▲ The plot of the movie ‘Avatar’ relies on augmented reality. Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox
Before most visitors climb the Eiffel Tower they take pictures of it to record their brief encounter with one of the most famous historic monuments in the world. In other words, their knowledge about the Tower precedes their eventual experience of it.
It is not just the Eiffel Tower or other tourist attractions that we get to know before we actually visit and touch them. To anyone with decent access to popular media, knowledge is mostly acquired through indirect contact with various media outlets over their lifetime.
If you accepted nothing as real but what you physically experienced, the world would be merely a conceptual space born out of the barrage of the news and information fed to you by the media. After all, no matter how busily you travel the world, you will still miss many of the infinite wonders of life.
As Marshall McLuhan, the visionary media thinker, summed up, the real message of print is nationalism. Print technology — and the mass distribution network affiliated with it — contributed greatly to the birth of the nation-state as we know it today. Before printed news was recorded, stored and mass-disseminated on a regular schedule, the average Joe could not escape the limited confines of his vicinity in the real world and transcend the barriers of space and time across thousands of miles.
Again, knowledge preceded the actual experience of it. The perceived community in your brain named “nation,” in that sense, was simply a concept or virtual space, not unlike cyberspace. Long before William Gibson introduced us to the groundbreaking idea in 1984 with “Neuromancer,” his legendary science fiction novel, the modern mass media pushed us over the realm of virtual communities, one after another, in the form of states, nations or sometimes the world.
To most people who cannot afford extensive travel, the perceived world in their head is a rough approximation of the real world. It is a virtual space or a media-generated dream world, imprinted over their life by various media outlets.
Each new media invented so far has brought us to a renewed understanding of the world — print gave us the nation-state and television gave us the global village. The Internet has brought us to a new frontier that is cyberspace.
“A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions,” was how Gibson defined cyberspace in “Neuromancer.” Cyberspace, however, has quickly evolved to a world as tangible and realistic as any other. Think of the multi-million dollar domain wars in the 1990s fought over the rights of high profile Web addresses.
Dentsu, the top advertising house in Tokyo, paid Linden Lab 10 million yen (more than $100,000) in 2007, for instance, for 85 hectares of virtual land in Second Life to build Virtual Tokyo. Dentsu aimed to recoup its investment by “lining up more than 30 blue-chip companies to build their presence in the commercial estate of Virtual Tokyo,” after attracting more than 3 million Japanese to the popular metaverse, according to a report by the Financial Times. Virtual Tokyo was another example of media-generated virtual space quickly gaining real-world significance.
As fascinating as it sounds, cyberspace has its own drawback — it is a single-layered virtual space. If somebody is squatting on a desired online location before you get there, you have to acquire it to claim legitimate ownership.
This is 2010 and we have a new medium in place, however, in which multiple layers can co-exist at the same time and in the same space, and where prospective landlords can claim multiple ownership according to the intended design of their target space. Geeks named it “augmented reality,” but my favorite moniker for the new media space is “memo-sphere.”
Global positioning system sensors, electronic compasses and wireless Internet connections are three essential elements required for a spontaneous formation of the memo-sphere. It is easier to understand the concept if you picture yourself walking along the corridors of a museum wearing a headset guide. As you walk past each masterpiece, radio frequency identification tags activate your receiver and trigger a series of recorded descriptions. It is as if you are swimming along a stream of information that runs through the museum.
If the guide replays the same narration but in seven different languages, one could say there are seven layers of information interwoven together, and switched on and off according to your choice of language.
Or think of the GPS navigation terminal in your car. Depending on your choice of navigation software, competing service brands offer road maps festooned with useful information. But what if the navigation software were intelligent enough to recognize your demographic, geographic and psychographic data? The navigation terminal could choose from a matrix of thousands of combinations of age, sex and taste. For each roadway, thousands of differing memo-spheres could materialize.
Daum, a top Korean portal, plans to release an iPhone app named Olle Radio next spring through Daum Next Generation Foundation, the company’s nonprofit organization. Since the program is in the early stage of development, Choi Jeong Hye, the Daum Jeju regional manager was reluctant to elaborate, but said that Olle Radio would be a way for hikers to listen to the history and significance of the area while they walk the olle trails.
Dentsu might have wished that citizens of Virtual Tokyo would let loose their hidden alter egos to make that metaverse a fun place, brimming with unbridled energy. Or Daum’s Olle Radio could nudge hikers to tag the trails with real-time updates they discover along the walk.
Such virtual fun should not necessarily be locked up in Virtual Tokyo or cyber olle trails, however. A fascinating memo-sphere would materialize if Dentsu and Daum superimposed a virtual Tokyo on the real Tokyo or a virtual olle on the real olle by capitalizing on a suite of latest location-aware mobile devices, including Apple’s iPhone 3GS.
Unlike cyberspace, which allows for only one tenant per location or occasion, the memo-sphere would be generous enough to accommodate thousands of contesting service brands in a single space.
The sky is the limit, with the range of possible memo-sphere scenarios going as far as imaginations allow.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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