"To engage with digital content, in this paradigm, does not require disengagement from one's surroundings; indeed, enhancing one's perceptual and cognitive experience of the spatiotemporal here and now is precisely the ideal that orients AR."
Parlor Press, 2017
Augmented Reality: Innovative Perspectives Across Art, Industry, and Academia offers an in-depth examination of the cultural emergence of augmented reality (AR) technology. The authors in the collection outline the rhetorical implications of AR for a variety of disciplines and industries, from writing studies and visual rhetoric to digital marketing and historical interpretation. One of Morey and Tinnell’s (2017, p. 9) main arguments throughout Augmented Reality is that AR technologies “support new writing and design spaces”. Thus, they offer the reader not only information about AR but a demonstration of how AR might be incorporated into print scholarship. Using the free mobile AR application Aurasma, readers can scan augmented pages throughout the book to access additional multimedia “overlays” such as film clips and interviews. For the most part, the AR overlays operate as digital supplements to the book’s printed material, and the main content of the collection can be accessed without downloading the Aurasma app.
The collection is separated into three sections: articles, interviews, and artworks. “Part 1: Scholarly Articles” brings together scholars from fields such as composition, rhetorical theory, comics studies, and media studies. “Part 2: Interviews” signals this collection's unique approach to AR in recognizing that critical investigations of new media require a range of voices, including non-academic experts from the technology industry. Thus, this section provides six compelling interviews with leading experts in the fields of computer science, digital humanities, and mobile AR development. The final section, “Part 3: Artwork,” builds upon the theoretical (Part 1) and technical (Part 2) foci of the previous sections by exhibiting augmented reality artworks from digital artists from across the world. This section proves to be the most innovative in terms of design in that further information about the artworks can be accessed within the pages of the book itself simply by scanning the pages with the Aurasma app.
The authors in part 1 cover a range of topics and areas of concern that are being (or will be) impacted by the development of AR technologies, such as spatial exhibit design, comic book studies, digital memory, rhetorical theory, and much more. Although the scholarly contributors in part 1 take a variety of approaches to AR, they seem to agree that AR’s key affordance as a writing technology is its ability to interact in meaningful ways with the user’s physical surroundings, whether these surroundings are a general location or a specific object or text. Moreover, they mostly seem to agree that “augmented reality” is not reducible to any particular concept or technological assemblage but rather a broader socio-cultural phenomenon emerging through a network of ideas, technologies, and representations.
Many of the contributors approach AR in terms of how it changes the user's ability to perceive and interact with physical locations. In the opening chapter of part 1, Brett Oppegaard offers readers a methodology for designing location-aware AR experiences. Drawing upon his work designing AR experiences for the National Parks, Oppegaard describes how AR technologies, if they are going to become a mainstream technology, must not only pursue technical alignment (i.e. the verisimilitude between digital and physical components of the application) but also rhetorical alignment. Oppegaard’s major contribution to theorizing AR as a design practice comes in his categorization of rhetorical alignment into three tiers: location, spatial, and contextual. Tier 1 alignment (location) focuses on the degree to which the digital information aligns with the rhetoric of the space itself. Tier 2 alignment (spatial) refers to the ability of the AR application to connect the user to physical spaces and objects outside of the user’s immediate, conscious concerns. Lastly, Tier 3 alignment (contextual) refers to how the AR experience delivers context-specific and/or personalized information to the user. Oppegaard moves the conversation forward in terms of AR criticism by offering a more precise framework that other scholars, artists, and designers can draw upon in developing and evaluating location-aware AR experiences. In chapter 9, “SAZoo-AR, Ethea, and Computer Vision,” Steve Holmes provides a detailed analysis of an interactive augmented reality game created for use within the San Antonio Zoo. The application allows users to scan augmented targets throughout the park to access 3D animations and informational quizzes related to nearby exhibits. Holmes rightly critiques the zoo’s utopian claims that AR technology in and of itself offers a dramatically improved learning experience. Holmes’ chapter offers a good corrective to digital evangelists who preach of AR as a “revolutionary” technology in itself without close consideration of the content (physical and digital) of specific applications. Through his analysis of the SAZoo-AR app, Holmes demonstrates that rhetorical analyses of AR experiences must account for how these apps are realized through emergent interactions between actual users, application content, and environmental constraints.
