Present Yet Absent

The following is a response to a reading assignment for my class “Self and Society in Virtual Contexts.” We are to publish journal entries on a public blog found below. They must all include a haiku.


Present yet absent
Augmented reality
We will be cyborgs

Baym spends the first two chapters summarizing the current state of technology in society. People on cell phones are annoying, dating happens online, the world is changing. Technology is a large part of our social lives and people are scared. We’re devoting tons of attention to our phones, and it’s hindering our social interaction. How can we be in two places at once?

There are thousands of engineers working hard on this problem and the answer is only a few years away. Technology is about to take an even larger part of our lives.

Phones just took the leap into the future, and now we’re constantly connected to the web with mobile data and push notifications. We have megapixel cameras, location awareness, video chat, and the entire internet in our pocket. These features are constantly chirping for our attention, and we are more than willing to oblige. Augmented reality removes the distinction between online and offline. No longer is our attention split between one or the other.

Baym asks “how can one be both present and absent?”

He uses the example of how rude it is for one to use their phone while at dinner. One is physically present but devoting their attention to a phone.

What actually defines where one is? I agree that one is splitting their attention between the real and virtual world. If you take your eyes off the phone and look across the table, you’re back in reality aren’t you? The phone is the underlying problem. Physical limitations mean we can only choose between one world or the other. We can’t attend to both the phone and our date.

Augmented reality combines the technology of your phone with a display in your eyesight. This could be glasses, contacts, or even an implant. Think of it as putting your iPhone screen into a pair of glasses. All of the things you normally see on your phone are now in your face. You can still see the world through the camera, but now your reality is going through one phase of post processing. It is augmented.

Now imagine someone sitting with a date at a table with augmented reality implants; both parties. Attention is still divided, but the consumption of information is more passive. Now SMS pops up in the corner of your vision like a Growl alert, but nobody else can even tell you’ve been pinged.

This kind of situation requires a new social norm. If it were alright to take your phone out at dinner, then I wouldn’t be writing this article and we probably would never see augmented reality. The idea that this screen is a window into a separate world is the limit, pulling out a physical object that represents “somewhere else” is rude.

What if “somewhere else” was here? What if we were both “somewhere else” and here together? What if we were always in two places at once?

If adopted, the merge of real and virtual worlds will overcome the current social dilemmas. In fact, I believe that these problems are merely an artifact of our iteration towards augmented reality. Technology is offering us great advantages and we’re having a hard time ignoring them.

With the adoption of augmented reality everyone will exist in both dimensions all the time. There is no comparing online identity with your offline identity, because now they are the same. You would see the world as you normally do, but with the aid of a computer. We will all be cyborgs navigating the real world yet consuming a virtual one.