Reality is Plenty, Thanks

At the recent MobileMonday 21 conference, Kevin Slavin (co-founder of Area/Code) gave a fascinating talk on the field of augmented reality: “Reality is plenty, thanks.” And in her blog, Helen Walters gives a great summary:

Slavin makes the case that much of the current work in AR is wandering down the wrong street (albeit one with a thin veneer of apparently useful information laid over its surface.) The talk is a sweeping history lesson that takes in the industrial military complex, gaming and blockbuster films to back up his assertion that “the fallacy of augmented reality… asserts that the eye instead of the brain is the unified center of perception and thought and reality.” He concludes with the sacrilegious idea that AR “might not be best expressed by anything you look at,” and pushes us all to reconsider what is possible or desirable in this realm.

I always love it when someone reminds us to question a trend! Or to really encourage us to re-think how we approach our work.

Part of Slavin’s states that most people think of AR as augmenting where we’re looking. But that our realities are much broader than that. We need to take in everything — and that, rather than enhancing things, an AR screen actually reduces our ability to perceive the world around us.

And he supports this with some interesting interactive examples — many I’d never heard of before. And two of them are beautiful projects that don’t change “what we see” but instead “how we see.” Reminders that AR can be so much than information overlays on a video lens.

Momo, by Che-Wei Wang and Kristin O’Friel, is a haptic navigation device that uses only the sense of touch. It leans and vibrates to guide the user. Momo augments the sense of location with the body, not the eye.

Slavin says this restores the our eyes to their original function — to take in the world around us. He explains this as: “Google Maps shows us our world from above and then draws a line for us to follow. Conventional AR has us look through a lens to see where we’re going. Momo augments the sense of location with the body, not the eye.”

Animal Superpowers, by Chris Woebken and Kenichi Okada, is even cuter (!?) than Momo. The project began from the knowledge that animals have different senses from us — allowing them to perceive the world in totally different ways than us. But rather than approaching the subject scientifically, it uses play and pretend to change how kids sense their world. With Animal Superpowers, kids can become an ant by seeing the world beneath them at 50x scale; or they can be converted into an adult by seeing the world from a higher perspective, and speak with a deeper voice.

Beautiful projects. And good reminders for us to think deeply about how we use the tools available to us before we start designing.

Animal Superpowers
Animal Superpowers
Momo