The Cyborgology Blog has recently hosted much discussion on the topic of augmented reality (i.e., the co-constitution of online and offline, digital and physical). A few threads to follow as background are:
Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality by Nathan Jurgenson
Virtual, Mediated, and Augmented Reality by PJ Rey
why i don’t like “augmented reality” by Sang-Hyoun Pahk
Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality by Nathan Jurgenson
I’d like to extend this discussion by clarifying the relationship between augmented reality and the namesake of the Cyborgology blog (i.e, the cyborg). The two concepts are intimately connected.
Augmented reality describes a macro-scale historical phenomenon—a set of techno-social conditions in which (small “m”) modern subjects are embedded. Humans have always, in some sense, been augmented by technology. Consider, for example, the technology of language that I am currently employing to enhance our communication; it is much more efficient and effective than gesturing for the purpose at hand. We use the term “augmented reality” most often, however, to describe the consequences of the paradigm shift from physical information storage to digital information storage. Specifically, we use this concept to combat once-popular assumption that the content of communication through digital media was, somehow, completely separate and distinct from what we experience everyday as embodied subjects in the physical world. (We call this assumption “digital dualism.”)
Proponents of augmented reality contend that fundamental distinctions of offline/physical space are reproduced in online/digital space and, simultaneously, that what happens on digital media influences, or is even superimposed onto, events in the physical world. While each sphere has separate properties (i.e., distinct forms) their natures’ are co-determined (i.e., content is constantly passed back-and-forth between the two).
How does augmented reality relate to cyborgs?
Cyborgs are the indigenous subjects that inhabit augmented reality. They are physical bodies enmeshed in the techno-social formations that characterize a particular historical moment. In conventional sociological terms, cyborgs are the micro/agentic object of inquiry when augmented reality is the macro/structural unit of analysis.
Thus, if “cyborgology” is the study of cyborgs (i.e., humans as they exist under particular techno-social conditions), it is also always the study of augmented reality (i.e., the study of those particular techno-social conditions in which cyborgs operate).