Augmented Reality: An Advancement in the History of Mobile Media

In recent years, the term ‘mobile media’ has come to be associated with new technologies such as cell phones and tablets. However, mobile media is not limited to the digital world. Media is defined as “the main means of mass communication” (Google, 2015). With this definition in mind, it makes sense that items such as books, magazines, and even ancient tablets could at one point in history be classified as mobile media. These forms of mobile media have evolved greatly and continue to evolve today. But, before we can understand today’s mobile media and where it is headed, it is important to understand the history and ambitions that brought us this far.

One of the earliest forms of mobile media can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptians and the invention of papyrus. Before papyrus, stone inscriptions were used to record thoughts and people had to travel to these inscriptions to read them. However, with papyrus “ideas traveled broadly since the medium they were inscribed on was light and mobile” (Farman, 2012, p. 12). Yet, one of the most revolutionary advances in mobile technology was still to come in 1440 with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. This not only allowed for the distribution of written media, but rather made possible mass printing and distribution of it by creating “mobile media such as pamphlets and books” as well as “the press itself [being] transported to different cities” (Farman, 2012, p. 12). Still, technologies continued to evolve.

In the 1790s the first working mechanical telegraph was invented by the Chappe brothers and by 1794 the first telegram was sent (Goggin, 2006, p. 19). The telegraph system underwent many advances in just a short period of time, and “by the end of the nineteenth century the telegraphy had become a truly global communications network” (Goggin, 2006, p. 20). The telegraphy became a crucial aspect of communications in railway operations as well as global issues such as trade and war. Soon after, in 1876, came perhaps the most revolutionary invention in the history of mobile media—the telephone (Ling & Donner, 2009, p. 34).

With the invention of the telephone, people were now able to speak with one another despite their locations. More important than the concrete benefits of the telephone were the emotional ones. As pointed out by Goggin, one of the most important uses of the telephone was “its use for sociability” (Goggin, 2006, p. 21). People were now able to speak with their friends and loved ones and, in a sense, ‘visit’ one another without physically being present. Initially, the telephone was not very common. In 1900 there was only 1 telephone subscriber per 10,000 people in the USA. By 1915, however, that number changed to 1 subscriber per 1,000 people. Still, people wanted to improve this technology and began experimenting with making the telephone portable. This can be seen as early as 1911, when Lars Magnus Ericsson and his wife Hilda attempted to create a car phone by holding large metal poles up to the telephone wires while in their car (Goggin, 2006, p. 24). Luckily for us, research continued and technologies advanced and by 1973 the first mobile call was made on a portable, hand held-cell phone (Goggin, 2006, p. 29). More commonly referred to as ‘bricks’, these early phones were heavy, bulky, had limited battery life, and were very expensive.  As the technology evolved, however, cellphones became smaller, gained more battery life, and the prices dropped making them more accessible to the wider public (Goggin, 2006, p. 35). The capabilities of the phone also continued to advance, leading to text messaging, camera and video, internet access, and GPS capabilities (Ling & Donner, 2009, p. 43).

This history shows how, as a society, we have always tried to improve communication in order to better interact with family and friends, our communities, and even strangers. However, one common theme which may not be as obvious is the idea of how these mobile technologies have transformed “our relationships to social space” (Farman, 2012, p. 11). All forms of mobile media in the past have had a relation to how they interact with space. For instance, maps provided a 2D representation of place, but these maps were finite and could not easily be changed. Later, with the invention of Location Based Services, a 2D representation of place was still provided; however, we could now pinpoint where we were as well as see it in different context. More recently with mobile devices, we can get real-time information to a specific location and better experience the space around us. It is in this aspect that it can most easily be seen how Augmented Reality technology would appeal to society today. With this new technology we can not only experience space around us, but we are capable of changing the visual and audio representation of space (Liao, T.).

I believe that Augmented Reality is simply an extension of the already evolving mobile media. For example, Farman argues that mobile media has always served as a way to either connect people (CB radio) or ‘cocoon’ people from others (MP3 players) (Farman, 2012, p. 13). Similarly, AR can used for the same purposes. In the case conducted by Liao and Humphreys, it was found that a “common form of augmentation described was making layers that give public information or facts about a place” (Liao & Humphreys, 2014, p. 9). Another common use involved “more private communication in a particular location to individual people” (Liao & Humphreys, 2014, p. 9). Just as mobile media in the past, AR can serve as a way to communicate with others as well as create more private communications for ourselves or others. The only difference with AR is that this communication is done by altering place.

Another important finding by Liao & Humphreys was the use of AR for historicizing and challenging the meanings of place (Liao & Humphreys, 2014, p. 1). I believe that this, too, can be seen as a modernized version of propaganda via books, pamphlets, etc. Moreover, AR allows to show these histories and challenges that other forms of media may not be able to. For instance, due to heavy censorship by China’s government, citizens cannot learn about events such as Tiananmen Square through media such as the Internet (TIME). However, through the use of the AR software Layar, a group was able to put augmented tanks in Tiananmen Square to represent the historical event. This allows for people to connect with their surroundings in ways they never could before (Liao & Humphreys, 2014, p. 10).


Though some recent technologies involving AR such as the Google Glass have failed, I still think AR technologies are a very real possibility in the near future. While we may not yet be able to accept the physical aspects of some of these technologies (like the glasses), I think we are already capable of accepting the underlying use of them. The history of mobile media has shown that AR is just the next logical step in its evolution. Moreover, I believe AR has a stronger and more powerful ability to connect people as well as places than previous mobile technology.

The future of AR technologies.


Farman, Jason. (2012). “Historicizing Mobile Media: Locating Transformations of Embodied Space,” in N. Arceneaux & A. Kavoori (Eds), The Mobile Media Reader. New York: Peter Lang. P. 9-22.

Goggin, Gerard. (2006). Cell Phone Culture: Mobile technology in everyday lifeLondon: Routledge. Chapter 2, 19-40.

Google. (2015). Media Definition. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from: instant&ion=1&espv=2&es_th=1&ie=UTF-8#q=define:+media

Hidden Creative. (2010, December 1). The Future of Augmented Reality [Video file]. Retrieved from

Humphreys, Lee and Liao, Tony. (2014). “Layar-ed places: Using mobile augmented reality to tactically reengage, reproduce, and reappropriate public space“. New Media & Society, 1-17 . Retrieved from

Liao, T. (28 January 2015). Emerging Mobile Technology – Augmented Reality. Mobile Media MSP 4541. Lecture conducted from Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.

Sam Frizell, TIME. (2014, June 4). “Here Are 6 Huge Websites China is Censoring Right Now“. Retrieved January 29, 2015, from:

Tank Man [Photograph]. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from:


One thought on “Augmented Reality: An Advancement in the History of Mobile Media

  1. I agree that AR is likely to be the next major evolution in mobile technology, though I wonder if the wearable aspect is equally inevitable. Is it possible that perhaps there will be a wearable AR system that takes a form other than glasses? Maybe that would be more immediately socially acceptable and able to work as a stepping stone toward the kind of google glass style wearable AR that has so far been resisted by many.

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