Augmented Reality—the new frontier?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a concept that seems so futuristic to me, and yet I can appreciate how it heightens the common user’s experience in gaming or, more recently, retail. On the flip side, the article discussing Google Glass brings to light serious issues that would impact the way in which we use—and protect ourselves against—these types of technologies.

I think that the overall value of AR is its enabling a greater interaction between people and things. Where previously physical constraints limited what users could do with objects or images, AR allows for immediate, virtual interaction. Some great examples that really helped me visualize this in action are Ikea’s “Furnish” app and the application on the Miss Selfridges site.

The Reader’s Advisory course that I took back in the MLIS program talked about extending the reading experience, which at the time consisted of such things as reading maps. However, I can see the possibility of using AR to further entrench readers into the experience of the stories that they so love. Tony DiTerlizzi, author of (my favourite) book, The Search for Wondla and A Hero for Wondla, does exactly this by providing his readers with “Wondla vision.”

However, there’s also the more serious side of AR to consider. The most obvious deals with privacy concerns, noted by the New York Times article with reference to an app that allows Google Glass to take a picture by winking. I personally think this kind of technological step, while intriguing (to quote one of its developers, Mike DiGiovanni: “… my timelines has now truly become a timeline of where I’ve been”[1]), is also potentially dangerous. The ease with which you can use this technology also allows for its abuse.

Another consideration is an over reliance on AR technology. The AR applications of which I’ve read all sounded very cool, very fun, and very effective. However, as Kevin Bonsor discusses in his article “How Augmented Reality Works,”[2] the negative side effect of AR is that it dulls our appreciation, in a way, to the things right in front of us. Some things don’t necessarily work as efficiently as the latest and greatest, but their value lies in something that AR can’t reproduce: tactile satisfaction (I like Kevin’s example of the real plague on a building vs. the virtual one).

Is there room for AR technologies in such places as libraries? Yes, I think so. I think that as AR technology continues to develop, institutions will find more possibilities for its use that will evolve the common user’s experience. However, I also think that similarly to any increasingly popular technology, its pros and cons need to be weighed carefully in consideration of what added value we receive, and what (if any) we lose, by its use.

 

[1] DiGiovanni, Mike. Google Inc., 14 May 2013. Web. 23 June 2013. <https://plus.google.com/116031914637788986927/posts/Hp9n6oXpFfH&gt;.
[2]Bonsor, Kevin.  “How Augmented Reality Works”  19 February 2001.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://computer.howstuffworks.com/augmented-reality.htm>  23 June 2013.
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