Similarly, chapters 5, “Life through the Screen: Location-Based Information and the Personalization of Space,” and 10, “When Geolocation meets Visualization,” outline the potential effects and affordances offered by mobile AR technologies that are capable of linking digital texts to specific physical locations. In chapter 5, Jordan Frith discusses the potential effects of AR interfaces on how we conceive of (and interact with) public spaces. Frith points out that the continued development of AR as an everyday interface for public interaction may contribute to a further perpetuation of the “filter bubble” that currently plagues online discourses. Frith cautions that the “homophily” (i.e. the tendency of people in similar socio-cultural strata to cluster together) of public life could be accelerated if these personalization algorithms overtake our experiences of physical public spaces. In chapter 10, Jason Farman describes how geolocative AR applications are redefining taken-for-granted concepts like “space” by demonstrating how space is not a thing to be abstracted but rather something we embody, practice, and produce. In part, Farman claims AR participates in a further collapsing of the false dichotomy between the real and the virtual by exposing the degree to which the “reality” of a place is composed of a diverse array of potential rhetorical actants and interpretations. Farman describes how maps are being redefined in a mobile media era in which users participate in both the creation and use of digital maps for a variety of purposes (e.g. finding a restaurant, marking themselves “safe” during a crisis, etc.). Those interested in more in-depth studies of the relationship between mobile media and spatial rhetorics should also consult Farman’s edited collection The Mobile Story: Narrative Practice with Locative Technologies as well as Jordan Frith’s recent book Smartphones as Locative Media.
Other contributors in part 1 interrogate AR as a pop-culture phenomenon. In Chapter 3:,“Potential Panels: Toward a Theory of Augmented Comics,” Jason Helms provides a succinct summary of the current state of AR within comics. For the most part, Helms is disappointed in the current state of AR comics, noting that most mainstream applications (e.g. “Marvel AR”) use AR more as a marketing gimmick than as a platform for enhancing the reading experience. As an alternative, Helms (2017, p. 61-2) offers several potential examples for how AR might be integrated into print comics, the most promising of which is Helms idea of post-publication augmentations that could be created by comics scholars and/or readers as a way to bring online conversations about the comic onto specific pages and panels. In Chapter 4: “‘Sergey Brin is Batman:’ Google Glass and the Rhetoric of Adoption in Popular Culture,” Isabel Pedersen and Douglas Trueman extend this section’s cultural analysis of AR into a case-study of media representations of Google Glass, focusing specifically on its entanglement with the ethos of Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin. For Pedersen and Trueman (2017, p. 68), Google Glass is more than “a marketing phenomenon heralding a technological prototype;” it is a “rhetorical instigator” for an entirely new era of human computer interaction. Following a meme that surfaced in October 2011, they point out that the rhetoric of Glass is tied up with the mythos of Sergey Brin as a “Batman” figure (i.e. a brooding business man working tirelessly and secretively to save the world). They note that Brin is more Batman than Tony Stark: he is not a quirky genius inventor but rather a savvy playboy who directs the development of technology for a broader social good. Overall, Pedersen and Trueman provide a compelling, well-researched analysis of the emergence of Glass as a cultural icon of AR, demonstrating that media representations of a new technology are influential to how a society comes to perceive it. Lastly, Joseph P. Weakland’s chapter “‘Augpunk’: Imagining Alternative Futures for Augmented Reality through Science Fiction,” provides an overview of AR representations within science fiction (SF) literature and film. Specifically, Weakland (2017, p. 105, 109) rightly points to the SF origins of AR as a technology for “rewriting public space” and “forming communities through locative art”. Through a close analysis of Tim Maughan’s Paintwork series, Weakland describes how AR can function as a kind of digital graffiti by providing cultural and political dissidents a means of appropriating public texts and spaces as a platform for counter-public discourses. As such, Weakland’s chapter establishes a useful framework for theorizing the interventionist AR artworks in Part 3 of the collection.
