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We have reached a point in the Digital Revolution in which an extraordinary shift in how humans ‘see’ the world is happening. It’s a shift akin to that which took place between the Middle Ages and Renaissance in European history.
Back in the Middle Ages the world was flat (you could fall off the edge), paintings were flat (religious iconography) and drama was flat (medieval mystery plays with their one-dimensional characters standing in a row to deliver their lines). Then BOOM, the Renaissance came along and now the world is round, paintings have perspective and depth (Uccello’s Battle of San Romano), and drama moves towards Shakespeare’s complex characters and performance staging. The way humans saw their world had changed. Mind blowing!
With the advent of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), we’ve reached that point again. We’ve been edging towards this with the concept of immersive experiences but we now have the tools in our hands (literally) that will tip the balance. Moving forward we will start to see the world in new dimensions as we incorporate new layers of ‘reality’ into our everyday worlds.
Augmented Reality (AR) places digital artefacts into the real world landscape. These artefacts, be they images, animations, 3D models, video, audio or text, can be viewed through an everyday device such as mobile phone or tablet, and, in the future, through a smart contact lens perhaps.
Virtual Reality (VR) places real people into a digital environment through use of specialist immersive technology such as a VR headset.
The distinctions between these realities will blur into ‘Mixed Reality’ as time goes on (a player in the real world, seeing an AR door, going through it to a VR room).
Focusing on AR for the moment, it opens up a myriad of possibilities that are available to us now and, with the advent of the ARKit in iOS 11, will be available a little later this year (2017). It can entertain (think Pokemon Go, SnapChat, MythCatchAR®), inform and, if you are a brand, help your customers with buying decisions (such as placement of furniture for interior design, plants for landscape gardening, paint colours for walls etc.).
In the cultural world, AR can bring works to new audiences through augmentation, adaptation and explanation. It will help old audiences to see things afresh. iOS 11 brings the potential for 3D digital artefacts to become commonplace in AR; this really starts to make things interesting (imagine being able to walk up to and then round Mona Lisa – What is behind her back? How does da Vinci look from her angle?). It allows our creativity to soar.
Not all parties will agree with this adaption. Controversy abounds when an artist’s work is put into a new context (look at the reaction from some quarters, not least the sculptor himself, to placing Fearless Girl in front of Charging Bull on Wall Street). On the other hand, that’s how cultural works have evolved through history – Shakespeare adapts Plutarch, Disney adapts Shakespeare; cultural re-use is an important part of its evolution.
Re-use, re-invention, new ways to see the world. The opportunities AR opens up in the cultural world are exciting at minimum and, as history may show, mind-blowing at best.