Augmented Reality – “a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated imagery,” or so Wikipedia says. If you’re like me, and that definition confused you more than it helped clarify things. Basically, augmented reality refers to the science-fiction technology that’s prominent in movies like Terminator, and seems far off in the distant future. Well, it’s definitely off in the future, but far off? It’s actually surprising close.
It’s hard to explain how augmented reality will alter our world, but some hypotheticals and videos can help demonstrate. Imagine walking down the street and pulling out your Blackberry or iPhone. You focus its camera on the street, and instead of seeing the street as it appears to you, every building will have floating caption bubbles explaining its purpose, hours of operation, history, etc. You can click on the bubble to pull up its homepage or Wikipedia page. As you continue to walk down the street, a bubble for a local Starbucks will allow you to tap your phone and order a Venti Iced Chai Latte and have it be ready when you walk in. Barcodes on other individuals’ shirts will allow you to “scan” them and pull up their Facebook page, Twitter feed, or educational history without even pushing a button. The idea is that one day, you won’t need your iPhone. You’ll be able to purchase contacts or glasses and be able to see this world without your phone anymore. And if you think you won’t live to see it come to fruition – you’re wrong. Companies are rapidly embracing this new technology. It’s truly becoming a creepy, creepy, world out there.
Of course, in movies like Terminator, the idea is that technology will eventually overtake humanity, and turn us into “robots” who don’t interact with each other socially as we once did. Well, that’s already happening with texting, Facebook, and email. But this is a whole new level. Why ever call a restaurant again if you can just hold your phone up and tap it (or voice command it) to place your order? With all the potential benefits of never having to call or ask annoying questions about directions, hours, prices, history, or any details ever again…is there a downside to augmented reality? What if we go too far? Isn’t there a general human longing to interact, to be social, to have friends? With technology, we’ve become closer than ever, but we’ve also grown further apart than ever. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Blackberry just as much as the next person. However, while I’m able to keep in touch with friends who are 3,000 miles away with the push of a button, I find it harder to spend the time I’m with friends that are 5 feet away much more difficult without being interrupted or distracted. Is there any end in sight to this?
With the unlikely exception of a mass Luddite revolt against the technology that is seeping into every aspect of our lives, it appears that the answer is no. Hopefully, as we embrace new forms of increasingly detached means of communication, we will remember the importance of what genuine human interaction feels like. Otherwise, the line between us and our machines, and who controls whom, will be forever blurred.
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