augmente reality

It’s a notable coincidence that Steve Job died exactly two decades after Neil Stephenson completed Snowcrash, arguably, the last great Cyberpunk novel. Stephenson and Jobs’ work exemplified two alternative visions of humans’ relationship with technology in the Digital Age. Snowcrash offers a gritty, dystopian vision of a world where technology works against human progress as much as it works on behalf of it. Strong individuals must assert themselves against technological slavery, though ironically, they rely on technology and their technological prowess to do so.

Apple, on the other hand, tells us that the future is now, offering lifestyle devices that are slick (some might say, sterile). Despite being mass produced, these devices are supposed to bolster our individuality by communicating our superior aesthetic standards. Above all, Apple offers a world where technology is user-friendly and requires little technical competency. We need not liberate ourselves from technology; there’s an app for that.

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Values and style are inextricably linked (as Marshal McLuhan famously preached). So, unsurprisingly, the differences between Apple’s view of the future and that of Cyberpunk authors such as Stephenson run far deeper. The Cyberpunk genre has a critical mood that is antithetical to Apple’s mission of pushing its products into the hands of as many consumers as possible. The clean, minimalist styling of Apple devices makes a superficial statement about the progressive nature of the company, while the intuitive interface makes us feel that Apple had us in mind when designing the product—that human experience is valued, that they care. Of course, this is all a gimmick. Apple invokes style to “enchant” its products with an aura of mystery and wonderment while simultaneously deflecting questions about how the thing actually works (as discussed in Nathan Jurgenson & Zeynep Tufekci’s recent “Digital Dialogue” presentation on the iPad). Apple isn’t selling a product, it’s selling an illusion. And to enjoy it (as I described in a recent essay), we must suspend disbelief and simply trust in the”Mac Geniuses”—just as we must allow ourselves to believe in an illusionist if we hope to enjoy a magic show. Thus, the values coded into Apple products are passivity and consumerism; it is at this level where it is most distinct from the Cyberpunk movement. more...

Peasants at Table
"Peasants at Table" from the Prokudin-Gorskii Collection (ca. 1875)

Editor’s Note: This pieces is a modified repost from Peasant Muse.

Author’s Note: In the original post I used the term ‘analog dualism’, which has been replaced in the version below with ‘textual dualism’.  The sentiment and argument remain the same, as the shift from ‘analog’ to ‘textual’ more precisely describes the phenomena I am trying to uncover.

It is often the case with new technology that the promise of change it brings often outstrips its capacity to actually enact that change.  This is certainly true with several digital constructs that emerged over the past decade, like Wikipedia or the Open-Source movement, that are increasingly becoming obsessed with the promise and potential ‘social’ can bring to the issue of user equality.  Free from the constraints once imposed by more traditional analog methods, digital means of knowledge production and creation offer the promise of true independence and interdependence- yet often these new methods fall prey to (con)structural weaknesses that do little more than perpetuate the previous modes of inequality found in their analog ancestors, albeit in digital terms and conceptions that mask the true nature of their operation in the combined realms of both online and offline activity.

The argument presented above largely comes from a very cogent essay written by Nathan Jurgenson on the blog, Cyborgology.  Titled ‘Digital Dualism and the Fallacy of Web Objectivity‘, Jurgenson argues for abandonment of what he terms a ‘digital dualist’ perspective in favor a conception he calls ‘augmented reality’, defined in the quoted sections below more...


This July, a new mobile app called SceneTap will further augment the hook-up scene. The app is linked to cameras in bars which count the number of patrons and based on facial features determine the average age and the male-to-female ratio. Of course, the decision to go to a particular bar (and not to go to another) effectively alters the dataset. We therefore make decisions about where to go based upon technologically transmitted data about physical bodies. The presence of our own physical bodies then become data to be recorded, transmitted, and factored into the social plans of others.