I am a science fiction nerd. I admit it. I’ve read Ender’s Game and Neuromancer and therefore I am familiar with the concept of the virtual, virtual reality technologies and their affect on the world. Or, I thought I was. This week’s readings, mainly those by Andrew (both on the course outline and his The World As Clock) certainly changed my mind.
I was relieved to see that what I had traditionally considered the virtual, that is “computer-simulated environments that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world, as well as in imaginary worlds” (Wikipedia, n.d.) still applied to some degree, and after exploring a little bit I was amazed to see how far things had come from the clunky video arcade headset. For example, the experiment where men were (virtually) placed inside a woman’s body, opening “up another avenue for virtual reality, which is not just to transform your sense of place, but also your sense of self” (Sample, 2010) What a brilliant idea, finally you are able to literally walk in someone else’s shoes. Considering the power the mind has over the body, and vice versa, perhaps eventually we will see a massive shift from sympathy to empathy in social interactions. Surely, if we can empathise with a WoW avatar we can do the same with each other (Callaway, 2009)
Now I turn to Andrew’s definition, where the virtual is “an excess over the actual expressions of this individuation”, rather than being “reducible to technologies such as VR.” (Murphie, 2004, p. 5) That made my head spin a bit, but the idea of the virtual as potential (Murphie 2011) really struck a chord with me. I imagine the virtual as a sort of diaphanous cloud floating around me, from which I constantly pluck concrete thoughts and actions, perhaps with the help of a medium or technology, to create the actual. In some ways, it’s another type of archive, a way to thinking of insubstantial, dynamic things in a collective manner.
So how does augmented reality fit into all of this? Somewhere in between? I found that the Chris Grayson reading (2009), while being full of amazing examples, never fully explained what it was, and as I only have a vague idea about the term I turned to Wikipedia, which told me that it is “a live direct or an indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input. ” (Wikipedia, n.d.) So does the augmentation occur through the actualisation of the virtual? Or the virtualisation of the actual? I confess I am still getting my head around this concept. Something that occurred to me however, was that by augmenting reality you are almost making it into the virtual. You are increasing the potential as you exist are in the “ongoing movement” (Murphie 2011), as you are able to experience that moment on several different levels.
When I first thought about virtual reality I considered it the opposite of externalization, the area I am considering for my research paper. Externalization involves bringing the mind out of the body into the world, whereas virtual reality is bringing a world into the mind and onto the body. I can still see this as a possible way of viewing the issue but it is not the most sophisticated and would hinder research into interesting areas. A more flexible, open way to think about it would be to consider how externalization affects actualisation, and how our extended minds and technologies that live on our bodies allow use to channel the virtual into the actual. Further research is needed, as I have no idea how it would.
Anon. (n.d.) ‘Augmented Reality’ Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augmented_reality> [accessed 27 March 2011]
Anon. (n.d.) ‘Virtual Reality’, Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_reality> [accessed 27 March 2011]
Callaway, Ewen (2009) ‘How your brain sees virtual you’ New Scientist <http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18117-how-your-brain-sees-virtual-you.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=brain> [accessed 28 March 2011]
Grayson, Chris (2009) ‘Augmented Reality Overview’, GigantiCo <http://gigantico.squarespace.com/336554365346/2009/6/23/augmented-reality-overview.html> [accessed 27 March 2011]
Murphie, Andrew (2004) ‘The World’s Clock: The Network Society and Experimental ecologies’, Topia: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, 11, Spring
Murphie, Andrew (2011) ‘Is The Virtual Real?’ Advanced Media Issues <http://arts3091.newsouthblogs.org/course-outline-and-readings/#weekfive> [accessed 28 March 2011]
Sample, Ian (2010) ‘Virtual reality used to transfer men’s minds into a woman’s body’ The Guardian <http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/may/12/virtual-reality-men-woman-body> [accessed 28 March 2011)