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Gabriel Shalom
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    Polytopia
    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

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    A series of rambles by SpaceCollective members sharing sudden insights and moments of clarity. Rambling is a time-proven way of thinking out loud,...

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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.

    Illustration by Charles Glaubitz

    The object as product. The time of the product as merely the output of industrial production is over. Today individuals are re-entering into the discourse of products using the same physical language of fabrication and prototyping as industrial manufacturing. Our facility with techniques such as laser cutting, CNC milling, 3D printing and vacuum forming — processes which used to be the elite language of twentieth century industrial manufacturing — are now starting to become the common vernacular of craft.

    This physical literacy of products is an emergent tendency which is changing communication. We can communicate ideas physically; for instance, as visions for future products in the form of functional prototypes. The individual can express a greater degree of his or her own vision. See also the capacity to use a laptop computer to independently produce, edit, distribute, and market video content all via the same device. The DIY and FabLab movements — and what they represent for manufacturing — is a parallel process; the implosion of that which was formerly stratified across the hierarchy of industrial production into one workshop.

    The object as commodity. While we are now conversant in this industrial product language, we simultaneously experience the compulsion to commodify (objectify) our work. This happens most clearly at the level of branding, insofar as the contemporary creative producer is painfully aware that the standard practice for gaining recognition in the product discourse is through brand narrative. Yet the auric peculiarity of the handmade or limited edition clashes with the anonymity and standardization implied by the dogma of industrial branding.

    This commodification (objectification) extends beyond consumerism to sexuality, politics, and public space. User-generated amateur pornography objectifies sexuality to such an extent that it alters our sexual identity as our objectified flesh is reflected back to us in the Internet. Political figures are commodified and become brands, giving us the Obamafication of an election, the Merkelization of an economy, or the Bushification of a war. In the face of this political impotency comes the privitization of public space, with entire new urban ecosystems coming into existence under corporate stewardship.

    The object as node. The semantic {object}{/object} (curly brackets used because code brackets get parsed). The object as the ideal modular component of a total system, defined unambiguously and therefore allowing portability across platforms via open standards. This model, originated in software, is having greater and greater relevance in the physical world; especially as we continue along a path towards interacting with the physical world using a digital interface.

    This language of objects from the world of programming has a value system. Which is to say that many of today’s programming languages are “object-oriented.” The value of an object is its ability to have a unique ID. In the physical world this value is reflected in the case of biometric identification embedded in passports. Each person becomes an object in a database; an aggregate of personal data. Tags in the cloud.

    Trends in augmented reality suggest that every product, every place, every person, every context may eventually be a semantic object, which is to say it may be a discrete node in a system with a unique ID, and therefore something which can be digitally identified, located, and manipulated. The vision of an Internet of things is contingent on each particle of physical existence having a unique digital identity or aura. The exploration of these digital auras using some sort of aura recognition interface poses a design challenge that will determine quite a bit of what it is like to be a human in a twenty-first-century urban space.

    The architecture of space becomes subjugated to the architecture of information. Certain architectural spaces which made sense in the twentieth century will make no sense in the twenty-first century. Witness the office building as a relic; as something which could transform into a coworking space, hinted at by the trend of Internet cafes becoming hubs for freelance knowledge workers. Work has become nomadic and therefore object-oriented through its connection to the mobile Internet workstation. The entire concept of “going to work” as per the industrial era is open to redefinition. The physical world of work begins to reflect the logic of the database instead of the cubicle.

    The object as sprite. Our contemporary moving image media of video games, computer interfaces, and the Internet proposes an aesthetics completely contingent on an object-oriented image field. Graphic illusions of depth or four dimensionality point to a future volumetric moving image medium. The aesthetics of these media pre-figure the larger aesthetics of the built and virtual worlds we’re likely to see in the future. The objects in video games become increasingly important culturally and economically. We witness the industrial appropriation of virtual object production with Chinese World of Warcraft gold farming sweatshops. Meanwhile we see the behavioral modification of an entire generation of children and young adults who’ve spent countless hours playing video games, interfacing with an object-oriented environment that programs both our behavioral and also aesthetic expectations.

    My generation of artists was raised on video games yet trained to work in classical digital media such as video. We are faced with a dilemma: as many of us are non-programmers, how do we represent an object-oriented moving image world in a flat, frame-based medium? The answer to this question begets hypercubist aesthetics, as the illusion of multiple timelines in the same frame reflects our struggle to reconcile an aesthetic ontology of 4D objects within a flat medium.

    The object as prop. The prop as that which is neither character nor set piece. The prop as a property of a story, somewhere along a continuum between a functionally interchangeable McGuffin and an irreplaceable touchstone of dramatic symbolism. As the boundaries blur between the physical and virtual we experience the first tremors of a wave of future shock that is capable of overwhelming our senses, attention spans and — yes — perhaps even our sanity.

    Yet despite the novelty of the technologically-driven evolutionary delta which humanity faces, it will be with one of our oldest and most sacred human traditions that we will survive this information inundation: namely, by engaging in storytelling. Stories are our time-tested cultural defense to cope with that which overwhelms the rational mind. We engage the arbitrary structures of narrative to serve as a needed filter, parsing the dataflow into digestible chains of meaning.

    Whatever narratives we choose, those narratives will need characters, sets, and props. The more that the digital and the physical merge, the more that every object in our lives will function not only for its physical properties, but also for its social properties and therefore its narrative value.

    We’ve always been in a narrative space. The transcendence of the prop out of the frame and into the world reinforces our role as actors in the lived hyperreal space of urban narrative. As actors — and as nodes in a network — we will increasingly find ourselves confronted with our lack of uniqueness; we may find ourselves (arche)type-cast, and at times struggle with the cheapness of the roles that have been written for us. We may long for a more heroic disposition or a more epic journey. And as a result of those obscure desires we may embrace a cosmopolitan tribalism with its own urban mythology.

