I have been thinking about this question a lot lately, especially because so many others are pointing to it as the next big thing. What I really want to know, though, is why Augmented Reality applications deserve our time, effort, and more than anything else, our data.
For those of you who have not seen the video on Google Goggles or looked into iPhone applications like Realski, TAT, or Layar; Augmented Reality is the ability to give individual objects in the real world metadata or tagged properties. This means that anything from a table to a baseball card can have images, information, or even interaction built into it by simply viewing it through a camera or some other type of device. While, this gets pretty heavily into the science fiction stuff that people have put into movies for years, taking a look at something like Realski, you can actually see how useful having data about your surroundings could be.
What I am interested in with this question, though, is why we need to invest our time and effort into making Augmented Reality a part of our lives, why it is truly important to the future of education and the future of literacy. It is for the same reasons that I described in a podcast almost exactly two years ago. Augmented Reality is important because it creates context for everything. Anyone who knows me will attest to my need for context in reading, writing and any other creative pursuit. In the aforementioned podcast I described a virtual world where each object would be a collaborative one, where each story would be co-written by everyone who viewed the objects within the story. The apple on the detective’s desk could have its own story with a tragic worm. The window shade that saw the murder could tell the tale from its perspective. With Augmented Reality, we can write the history directly onto the objects. No longer will we have to utter the phrase, “If these walls could talk.” They will. But, only if we tag them correctly.
I feel as though it is our responsibility to start capturing the world around us and telling the story that we want to be told for our children, for ourselves. If life becomes one living allegory, if everything is a symbol for something else, then what does literature and literacy become? If our world around us becomes hyperlinked, we can learn to make connections and think critically about we consume, manipulate, and produce from any stage of the game.
While this may be a ways off, I’m not sure that thinking through what is possible is ever a waste of our time.
As I think about the objects in our daily lives, I want to believe that we will start to see their true potential.
- The science materials that have the experiment embedded into them.
- The meeting room table that can be changed to have different sets of documents attached to it, depending on the meeting at hand.
- The foods that tell you exactly how many calories are within, and where they were grown, and how long they have been sitting on the shelf.
- The gifts that are sent with pictures of the loved ones who sent them, just hovering over them whenever our children start to play once more.
My elevated intellectual reaction is “cool.” I'll try to dumb it down.
From a commercial standpoint, it's an untapped market of potential, right? “You like this lamp post? It's using GE Halogen bulbs. Here's how to get them delivered to your phone and a map to the store closest to you that has them in stock.” I realize the pessimism inherent in this line of thinking, but I'm also a believer in the importance of embracing the Law of Unintended Consequences. To imagine a world where my grandfather had cataloged his favorite spots along the river that hosted our yearly fishing trips stirs my imagination. To be able to document a child's life in a way that tells them who they were as they're trying to figure out would be, I imagine, immensely grounding.
I'll finish with this. Some of the places I've been where millions have walked before are romanticized in my brain because I'm sharing a piece of that experience. On the other end, I can remember the feeling (false though I know it was) that I was the first person to explore Lake Matthiessen State Park as a kid.
The fact that it's complicated lets me know it's worth exploring.
I want to connect and disconnect.
I want the option of both.
I used to dig underneath my grandmothers house in the summer when I was
about 8 years old. I would find arrowheads and lots of really cool rocks.
The earth was coo and it was a private space. I want my kids to experience
those things too. Their imaginations of what could be there are much more
important than what they actually find. Yet, when they do find something I
want them to be able to figure out its significance if they wish to find
While augmented reality has the power to make things more concrete by
expressing the underlying properties of an object, I think that is should
also help us tell the stories of objects. If my kids can write what they
think the arrowhead really is and the story of who used it in the past, I
think that is something I would want to pass on.
Good and bad, AR makes sense and should be pursued.