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The Great Re-Wiring: Augmented reality and the fragmented self.

March 9, 2014

Pretest: What color is a Yield sign? If you answered: “yellow and black,” you need to read this post. If you answered: “red and white” you definitely need to read this post. yieldylwred

“When I was a kid…”

   People my age – we’re that weird 40-something in between baby boomers and genX-ers – have watched the revolution in computing intelligence unfold in real-time.  We had the first computer labs in public school, but learned to type on electric typewriters.  We think there should be two spaces after periods.  The standout software development of my high school computer class was a primitive screen saver that drew monochromatic line segments in random, rapid succession, as it emitted a fart noise (go on, you know you must sample the glory that is an acoustic fart library) at every direction change. We saw Star Wars as kids in the theater and were blown away by flying bits of colored light and the fact you couldn’t see the strings holding the space ships up. We saw Pong turn into Space Invaders turn into Zelda turn into Myst turn into Warcraft.

vid game collage

   My freshman class at university was the first required to purchase a computer, which at 40 lbs or so was actually billed as “portable,” meaning you didn’t need a forklift to move it from place to place, although having a friend with a truck didn’t hurt.  Fortunately, it didn’t have a hard drive, so you could move the 17 for realz floppy disks it took to load and save a word processing document in a beer case-sized cardboard box.

5155 ibm

We *still* managed to kill thousands of hours playing orange video golf on a 5″ screen.

    Twenty short years later, there is no reality that can’t be readily virtualified, fully transcribed onto the screen and made intravenously or osmotically available 25-7.  The screens have become pervasive and inter-connected, and the digital tracks stored and harvested from every interaction. The advances that used to seem far off, that might someday come, these things have now come, and arrive faster and faster each year.  Five years ago things like self driving cars, ubiquitous video chat, 3-D printers, seemed like things that would happen someday…20 or 30 years. But now, they are here. Computers, and the data they move, are flying our planes, placing our stock orders, becoming our doctors, decoding our genome, finding our mates, becoming our friends and mates, and as they become smaller, becoming mated to our bodies, sometimes painfully.  warped hands

   Wearable computing is just a few years from full adaptation and implantation into the body, will become commonplace just a few years after that. Add in genetic manipulation, grow-able technology, nano-technology … augmented reality is now. The line between the body, the machine and the network is blurring and that process will only intensify and accelerate for the foreseeable future.  They are becoming us, and we, them.

 It’s not reactionary or alarmist to note that the basic nature or quality of our humanity is changing. Rather, we are changing it. It’s not really debatable.  Change how an organism takes in information and change the information “diet”: this is how organisms change.

dad killing babies brain with video game

The Great Re-Wiring. Some of us are doing a better job at this than others.

  Rather than fighting about whether we’re changing, it’s a much more interesting question to notice and ask whether the changes are ones that we want and intend. Just as in all previous personal and cultural (the two arise co-dependently) developmental inflection points: the transitions from hunter-gathering culture to agriculture, from agriculture to industrialization, from industrialization to informationization, we are radically and rapidly undertaking the next Great Re-Wiring.

   It’s hard to notice, easy to overlook, because cultural sea changes, (well, all sea-changes for that matter) are pervasive and saturative, but lack salience and are thus hard to perceive. And there is always a landscape amnesia effect at play, as well, i.e., we “forget” what we haven’t experienced. Do you miss the passenger pigeons? Didn’t think so. How then are we able to notice and evaluate changes in the cognitive landscape and how they might be changing us?

Next up: Augmented reality is now, but the fragmented self is forever…

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