What is reality now? What produces it? What is life? What is living? How do you know? Does reality change? Getting to grips with the complexity of reality in order to make sense of media, cultural and social change
Are media creating new “virtual worlds”, or was the world already virtual, or both? (ARTS3091 Course Outline Week 5, 2012)
What is authentic, true reality? Is the existential, physical, spatial reality that we humans experience the only true, actual reality? Or, are the virtual, augmented realities that are created through the mediation of data and flows authentic? How do we know what is real?
In the digital age, where globalisation, information networks, instantaneous and invisible flows data, and new media forms interrelate with social and cultural changes, preconceived notions of what is authentic and inauthentic, what is real and unreal, can be challenged.
Virtual Reality vs. Augmented Reality
Virtual reality can be defined as “computer-simulated environments that can simulate physical presence in places in the real world, as well as in imaginary worlds” (Wikimedia, 2012). The simulated environment can be modelled on the existential world so that a life-like experience is created when one immerses themselves in virtual realities, such as in pilot and driving simulation systems, or in virtual realities depicted in the following video from IDEO Labs:
The human participant immersed in the virtual world in this video shook when he found himself on the ledge of a building, because what he could see, what he could experience, felt real. In actuality, is it real, or is inauthentic? If a virtual simulations/realities/worlds, whether geographic, a pilot simulation, driving simulation or artistic simulation, can draw out from within you real emotions, movements, and engage you physical and cognitive capacities, then there is strong level of authenticity we can attach to these realities.
In contrast to a simulated digital world another alternate reality we can experience beyond our existential one is ‘augmented reality’.
Erick Schonfeld on Techcrunch.com explains that, “if virtual reality is a complete immersion in a digital world, augmented reality (AR) is more a digital overlay onto the real world. It enhances the real world with digital data, and therefore it is much more interesting than a completely fabricated environment”. (Schonfeld, 2010)
Take for instance the following videos which depict how an augmented reality cinema app for the iPhone works through the digital overlay onto the existential, real world, and how Lego sets are created right in front of you:
Although the technology is different to that of ‘virtual reality’, the participants in each video had enhanced experiences, be it the movie clips on location or the lego set “brought to life”. As opposed to a simulation or copy, a digital overlay occurs. But does this make it any less realistic than virtual reality?
If in both instances we can process the different data and immerse ourselves in enhanced experiences, then we can say that reality has been extended. Drawing upon Week 4’s topic of the extended mind, if we extend our knowledge onto physical objects such as books, diaries, computers, and embed our knowledge in programs like a GPS navigation system, then can it not be argued that virtual or augmented realities are an extension of actual, existential reality?
I would argue that augmented reality would be a greater “extension of the mind” and extension upon actual reality than virtual because of the overlay of data on the physical environment, which correlates with embeding knowledge into technology.
Virtual realities can generate reactions, both emotional and physical, that are authentic. Augmented realities can do the same. The only difference in both is the bodily sense they target, be it sight, touch, sound, taste or smell.
These realities have the potential to be real, but whether they already exist naturally amongst physical, existential reality needs to be addressed before we can determine whether they are real.
Anon. (n.d.) ‘Virtual Reality’, Wikipedia <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_reality> (one of the better entries)
Grayson, Chris (2009) ‘Augmented Reality Overview’, GigantiCo <http://gigantico.squarespace.com/336554365346/2009/6/23/augmented-reality-overview.html>
‘IDEO Labs – Amazing 3D Immersion Technology”, YouTube.com, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZ7QJwcdJmM>
Schonfeld, E (2010), ‘Augmented Reality Vs. Virtual Reality: Which One Is More Real?’, techcrunch.com, <http://techcrunch.com/2010/01/06/augmented-reality-vs-virtual-reality/>