By Tim Cole
What you see is what you get. But what if what you see isn’t “real” but in fact part of the virtual world? Digitalization and networking are transforming our perception of reality itself? The digital world is increasingly invading and becoming part of the real world. As a result, both are changing at breathtaking speed and at an unprecedented rate, as Ossi Urchs and I maintain in the third of ten theses from our recently published book, Digital Enlightenment Now!
Developments in technology and business are forcing change on society and on our personal lives, and we can’t expect things to ever return to “normal“ again. After all, nobody can rewrite history. We are currently experiencing a totally new and remarkable phenomenon, namely the coming together of the digital and the physical worlds which used to be strictly separated. In fact, it is getting more and more difficult to tell the two apart.
Navigation aids were once simply used to show us the way from A to B. As the digital world encroaches on the physical, we now expect our gadgets to use digital information to show us the “right” way. This can be for instance the fastest, or possibly the most scenic route, depending on our individual circumstances. “Augmented Reality” does not simply mean “enriching”. It changes our perception and our understanding of reality itself.
What we think of as “real” will increasingly reflect a mixture of digital and physical perceptions and experiences, displayed on smartphones or a tablet computers and enhanced by new, “wearable” devices such as Google’s “Glass” or the Apple Watch. Thus we will become more and more accustomed to navigating something best described as the digital “infosphere” which will surround us just like the physical atmosphere of our home planet.
But don’t worry: This won’t turn us all into zombies marching powerlessly to the drumbeat of our digital masters. Quite the opposite, in fact. But we must develop our abilities to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information, in effect filtering out the noise and tuning into those sources of information that will enrich our lives and help us become masters of our own destinies. And should some information turn out to distract us, then we need to learn how to be strong and smart enough to simply switch it off.
But being disconnecting from the digital infosphere will be like watching an old black and white movie today. Yes, we may even relish the experience as a form of ascetical and esthetical self-denial. By doing so, we will not only lose a (multi)medial dimension and possibly even heighten our concentration on other aspects of perceived reality. But we will always be aware that by simply pressing a button we can return to a digitally riched and thus more satisfying dimension – one in which we will all feel more truly at home.