Looks real enough to me!

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, as Ossi Urchs and I maintain in the third of ten theses from our recently published book, Digital Enlightenment Now!

Thesis 3: 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.

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 but 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 richer and more satisfying dimension – one in which we will all feel more truly at home.

3 thoughts on “Looks real enough to me!

  1. digitrusteu March 2, 2015 / 4:56 pm

    It is true that the pervasiveness of the digital and the merging with our physical life experiences does not ne3cessariuly turn us into zombies following our masters. Nevertheless, the increasing use of profiling us through the interpretation of big data, and the increasing transparency (loss of privacy) to our digital masters (governments as well as large ICT companies) is worryingly going into that dreadful direction.

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  2. laurencemillarnz March 2, 2015 / 5:20 pm

    I agree that the changes in physical and digital world are accelerating. But when has that not been true?

    The first sentence of the thesis is sound, but the second is unnecessary hyperbole: “changing at breathtaking speed and at an unprecedented rate”. I am not sure what is breathtaking about the speed of change, and there have been plenty of other precedents for dramatic change in human history.

    The idea that “we can’t expect things to ever return to “normal“ again” could be applied to almost any technology innovation – from the wheel and fire through printing, electicity, motor car, air travel……..

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  3. Tim Cole March 2, 2015 / 8:11 pm

    The “breathtaking speed” refers to the phenomenon of Digital Acceleration discussed elsewhere in the book. I believe with Ray Kurzweil that we are experiencing exponential acceleration of knowledge creation and innovation, among other things. The problem is, of course, that we humans are analog beings and severly taxed with keeping pace when things happen at “Internet speed”. But there is no avoiding it.

    Also: I’m a journalist, so some hyperbole is unavoidable 😉

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