Chapters 7 and 8 provide a compelling theoretical examination of AR as a philosophical and rhetorical phenomenon. In Chapter 7, “Gathering Memories with Augmented Reality,” Jason Kalin discusses the relationship between AR and rhetorical memory. Kalin (2017, p. 121)writes that “memory and technologies of memory help disclose new exigencies in and of reality, thus creating the possibility of new worlds to inhabit”. For Kalin, AR technologies alter the function of memory by drawing the user’s attention toward the “ever-shifting exigencies” of her immediate surroundings. Moreover, Kalin (2017, p. 121) points out that AR technology allows for an approach to memory less as a thing to be retained and recalled and more of as a place to be inhabited. Kalin draws upon two central metaphors within rhetorical theory for thinking about augmented memory: network and ambience. Kalin points to how mobile AR applications like Layar work as augmented memory by taking existing digital texts (e.g. tweets) and attaching them to physical spaces. Kalin’s article takes a meandering, personal approach to digital memory by following serendipitous encounters via locative media apps like WikipediaWorld and HistoryPin. One of Kalin’s central claims is that memory becomes ambient as it is dispersed into material spaces of everyday life, thereby destabilizing the subject-object dichotomy of reductive theories of rhetorical memory. AR renders memory as temporary and fleeting; the tweets and instagram pics that Kalin accesses along the streets of Chicago are not stable items existing in a storehouse to be recalled later. Rather, they will dissolve as other digital texts take their place according to the shifting kairos of specific places. In chapter 8, “The Dream Deferred: Augmented Reality as Rhetorical Realism,” Scot Barnett explores how augmented reality allows us to re-envision the relationship between reality and language. Similar to language, argues Barnett, rhetorics surrounding AR and ubicomp construe the computer as a barrier to our interactions with reality. Thus, AR, like rhetoric, becomes a barrier to reality “in itself” while also (paradoxically) functioning as the very mechanism through which we come to perceive and know “reality.” Barnett (2017, p. 152) points out that, much like attempts at rhetorically unadorned “universal languages,” AR thus becomes defined as a medium that attempts to erase its presence through the very act of mediation: “For the Tagwhat user, language is no mere intentional or representational act (it is not only epistemological, in other words); it is, instead, what is speaking at a given time and place, what stems from world and is the composite of meaning and matter”. Barnett claims that AR reveals to us how language operates outside of primarily human concerns as it is generated alongside and through nonhuman objects and environments.
The chapters in this section present a well-rounded exploration of the theories, methodologies, and rhetorics associated with AR technology at this current cultural moment. As John Tinnell (2015, p. 133) has pointed out in a recent article for Computers & Composition, writing about new and emerging technologies can be akin to “playing the stockmarket” in the sense that technological innovation and cultural uptake often move at a faster pace than scholarly inquiry. However, the contributors in Part 1 do a nice job of drawing out broader rhetorical implications of their analyses of contemporary AR.
“AR could be as much of a game changer as the printing press was 600 years ago.” — Christine Perey
Part 2 of Augmented Reality presents readers with six interviews from experts in education, new media theory, digital design, and business technologies. Each interview offers an insider glimpse of the history and future of AR. Overall, the experts interviewed in this section seem to agree that AR is still in its infancy. Specifically, many of them note that AR’s potential ubiquity is not only tied to technical advancements (e.g. better optical displays) but also the creation of more compelling AR experience.
