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I’m not sure I need my reality augmenting

Alex Christie

16 March 2010

My 3 predictions for the advent of 4G are as follows:

  • A huge rise in lamp-post related accidents clogging up A&E’s
  • A massive increase in the chances of getting stuck with someone who is insanely helpful when you stop and ask for directions in the street
  • The death of pub chat

In my view, the blame for this bleak and painful future lies solely at the door of Augmented Reality (AR). For the uninitiated, AR is the technology that will allow your phone to not only know exactly where you are, but also which way you’re facing and what you’re looking at. This first came to my attention a few months back in this article in a London paper but its inevitable march towards reality has now been firmly cemented by comments from Eric Schmidt in this recent interview he did for the BBC

The basic premise of AR is that you will be able to walk along the street looking at your phone and get bombarded by information about everything around you. So, if you’ve ever stood in front of the Albert Hall and thought  “Hmm, nice building, but I’d prefer to look at a picture of it on my phone, know how much a sandwich costs in the bar and see who’s playing a week on Thursday” then it will be right up your street.  However, if you’re not this sort of person, think how far your heart will sink the next time you stop someone for help because you’re running late and you’re lost.  Instead of saying “It’s up there on the right”, they reach into their pocket for their mobile phone and take you on a virtual (and probably real time) journey to your destination – highlighting points of interest along your route!

In principle I’m all for things that make life easier, but I do question just how much information it is possible for one person to manage and, furthermore, why it’s needed at all? I’ve walked past buildings for years without needing to know the depth of their foundations or the demographic makeup of the residents within. Sadly though it seems that we have an insatiable appetite for information and no content is too irrelevant or inane.

Picture the scene, you arrange to meet up with some old friends at the pub for a catch up. An hour in and you find yourself sitting there, pint nearly finished and surrounded by empty seats. You wonder if you’ve been stood up but the reality is far worse. Everyone is actually on their way, it’s just that your helpful friends are on their 14th detour of the night having turned themselves into tourist guides and possible targets for street rage. Meanwhile, your more disorganised mates are all lying unconscious in the street having walked into lampposts whilst looking at their phone trying to find the pub.  Finally those that do successfully navigate the technologically laden gauntlet of getting from one destination to another will eventually park themselves in front of you. They will buy you a drink and then, horror of horrors, just as you’ve allowed yourself to become drink trapped, they will reach into their pocket to show you the latest app on their phone and start to give you a potted history of the pub you’re in. Thus my 3rd and saddest prediction will become true. It will dawn on you that your friend no longer holds the basic skills of conversation and has, in fact, become some sort of talking book that just spews out facts you neither wanted to know or asked for.

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