Compressed Reality

In a year I am too lazy to research, the internet was created and stuff happened and now it’s 2016 and more stuff is happening. The web is now big beyond anyone’s comprehension and has all but become self-aware. Already redundant copies of it are under construction, giving it a fractal nature that effortlessly replaces any pieces of it that might get lost. Not only will the internet continue to exist until all pieces of it are erased, it will also stand through time as back-ups are made at regular intervals. The amount of complete internets stored on computers world-wide would surprise you.

This creates a brand new universe parallel to our own meatspace: One where the physical objects might not exist, but the information about them is stored in accessible databases. Like scaffolding around a building, a structural network is built around pretty much everything in sight of humankind, but also like that scaffolding, it is useless if it can’t be accessed from the building itself: Our reality. Ideally, access points become so many that the support structure becomes part of the building itself.

We are nearing this point. We are approaching an age where internet and meatspace will meld together to become one entity. The interfaces we have developed so far are commonly known as ‘augmented reality applications’ or AR apps. You probably have a few on your cell phone.
The opposite is also taking place: Virtual space is created that you can explore using ‘virtual reality’ interfaces, creating something that approximates “real life” in a purely digital environment. It doesn’t take a scientist to deduct that at some point, AR and VR will come together to form a sensation that will be hard to discern from both, or even reality.

Read my lips: Augmented reality is the future. With every step that we take, with every object that we see, there is a vast ocean of information that slips right past us, not even offering so much as a breeze. There will come a time that we will be able to access this information. A car mechanic will be able to tell what’s wrong with a car by looking at it. A biologist will be able to tell trees apart. A pilot will see his trajectory in front of him. None of them will have to pull out a cell phone or even need to be distracted from his occupation. The efficiency of data sharing will skyrocket in such a exponential manner, that the economy of it will have to be rebuilt from scratch.

But for now, we are using it mostly to catch Pokémon.

I have never played this game or even seen it from up close, but I really don’t feel like joining the camp of haters, either. I take enough flak for playing computer games myself not to make the same mistake with others. It’s just a game, people. And any game that makes people leave the house, interact and do physical exercise has a few advantages compared to most others. Who knows, right? Some shy nerdling out there might head out and meet a fellow shy geekling and for once, they might have a valid excuse to break the ice. Cross your fingers they are capable to look up from their cell phone long enough to share a few words on their first date.

I wouldn’t mind the whole concept at all if they weren’t so damn annoying to be around. Yapping about ratticas and pikachus, stops and gyms, oblivious to you slamming the brakes on your bike with your kid in the cart. The Citadel Park further down my street has become the town’s central hub for hunters and I swear to god, on an average day, dozens of them are gathered in the grass around the rosary. When one of them gets the grand, original idea of organizing a facebook event, their numbers go into the hundreds.

In the vast number of AR apps, such as Google Translate, Theolodite and Layar, Pokémon Go is the most popular by far. But in contrast with the others, Pokémon Go’s given information is completely fictional in nature. It doesn’t actually give you any insight about your surroundings, but only about its own mechanics. In a sense, it doesn’t “augment” your reality as much as it takes away from it. That is, perhaps, the naysayers’ strongest argument: Pokémon Go detaches you from your surroundings and substitutes its own.

This is, of course, something all games do. And before you mount that high little horse of yours, I’ll have you know that books, movies and most of our entertainment industry attempt the exact same thing: To create a fictional situation and immerse you in it. It’s just how we like to be entertained- We like to be numbed to our environment while fantasizing about another. Pokémon Go just happens to be quite good at it.

From a purist standpoint, the whole AR situation is a big problem. People playing video games in public, somebody call the popo after they’re done stripping women of burkinis. Even for a game developer or any other programmer, this whole thing is just a very basic geocaching game and a poor example of what AR really has to offer. But all things considered, with an app that brings people together and makes them take walks outside the house? Let’s be honest, it could be worse.


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