In the first interview, Sean Morey talks with with Sidney I. Dobrin, chair of the Department of English at the University of Florida and Director of the Trace Innovation Initiative. Dobrin describes some of the limiting factors of AR adoption within the textbook industry, noting that many large publishers are wary of investing additional resources in developing new technologies like mobile AR applications. Dobrin rightly points out that AR forces us to reconceive of the pedagogical role of the textbook as a platform for content delivery. For Dobrin (2017, p. 208), the textbook operates alongside other educational materials like websites and location-based AR apps as “but one node of a more complex ecology of learning interfaces”. Overall, Dobrin emphasizes that AR is most interesting not as another tool to be wielded in a top-down style from administrators, publishers, and teachers, but rather an emergent platform for reconceiving the very theories, methods, and practices of composition pedagogy.
In interview 2, Blair MacIntyre, professor of interactive computing at Georgia Tech, talks with John Tinnell about the past, present, and future of AR. MacIntyre has been researching AR since the early 1990s, and he describes how the emergence of the smartphone was a double-edged sword for AR developers. On one hand, the ubiquity of the smartphone gave developers a massive set of potential users. On the other hand, MacIntyre admits that the smartphone is not the ideal interface for experiencing AR because of its limited computing power and relatively weak feature-tracking capacities. In his discussion of the technical challenges of designing location-based AR experiences, MacIntyre points out that the kind of organizations interested in creating location-based AR (e.g. historic sites, museums, etc.) are typically nonprofits, meaning they probably don’t have the time and/or resources to develop robust stand-alone AR apps. As Tinnell (2017, p. 219) points out, these kind of DIY-AR creators “need a platform” suited to their needs. As a way of addressing this problem, MacIntyre discusses how he and his colleagues at the Augmented Environments Lab at Georgia Tech have developed Argon, a web-based mobile AR browser. Argon allows non-expert AR creators to access and create AR content without downloading extra applications to their device. MacIntyre’s interview provides valuable insight into how computer scientists and humanists can work together to generate innovative AR technologies and experiences.
Interviews 3 and 4 focus more on AR as a business technology. Tinnell talks with Christine Perey, a technology evangelist and business consultant, as well as Jay Wright, president and manager of Vuforia. Perey (2017, p. 230) discusses AR in terms of inevitability, saying she doesn’t ever “question if AR is going to be ubiquitous”. Perey describes how her conceptualization of AR refers to all facets of digital experience that engage with the material world, including ubiquitous computing and “smart objects.” As AR continues to become integrated into our everyday lives, argues Perey, we will cease to conceive of the physical and digital as separate domains of experience and interaction. Echoing many of the claims made by the contributors to chapter one, Perey ends her interview by noting that AR designers must pay more attention to user-experience within specific AR experiences in creating new applications and interfaces. Jay Wright’s interview focuses more on AR from a technical perspective. Wright describes how Vuforia is distinct from AR web browsers like Layar and Aurasma in that it operates “behind-the-scenes,” which allows AR developers to leverage the Vuforia platform to create stand-alone AR applications. Vision-based AR platforms like Vuforia use visual triggers in the user’s immediate surroundings—posters, stickers, building facades, etc.— to display and orient digital content in physical space. As Wright (2017, p. 241) states, Vuforia’s ultimate goal with computer vision is to give computers the ability to see the world like a human. Indeed, Vuforia is not alone in such pursuits. Through its Project Tango, Google is also looking to create AR applications capable of more accurately aligning digital content within large physical spaces, from living rooms to factory floors. Wright (2017, p. 241) makes an encouraging statement for those interested in AR from an academic perspective when he says that “universities remain one of the best sources of innovation and new technology”. Whether or not the humanities are included here remains to be seen. However, Wright’s emphasis on content development and user experience seems to indicate that the AR industry will increasingly require effective designers, writers, and communicators.
