer to virtual reality as physical objects are not merely overlaid with information but every user could perceive a customized version of the world so the echo chamber effect our virtual self finds itself in while have an equal existence in our perception of the ‘real’ physical world around us though I do not think this elimination technology will make its way into everyday use.

As the author says, “an overlay can only ever be as good as the data feeding it” and with the current issues surrounding filter bubbles, but also inaccuracy of information I prefer a crafty, DIY gathering and evaluating of information online AND offline over an ‘effortless’ guidance of my life that is only based on i.e. Google’s data which does not reflect reality to 100% for information as simple as store opening times. I got very interested reading about Steve Mann, who I have not heard about before. Reading about his dependence and hybridization of consciousness was increased my rejection of AR technology to augment every moment of our life but then realizing that he is at least somewhat in charge because he creates his AR devices himself made me think of more commercial AR devices for everyday as something giving the addiction they can create as something very dangerous and comparable to drugs changing our consciousness.

This reading has given me a more realistic perspective on the use of AR technology and also a dysytopic perspective of what I hope and think will not change our everyday environment but do stay interested in short-term uses of AR in an artistic context where it allows us to immerse in fantasy not just with our mind but with our body as well.

Situated Computing

(John S. Gero)

Situated computing with the goal to customize a system to its user can be an interesting implementation of UX design principles for example in showing users recently or frequently used actions such as certain typographic choices in a text editor.

I was surprised to read about the effect of what we look for in what we see. Of course I encountered the phenomenon of our subjective perception but never really thought about it in the context of computer design and design computing.

New memory construction from the situation, old experiences, new experiences, and previously constructed memories was also very interested to read about in a more technical context as I thought about these concepts in a psychological context considering the human mind but there seems a lot of use in it for computer programming which is yet a new field for me. Without knowing too much about computer science, I assume that such remodeling of neural networks and learning processes enable programs to run faster as they learn more because not every single action needs to be outlined in a step by step process.

Unity: Click the Avocado Toast

For this week’s exercise, which combined everything we had learned in previous weeks, I ‘explored’ the different narratives around avocados in a superficial way. The question is “what are avocados in the 21st century?” and when clicking the avocado toast, a 3D model in the center of the screen, different texts appear about avocados from the perspective of hip Berliners, farmers and environmentalist. The war on avocados is a serious topic but I am barely scratching the surface of it as this is not the aim of this exercise.

Find the whole project folder here.

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