The recent massive spread of a Google concept-video announcing their augmented reality (AR) glasses, is a sign that people across the world are curious to experience the next step in augmented reality. Expectations are high – but there’s criticism too. Do we really want to immerse ourselves 24/7 in a commercially annotated semi-virtual world? No. And we don’t need to. First of all, we have the choice to switch off. Second, we will have a choice in content, hopefully. Let’s hope that beside an overload of commercial content, our virtual surroundings will be packed with an equal amount of inspiring, meaningful or artistic creations. Within this current context, it is a great opportunity to be involved in the ArteMov/NIMk residency working on exactly that: exploring opportunities of AR content creation, taking into account the unique characteristics of this expanding parallel universe.
Whatever the way AR is accessed, be it by the mass audience of smartphone owners or a minority of AR goggle spectators, the fundaments of our parallel hybrid world are already in effect. Content nowadays is geo-located. Data and stories are belonging to and existing at specific spots on earth. Immaterial layers of meaning integrate with and extend the physical environment. GPS-coordinates are the truths defining a reality which is multi-layered, as much as it is multi-purpose. Commercial virtual content will co-exist alongside grassroot coups of the virtual universe. Besides professional storywriters taking it to the virtual stage, so are the people formerly known as audience. Not any restraint, boundary or limitation will be applicable in this endless amount of alternate realities. Structuring and filtering of the virtual content surrounding us, will be equally relevant as the content these mechanisms relate to.
We took this as a point of departure, and combined it with our wish to facilitate the creation of stories tailored to be experienced in the mixed data-reality of today. Walking tours through virtual content closely related to the physical environment was a recurring thought, letting people’s choice of direction be of influence on the course of a narrative. During a week of brainstorming and talking to various experts in the field of experimental storytelling, we talked about ways to present fictional stories, documenting spots in the city ‘on the spot’, historic routes, data journalism, real-time live storytelling and Powerpoint walks. It made us realise that a one-size-fits-all format would be difficult to define. Nor did choosing seem a good option.
While drafting a concept for narrative navigation throughout the city we realised that a similar approach could be applied on the level of choosing which storytelling formats to support: -not- choosing. By transforming the streets as a mapping of choices, we could allow people to walk to the content type of their choice. Left for fiction, walk right for real-life stories. Left again for user-contributed stories, two times right to get into the area of the city to discover a cluster of suspense stories. While walking towards a story of choice, the directive structure could gradually morph into choices defining the course of the story itself. Content and meta level will be integrated into one uniform format.
Calling for stories and exploring the narrative qualities of this rigid but at the same time open structure, is what we’ll be doing next week during a series of tests and LabMov workshops. We envision to generate a dynamic mapping of perspectives on the city, to be experienced in the city. It will be a tree-like structure that will grow, because adhering to the open narratives format, anyone is allowed to extend or fork the structure. Not agreeing with the current state of the virtual narrative city? Change it as you like. With augmented reality, your environment is in read/write mode.
São Paulo, 8th of April, 2012