In interview 5, John Tinnell talks with Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald, co-founder of the widely adopted AR platform Layar. Lens-Fitzgerald discusses how the AR industry is trying to avoid the pitfalls of early web development, such as overhyping and bad design. Much like the other contributors to this collection, he emphasizes the importance of observing user-behaviors in order to understand how the contingencies of specific environments and spaces might affect the AR experience. Lens-Fitzgerald notes that Layar is dedicated to pursuing AR as a democratic space by allowing students, educators, artists, and nonprofits to use its platform for free. However, his optimism should come with a note of caution. Many vision-based AR platforms, such as Layar and Aurasma, work by associating digital overlays with physical triggers like posters or company logos. If a company decides that they want to “own” the augmentable space on top of their logo, this can sometimes prevent other AR creators from designing additional overlays for it through the same platform. In 2010, digital artist Mark Skwarek created an AR “logo hack” of the BP logo in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. According to Brian Wassom (2015, p. 125), one of the few legal scholars studying AR, things like logo hacks are likely to be construed as free speech and thus may remain legally acceptable. However, it is important that we continue to explore this issue as the interfaces through which we access and create AR content become more consolidated and tightly controlled.
In the final interview of part 2, Tinnell interviews BC Bierman, an academic, artist, and AR technology developer. Bierman led the “AR | AD Takeover” project in New York City, which replaced public advertisements in Times Square with counter-augmentations designed by artists and activists. Bierman (2017, p. 257) says that he is less interested in AR specifically and more interested in a diverse array of technologies and media that “allow artists to participate in public space in ways they never could before”. Bierman notes that it’s important for artists to experiment with new media in order to demonstrate non-commercial applications of emerging technologies like AR. Overall, Bierman sounds a refrain that echoes throughout the collection: AR content creators must strive to design AR experiences that connect the user in meaningful ways to their physical surroundings.
Part 3 of Augmented Reality curates the work of six augmented reality creators. The projects in this section present a range of compelling use cases for how AR can be utilized to create compelling digital experiences in physical spaces. Moreover, these creators demonstrate how AR can be used as a platform for interrogating a wide variety of public issues, from climate change to government corruption . Each artwork is presented with images and a short textual description. Readers can also scan certain images in this section to access additional video content detailing the project’s aims and/or the creation process of the artist. As a way of synthesizing this section, I will be discussing some of the artworks as I see them fitting within three general categories: social, interventionist, and historical/educational. However, this taxonomy is not definitive, and many of the artworks mentioned here and throughout part 3 belong to multiple categories and/or might require different categories altogether.
Artists throughout part 3 demonstrate the viability of AR as social media and platform for public discourse. For his project “EGG AR: Things We Have Lost,” John Craig Freeman interviewed people in the city of Liverpool, asking them all the same question: what have you lost? Freeman then placed digital representations of these responses within the exact GPS coordinates where the interview occurred, creating a digital public network visualizing Liverpool’s collective response to what it means to “lose” something. Although conceptual in nature, Freeman’s project isolates one potential model for AR as a public writing technology: allowing citizens to visualize a diverse array of responses to a public question, issue, or concern. Similarly, Conor McGarrigle’s “Vineland” application overlays geotagged vine videos throughout urban spaces. “Vineland” encourages developers to consider how AR applications can leverage the popularity of existing social networking sites.
Interventionist AR artworks are designed to be critiques of the physical locations in which they are experienced. Interventionist AR experiences often reveal obscured historical realities and/or expose hegemonic forces at play within physical locations. For instance, Tamiko Thiel’s “Clouding Green” overlays digital smog over the headquarters of major tech companies as a way of visualizing the carbon footprints of cloud computing technologies. Conor McGarrigle’s “NAMAland” leverages AR to provide information about the property portfolio of The National Assets Management Agency’s (NAMA), a controversial Irish Government agency that acquired risky property loans from Irish banks. “NAMAland” generates a map of the agency’s secretive property holdings depending on the user’s physical location and overlays a digital “Monopoly man” on top of each of the NAMA properties. The kairos of NAMAland makes it an effective AR intervention: it partnered with and sustained an already going public discourse about the Irish economy and the public’s disenchantment with NAMA’s suspicious withholding of public information.