    This essay first appeared in:

    Case 2. Have Balls [Eccentric]
    The Anxious Prop, First Edition — July 29, 2010
    SPLACE, Alexanderplatz Pavillon — Berlin, Germany

    Author's note: I am currently co-authoring a hypercubist manifesto and looking for collaborators.
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    This post was first published as part two of a series of three posts on on Augmentology 1[L]0[L]1

    Part 2: Infinite Summer Afternoons



    Images from Initiations-Studies II by Panos Tsagaris with Kimberley Norcott

    Having summarily rejected the term augmented reality for the reasons listed here, I’ll now propose alternate terminology to describe the phenomenon. The following elements contribute to this formation:

    • The mobile web will enable us to become aware of metadata that was previously obscured in day-to-day life.

    • Many current AR applications pride themselves on exposing indications of present metadata relationships which are not as readily apparent as traditional urban indicators (think: fashion).

    • Contemporary visions of AR as something which will merely allow us to hold up our smart phones and look through an AR “window”.


    This process of metadata revealing is termed “aura recognition” (or aurec for short). In a future post I will address what I see as shortcomings of visual interfaces for aurec.

    In his essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935), Walter Benjamin makes the following observations regarding aura:

    “If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch. This image makes it easy to comprehend the social bases of the contemporary decay of the aura. It rests on two circumstances, both of which are related to the increasing significance of the masses in contemporary life. Namely, the desire of contemporary masses to bring things “closer” spatially and humanly, which is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction. Every day the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction.”


    Certainly – since 1935 – these two “social bases” identified by Benjamin have reached their apex in contemporary digital life. Never before have we had as much convenience in bringing things – whether physical objects or information – into our immediate proximity (think: Amazon, Ebay, Google). Neither have we had the experience of such widespread meme and brand propagation in our physical environment (eg shopping malls, international airports, and fast food franchises). Benjamin continues:

    “Unmistakably, reproduction as offered by picture magazines and newsreels differs from the image seen by the unarmed eye. Uniqueness and permanence are as closely linked in the latter as are transitoriness and reproducibility in the former. To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura, is the mark of a perception whose “sense of the universal equality of things” has increased to such a degree that it extracts it even from a unique object by means of reproduction. Thus is manifested in the field of perception what in the theoretical sphere is noticeable in the increasing importance of statistics. The adjustment of reality to the masses and of the masses to reality is a process of unlimited scope, as much for thinking as for perception.”


    This “sense of the universal equality of things” is the hallmark of the web. All searches are, ostensibly, equal before Google. Yet, among the ruins of this auric destruction, the web is simultaneously imbuing our lives with all kinds of unique and permanent phenomena. These phenomena make up the essence of our digital auras; auras created less by physical objects than by the specificity of context, relationship and juxtaposition. Aura Recognition is the means by which we access these phenomena.

    Consider for instance how unique it is to geophysically meet someone who you’ve only previously known online. In the best case scenario, aurec will help us make sense of the emotional significance of digital phenomenon in ways which are meaningful and helpful. Location based services (think: GPS technology) provoke new experiences which are just as dependent on proximity as Benjamin’s proverbial summer afternoon.

    (to be continued in "Part 3: The Crystal Ball")
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    This post was first published as part one of a series of three posts on on Augmentology 1[L]0[L]1



    Part 1: Absurd Assumptions

    As many opinion leaders have noted, Augmented Reality (AR) may very well be the next evolutionary step in bringing the metadata of the web into our day-to-day lives. Some suggest that AR technology may even surpass the Web in its sustained impact on culture.



    While I whole-heartedly agree with this observation, the use of the term “Augmented Reality” may actually impede any progress forged by these technologies, especially in terms of broad/mainstream acceptance.

    The first reason why the actual phrase “Augmented Reality” may impede the cultural uptake of associated technologies is via the use of the word “augmented” – meaning to raise or make larger. AR enthusiasts seem to be comfortable implying that this new technology is somehow the first technology to augment or enhance our reality. This seems absurd, as human societies have a well-documented history of using biochemical technology to augment reality in the tradition of psychotropic plant-aided shamanism. The innovation of written language was a concrete visualization of reality-augmenting metadata. The city may also be considered an extension of reality considering cities are highly constructed frameworks of architecture, roads, sewers, electrical and telephone lines. It seems more relevant to utilize a word that more accurately describes the idiosyncratic peculiarities of a mobile web-ready experience.

    My second reason for objecting to the AR term stems from when the word “reality” is employed in relation to what are (in most cases) mobile-web applications. This usage implies that other computer applications are not affecting reality, or at least are not affecting reality sufficiently to be labeled accordingly. This also seems an absurd assumption; the host of software which has prevailed during the history of computing have had an affect on reality too (this, of course, is a total understatement). If it were not for preceding software which has already changed our reality, these so-called “augmented reality” applications would not even exist. Furthermore, this use of “reality” in this context indicates that there is one concrete reality which we are in the process of altering with specific technology. Yet, each of us have our own subjective “reality” experience, with some physicists even postulating theories of a holographic reality. While standards for augmented reality ought to be open to ensure accessibility by any mobile web-enabled device, it is a fallacy to interpret these standards as a consensus on reality itself. This new technology is posed to allow us to customize and tweak our own experience of our reality like never before, as well as the “reality” we share with others.

    (to be continued in "Part 2: Infinite Summer Afternoons")
    Sat, Jan 16, 2010  Permanent link
    Categories: augmented reality, semantics, aurec, definitions
    Sent to project: Polytopia
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