Moving Too Fast, Too Soon? The Road to Augmented Reality

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 4.12.11 PMThe history of our communication as a society but more importantly as a species is very vast and span to beginning our existence on earth. But the history of mobile communication is much shorter in time, and yet has advanced and continues to amaze with all the things that we create technology to do.

google_voice_inforgraphic_bigMore recently, there have been several advancements in mobile and communicative technologies that begin to push the boundaries on the comfortable levels of communication. Coming from a society that used to rely heavily on physical interaction and word-of-mouth communication, today’s newest technologies seek to blend the lines between necessary and excessive. With the introduction and promotion of such technologies like Goggle Glass and Microsoft’s HoloLens, one begins to sit back and wonder how we found ourselves in the realm of augmented reality devices. If we look back at the history of communication and the technology development that surrounds it, we find that our need to constantly upgrade and improve what we have was bound to throw us in this direction. With that thought in mind, let’s take a look at a brief history of communication is our society (this history was adapted and amended from the Mobile History Collaborative Timeline that was created in class).

The earliest know forms of written or document history and information goes back to the primitive species of human beings in the form of cave paintings and stone tablet carvings. The ancient Egyptians were the first known civilization to create a form of paper writing (papyrus) and with this invention, written media become mobile and has the ability to be physical share and pass along by people (Farman, 2012, p. 11). Over time, various from of what we know today as paper was invented and used to communicate in the way of passing messages and keeping records. One main issue with that current system, however, was that there was nothing that allowed for the mass production and distribution of these documents. This was made possible by the creation of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 (Farman, 2012, p. 12). From there, the development of the telegraph system in the 1790s, and its use in both the political, military, commercial and civilian spheres, helped show the publics want for more immediate forms of communication. Thus came the invention of the first telephone by Alexander Graham Bell and then the beginning of what we now know as the first telephone company, American Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1885 (Goggin, 2006, pg. 19-21). Below you will find a very helpful and informative video that explains the evolution of the telegraph to the telephone.

In the next coming years, the telephone would move out of the private and wealthy sector and into the commercial and at home realm. By 1910, there were 10 million telephone users worldwide, and they number nearly doubled by 1922 (Goggin, 2006, pg. 21-23). As time progressed, companies began to expand the uses of the landline telephone and began researching taking the technology of the phone to a transportable level. With innovation and the advance of radio technology, the first working mobile phone was created by Motorola and used in 1973 (Ling, 2009, p. 41-42). Original created from the private sector, the mobile phone, which was later name the cell phone by popular culture, became extremely popular in larger society and eventually became developed in a smaller, more portable, and personal design (Ling, 2009, p. 36-39). Feature were continually improved to amenities such as internet access, voice to text capabilities and GPS and location abilities which give the cell phone more value both functionally and socially (Farman, 2012, p. 19).

As you can see from this brief timeline, the telephone evolved from solely being used for verbal one-on-one communication to a handheld device that can functionally serve as a phone, map, note and record keeper, gaming device, provide Internet access and so much more. It seems that every time that we added something to the mobile phone, it wasn’t enough and we knew it could do more. From adding text messaging capabilities, outer cameras, forward facing cameras, and location services, there seems to be no end to what we want our technology to do for us. This is where the design and implication of augmented reality technologies through mobile devices came to be.

In an article written by Tony Liao and Lee Humphreys (2014), “Augmented reality (AR) is defined as a technology that mixes the real environment with the virtual, is registered in three-dimensions, real-time, and interactive (p. 1). With the technology affordances of AR, one can see and hear what is in a space, have access to the content from a location based service, as well as having the ability to change the visual and audio representation of the space (Liao, 2015, Lecture). While some see this as a monumental breakthrough in our technology and the way we use it, others (like myself) find it to be a step too far into public space and blur the lines between assisting and excessive.

When looking at the positive uses of augmented reality technologies and the attractive design features and capabilities, there are several things that both tech designers and the larger society find useful. AR technologies rely heavily of physical space. At the base level of creation for an augmented reality, the designer must have a physical, real-life space to augment. This, in turn, leaves open a vast number of canvases for a user to inhabit. Secondly, given that the augmentation can only be seen with a device (phone, application within a phone or screen reading device etc.), AR space is non-exclusive. This means that there is no limit to how many times one space can be augmented. Unlike in the physical or “real” world, where a space can only be used once during a single timeframe, designers can augmented the same space without effecting the designs of others (Liao, 2015, Lecture).

This is something that makes the newer introduced technologies like Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens attractive to the public. These devices, through the use of information from your phones and cloud accounts, can make the use of these devices private and personal as the users only see the augmented reality that is provided for them through the device. This has even made AR a valuable marketing tool to major corporations, who can use the technology to “add value to a product in the digital and physical space” of society (Liao, 2015, Lecture). Many companies, who have the ability the take the financial risk of using such pricey marketing tools, have found success with the AR branding and advertising options.