Artist John Craig Freeman is perhaps the most explicitly engaged in AR as an interventionist practice. With his project “Tiananmen SquARed,” for example, Freeman used AR to commemorate the student revolution of 1989, an event that might otherwise remain silenced within the physical space of Tiananmen Square. In addition, Freeman’s project “Border Memorial” operates as a digital memorial for the thousands of Mexican immigrants who have died attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico Border. Mark Skwarek, who works alongside with Freeman and Thiel in the Manifest.AR artist collective, has also designed several interventionist AR applications. His 2011 project “#arOCCUPYWALLSTREET” places digital images and signs of Occupy protesters in locations where they have been physically barred from entering. For a more comprehensive overview of interventionist AR projects, see Vladimir Geroimenko’s collection Augmented Reality Art: From an Emerging Technology to a Novel Creative Medium.
Historical & Educational
AR artists are beginning to experiment with AR as a form of public writing by creating applications that provide additional information and/or counter-histories about public spaces and texts. For instance, BC Bierman’s “Bowery Wall” project allows users to scan restored Keith Haring murals in New York City and view them as they would have appeared in the 1980s. Bierman created a similar application for Miami’s Wynwood outdoor graffiti space that reveals an exploded view of the neighborhood’s 2D murals. Tamiko Thiel’s “Carnation Rain” commemorates the “bloodless revolution” that took place in Portugal in 1974. When the user activates the app within Carmo Square, she can see digital carnations falling all around, a reference to the peaceful nature of the Carnation Revolution. Theil’s project offers an example of how historical events can be commemorated through AR’s ability to deliver compelling visual imagery in public spaces. Finally, Connor McGarrigle’s “Walking Stories” application presents a compelling instance of how AR can be used to disseminate alternative histories for local communities. “Walking Stories” provides a counter-history of Dundrum village in South County Dublin. The application guides users on an alternative history of Dundrum, exposing the hidden effects of rapid commercial development.
By incorporating augmented reality triggers into the pages of their collection, Morey and Tinnell provide a generative model for other scholars interested in incorporating an AR component into their print scholarship. Future iterations might extend this idea into collaborations with artists and developers within the design of the book itself so that the AR artworks can be directly experienced on the pages rather than through online videos or print images.
With the release of the widely popular mobile augmented reality game Pokémon Go in summer 2016, the exigence for this collection is readily apparent: the general public is finally warming up to the idea of AR. As such, this collection offers a much-needed primer on the technologies, concepts, methods, and rhetorics of this exciting new technology. In a publishing market saturated with books about AR from a technical perspective, Morey and Tinnell’s collection fills an invaluable gap in its focus on the cultural and digital rhetorics of AR. In particular, this collection is well-suited for graduate and/or upper-level undergraduate courses on digital rhetoric, media studies, and/or multimodal composing in that it offers an array of valuable methodologies, definitions, and analyses that are sure to be of valuable to a range of disciplines. Overall, Augmented Reality offers readers a compelling glimpse into how AR is reshaping our taken-for-granted conceptions of space, mobile media, and public writing.
Farman, Jason. (2014).The mobile story: Narrative practices with locative technologies. New York: Routledge.
Frith, Jordan. (2015).Smartphones as locative media. Cambridge: Polity
Geroimenko, Vladimir. (E.d). (2014).Augmented reality art: From an emerging technology to a novel creative medium. New York: Springer.
Morey, Sean and John Tinnell. (2017). Augmented reality: Innovative Perspectives across art, industry, and academia. Anderson, South Carolina: Parlor Press.
Tinnell, John. (2015). “Grammatization: Bernard Stiegler's theory of writing and technology.” Computers and Composition, 37,132–46.
Wassom, Brian. (2015). Augmented reality law, privacy, and ethics: Law, society, and emerging ar technologies. Amsterdam: Elsevier.