Thursday, August 25, 2011
In a previous post, Everywhere a Sign, I mentioned how, as literates, we wrote over our environment with signs, and otherwise remade our world in the image of the written and printed word, and how we are doing the same sort of thing now, coating and revising our environment via the electronic media.
In a sense, we already accomplished this early in the 20th century, as our environment is permeated by radio waves, so that almost anywhere we go, we can pick up a broadcast signal. Mobile telephony adds an interactive dimension to the ether, making it possible not only to have two-way communications (which was always an option, after all, through amateur radio, Ham, CB, walkie-talkies, etc.), but interactive data transmission.
So, through mobile devices, we turn a non-electronic environment into an electronic one (and again, this began with the transistor radio, but becomes fully realized with the cell phone). This realizes the goal of ubiquitous computing, not by embedding computer technology into the environment as was previously imagined, but by the combination of an environment permeated by the software of wireless signals rather than the hardware of gadgets, and by embedding computer technology in us, ourselves. After all, we are our environment, in the sense that all we know of our environment is the internal map that we construct, not what's actually out there. That was Korzybski's main argument, after all.
Perception is a response to a stimulus that we mistake for the stimulus itself.
But, back to the main point. We may not have our personal technologies literally embedded and merged into our bodies in the manner of science fiction cyborgs, not quite, and not yet, but many of us keep our devices with us at all times, walking around with blue tooth devices on our ears, essentially treating them as appendages to our body. Of course this brings to mind McLuhan's emphasis on media as extensions of the body. It's just a matter of how we frame things to refer as to whether we refer to media as extensions or environments. As I like to point out, whatever extends our bodies comes between our bodies and our environment, and whatever comes between our bodies and our environment becomes our new environment.
So, the point is that mobile devices are transforming our environment. This is happening, in part, through augmented reality programs and technologies, but here I just want to point out how mobile devices allow us to add an electronic overlay to print media.
QR codes constitute a simple example of this. In one sense, they are a new kind of bar code, one that's more robust--we've all encountered bar codes that are a little worn and won't scan, QR codes don't degrade so easily. But mobile devices can read QR codes via their cameras--remember when adding cameras to cell phones seemed like an unnecessary extravagance?--the QR code can represent a URL, and mobile devices use their browsers to go to that web page. This is old news to many, I know, and I apologize if this seems obvious, but I know it isn't to some folks reading this blog. Anyway, here's a QR code for Blog Time Passing:
If you click on it, it'll just take you to a page with the same QR code, but if you scan it with a mobile device it'll bring you back to this blog.
But I want to point to a couple of sophisticated and creative examples of how mobile devices can turn print media into interactive media. First here's one that has great relevance, given the current victory of the rebellion in Libya:
This ad taken out by Reporters Without Borders, really more of a public interest message about freedom of the press than a commercial advertisement, is quite creative, entertaining, and dramatic in making its point. It uses a QR code to get to the video mouth, which is placed over the mouth of the dictator in the print image, to add animation and give voice to the journalists whose voices were otherwise stilled by the leaders of repressive regimes.
And now for something much less serious, indeed, a bit of childlike play:
This Norwegian ad is certainly an app-ed expression of the potential merging of print and electronics. While the idea of an electronics-based form of smart paper is still in the works, and may one day supersede print, this demonstrates how mobile devices can make any dumb, old print medium into a smart one. Shades of the Scarecrow in the Wizard of the Oz!
Well, if all this seems too much like the weird virtual world of the Disney film Tron, just keep in mind that no matter how hi-tech we get, we'll always need duct tape!