How separate are the digital and physical worlds? A debate has ensued on the blog Cyborgology on what it means to live in an 'augmented reality'.
Yesterday, Sang-Hyoun Pahk delivered a critique of the usage of the term augmented reality on this blog. First, thank you, criticism of this term is especially important for me (and others) because augmented reality is the fundamental unit of analysis about which I seek to describe. A quick catch-up: I initially laid out the idea of augmented reality here; expounded on its opposite, what I call digital dualism, here; and fellow Cyborgology editor PJ takes on the terms here. PJ Rey and I use the term augmented reality on this blog to describe the digital and physical worlds not as separate but instead as highly enmeshed together. And Sang is pushing us to further elaborate on what this all means.
I’ll tackle Sang’s second critique first because I think it is most important. The confusion comes from how two points hang together: (1) the digital and physical have enmeshed and (2) the digital and physical have important differences. Sang seems to be arguing that we cannot have it both ways, but I have and will continue maintain that we can.
Sang takes issue with PJ and I’s statements that the offline and online are mutually constitutive, which seems to “abolish the difference” between the two. I actually think we all agree here and perhaps PJ and I could have been clearer: the two are mutually constitutive, just not fully mutually constitutive. Let me offer new wording: atoms and bits have different properties, influence each other, and together create reality. [I had this same conversation with Bonnie Stewart in the comments section of the digital dualism piece.]
Thus, the term augmented reality does not need to imply that the differences between atoms and bits does not matter. Quite the opposite because we cannot begin to describe these differences until we start with the assumption of augmented reality. We cannot adequately discuss one without taking into account the other’s at least partial influence. Simply put, the assumption of augmented reality makes possible the very discussion about the relevant differences between atoms and bits that Sang (and myself) wants to have. “Like” the concept of augmented reality or not, ultimately, we need it.
The second critique, and I hope I am getting this right, is that Sang argues the term “augmented reality” implies a non-augmented reality, creating a new dualism. However, I do not think that this implication is essential and I share his concern that this sort of dualism would be problematic. PJ and I have worked hard on this blog to argue that technology has always augmented reality, be it in pre-electronic times (e.g., architecture or language as technologies) or how those offline are still impacted by the online (e.g., third-world victims of our e-waste or the fact that your Facebook presence influences your behavior even when logged off).
All this said, we will continue to describe how reality is differently augmented by digital social media than by other technologies. This does not create a dualism of reality versus augmented reality, but instead a view of reality as always a multiplicity of augmented realities coming in many flavors. The important task is not describing if, but instead how and why augmentation occurs the way it does.
This post was originally published on Cyborgology