OARN 2012 – My Augmented Reality Experience

On Friday October 5th I was part of a sold out event hosted by the Ontario Augmented Reality Network (OARN) held in Toronto. Academics, business professionals, and media were all present to hear keynote speakers Bruce Sterling (@bruces), Gene Becker (@genebecker), and Helen Papagiannis (@ARstories) contemplate the past, present, and future state of Augmented Reality.

My role at this conference was to host a conversation about Amish Augmented Reality with Rob MacDougall (@robotnik) of Western University. We had two great conversations on the topic, which, to clarify, was conceived of by Rob after reading Chapter 11 Lessons from Amish Hackers from Kevin Kelly’s book What Technology Wants. Rob explained to the groups that he wasn’t hinting that technology shouldn’t be used in AR, only that we should use it with caution. The Amish, when contemplating the adoption of a new tool have three characteristics that Rob found enlightening, and used as probes for discussion:

1. They are selective in their choice of tool, rather than adopting any old thing,

2. They are willing to borrow the tool from society when it is needed rather than fully adopt only to find out the tool is unnecessary,

3. They have criteria that the tool must uphold; namely that it strengthens their community values.

Although Rob made it clear that the Amish may have different criteria for evaluating a tool than the rest of society might, it was simply having criteria at all that was thought-provoking. One group member asked “Where’s the WordPress?” – making note of the fact that AR for the most part is found on handheld devices whose software is controlled and controlling. It would take open-source AR tools, many agreed, for anything mindful to make it to the general public.

What came out of this discussion on Amish Augmented Reality revolved around a question that some of the keynote speakers had found it difficult to address earlier in the day: “What were the negative consequences of AR?” Instead of jumping on the technology bandwagon, strapping on glasses,  and looking into another reality, many in our group sessions wanted people to close their eyes and be transported to another time or place by using their other senses. Instead of busting ghosts atop the CN Tower, we talked about creating new musical experiences to take people away from the everyday. We spoke about using AR for positive purposes, not simply for gaming or storytelling, but to be mindful in our applications of AR, to use them to create a sense of community and aid to those who might have trouble communicating elsewhere. Perhaps most fitting for today, we contemplated the possibility of being able to sit down with your family for a meal (mmm… turkey!) when you are miles from home.

3D Turkey

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