Socially, many groups have used augmented reality technology to widely and privately spread their message to the masses. Augmented spaces only exist if someone is physically in the space, knows the content is there and available, and has the ability and knowledge to access the augmentation. Thus, the spectrum of augmented communication can range from highly personal (inside a family’s hotel room) to extremely public (inside the MoMA) (Liao, 2015, Lecture).

But with the positives of such technologies comes the negatives, and where I believe we as a society have gone too far with our level of comfort. We are becoming too comfortable with the amount of technologies we let into our personal space, and how much of our lives we allow them to augment. To look into this some of the physiological issues of AR in daily life, take a look at the most recent Goggle Glass commercial.

When looking at this video, I can find several issues that can be caused by a constant use of AR in one’s daily life. Some of the first ones that come to mind are occlusion, depth ambiguity, tracking and our eyes sensitivity to movement, as well as transparency and depth confusion (Liao, 2015, Lecture). With items constantly populating themselves onto your visual screen, all of these are serious issues that could cause visual disturbances leading to harm or injury for the user. Simply put, you can’t avoid what you can’t see, and this form of AR technology covers up existing space in your physical environment, which could also lead to issues with depth perception. Our eyes are trained to see things in front or behind each other, and the extra layer of space in the augmented reality could cause issues with that in the future.

Aside from the psychological issues that this technology presents, there are several social issues that arise with the growing use of AR technologies. In terms of the public, there is a growing fear of the possible threats to people’s privacy and public recording. Because these devices are control in a private manner and only seen by the user, there is the worry that people will be able to capture images and events without the consent or permission of the subject. There has also been conversation on darker issues such as cyber hacking of the actual screens and the use of these technologies for more devious behaviors like stalking. Companies such as entertainment entities and movie theater corporations are also concerned with the idea that people will be able to record films and concerts without the companies knowledge or ability to catch the act. This could lead to an increase in the level of privacy in the United States. Finally, there have also the issues of identity and social stigma that surround the users of this technology. In the weeks following the release of the commercials for Project Glass and HoloLens, there were reports of AR users being attacked in public (Liao, 2015, Lecture).

When looking at the history of mobile technology and the pros and cons of augmented reality, it is easy to understand the overall appeal (and some might even say obsession) that our society has with technologies of this form. The bottom line is that we love to increase the abilities of our technologies, and decrease the actual work that we has human have to do to access information. Just as mobile technology put access to information at our fingertips, augmented reality technologies put access to information at the blink of an eye. But as with any technological advancement, we must be careful with how far we let the technology into our lives, before we regret the limits and cannot push them back.

*as the appear in the essay

History of Human Communications (Photo)
Bello, V. (2012, September 18). Timeline of Human Communications. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from

Modern Day History of Communication (Photo)
Krum, R. (2010, June 24). Google’s History of Communication Infographic – Blog About Infographics and Data Visualization – Cool Infographics. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from

Mobile History Collaborative Timeline
Student, Mobile Media MSP 4541. (2015, January 29). Mobile History Collaborative Timeline. Google Docs 2015. Retrieved January 32, 2015.

Papyrus Link
Authors, V. (2015, January 8). Papyrus. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from

Farman In-Text Citations
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.

First Telephone Link
Authors, V. (2014, December 30). Invention of the telephone. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from

Goggin In Text Citations
Goggin, Gerard. (2006). Cell Phone Culture: Mobile technology in everyday life. London: Routledge. Chapter 2, 19-40.

Telegraph to Telephone Video
Telegraph to Telephone – AT&T – A History from Early Invention to 1950’s. (2013, September 19). Retrieved February 1, 2015, from

Ling and Donner Citations
Ling, Rich and Donner, Jonathan. (2009). Mobile Communication. Malden, MA: Polity Press. Chapter 2, p. 30-48.

Liao and Humphreys In Text Citations
Liao, T., & Humphreys, L. (2014). Layar-ed places: Using mobile augmented reality to tactically reengage, reproduce, and reappropriate public space. New Media & Society, 2014, 1-18.

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

Hotel Room Link
Reporter, T. (2012, July 3). Butlins unveils £25m hi-tech ‘tween’ hotel complete with 3D walls, iMacs, PS3s. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from

MoMA Link
Augmented Reality art exhibition MoMA NYC (guerrilla intervention). (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2015, from

Goggle Glass Video
Google Project Glass: Official Concept Walkthrough Video, “One Day” [HD]. (2012, April, 5) Retrieved on February 1, 2015 from

Attacked in Public Link
Mann, S. (2012, July 16). Physical assault by McDonald’s for wearing Digital Eye Glass. Retrieved February 1, 2015, from


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