Narcissus in the augmented reality
Last week, after many hesitations, at the age of 83, my mom bought its first smartphone and created a Facebook account. That same night both Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg appeared in my dream announcing the end of the era of digitalization: within the next ten years – they declared wearing a pair of high tech design glasses– the digital will be replaced by the “augmented reality”!
The day after I was trippy about that term and the promised land it evocates.
At least it will cut once-and-for-all the hamster wheel debate counterpoising real and virtual, sparing us the cabalistic discussion about how many hours per day is normal to spend with a smartphone or at which age is recommended to buy a mobile to our children – I was considering while washing my face.
To avoid misunderstandings: in the case I will reach 83 I imagine myself less flexible than my mom and it will be highly improbably to see me browsing in the augmented reality wearing a pair of high-tech glasses. Nevertheless, the augmented reality, playing with both real and virtual, it appears the last trial for the language and its capability to keep its role. The challenge does not refer to the technological innovation itself, nor to the new reality we are going to face. It concerns more the opportunity for the language to carry on its prerogative: to give the name to things. The essential condition for humans to continue to distinguish between real and fake, true and false.
Some examples of the risks to lose our capability to discern real from fake when the language abdicate its role was recently highlighted by the Italian journalist Ernesto Assante. In his article “La rivoluzione digitale: il nome e la cosa” he reasoned about some cases in which abdication has already occurred in the digital era. We still use the name “photography” for digital processing of images, although digital processing is something nearest to paintings than to photography. We use the term “music” for registered digital songs that never were played by real musicians, contrary to what happens in analogic music. We do the same with smartphones, that although the multi tasks they developed we keep calling them “telephones”. And many other cases can be mentioned.
Try to think what can happen with food. Actually food is going through a similar abdication. Look at the genetic modified organisms and the familiar names we use for the “Frankenstein food” that comes from them. Or hydroponic “agriculture” where plants are cultivated without soil. Think about the replacing of cocoa butter by the vegetable fats to produce chocolate the European Commission agreed, allowing to use the same term “chocolate” in the label. Or, for food design lovers, what is happening with 3D “food” printing.
How can we untwist in this new jungle of words and mirages? How can we keep steady when technology is wedging between words and thinks, modifying the real our words refer to?
I brought the towel to my face. Looking at the mirror I found the virtual of my image looking at me. In that moment I realized that the reflection of our image was the first virtual the humanity met. The same virtual Narcissus felt in love with losing his life, according to the myth. Thoughts about augmented reality were whizzing in my mind and I had the sensation the figure in the mirror was smiling and voicing looking at me: “Welcome back dear old image, we will be both in one soon!”