Beyond “Place” in Digital Working


The new Google Glass promises “augmented reality”. A select few are being invited to trial this product while the rest of us look on, currently “Glassless”. The word “reality” is used very cheaply by the designers and implementers of digital working. Without a doubt, augmented reality is also interrupted reality and, possibly, will become invaded and distorted reality.

If I am walking along the street and I see someone I think I know, and my Google Glass helpfully identifies that person by offering me their name and some details about them, even as I look, is my reality being augmented? Is my reality being added to by this information that would otherwise be unavailable to me? If I can’t remember something, does a device augment my reality by filling in the missing information?

I want to suggest not. At least not yet. Adding information to my current state of knowledge does not augment my reality in any way. My thought processes remain the same. Adding information to my failing memory does not augment my reality at all. It simply adds information to the SAME memory process. Just as when I looked up a name in an address book to find a phone number, this did not augment my reality. It simply added a name to the same memory process.

Information does not augment reality. Reality remains exactly the same.

Now, what if the Glass zoomed in on that person, enabling me to see them more clearly and closely. What if it even offered me an Xray of their insides or what was in their pockets? Is this augmented reality? I’d suggest also not. Nothing is added to my process of seeing. What happens is that my reality is distorted, possible more or less benevolently. I still stand there, in physicality, with my eyes as they are, and what the prosthetic device does is to distort my normal reality with different information. But my reality remains the same.

This might be irritating you as you read this, but I’m sticking to my guns here.

Now, let us look beyond Google Glass to a device that actually is located in my brain or is integrated directly and cyber-biologically into my nervous system. Or perhaps chemical process are introduced into my thinking by devices that directly affect my perception. Now we are in the world where our physical senses appear to be altered very directly and tellingly in terms of how I see the world. Now we as damn close as we are going to get to augmented reality. I can now react faster, or think or see more clearly through direct intervention in how my inner physical processes work. Even my brain function might be enhanced. Is THIS augmented reality.

I am going to suggest, once again, not. Even the direct intervention of technology into nervous system and brain function is unable to reach what has sometimes been called by a field largely labelled as quackery and pseudo science – my “self”. A recent edition of the New Scientist labelled the self an illusion created by the brain. I’ll differ on that and offer no evidence but the observation that physicality cannot touch mind, because mind is super-physical. Google glasses offer, at best, a benevolently distorted mental picture of reality, but reality itself is made from pure thinking which, itself as its own super-physical existence. Jacques Lusseryan found inner light during years of blindness. We will discover that we can create and wear many masks, we can even alter the skin to distort how we feel. We can even interfere with the brain and directly influence the pictures that appear in our heads. But we will find that the core of thinking that flows into and through us, needs no augmented reality – for it is the augmenter itself.

Now stop right there.

What’s all this pseudo-scientific babble about the super physical mind? The mind is the brain and nothing more – of course! Yet, even at metaphorical level, our mind as a projected illusion of the brain a way of coping and functioning creatively in the world, even at that level, our human imagined self is strong enough to recognise the difference between human-in-action, and machine-in-process. We can indeed create hardware and software that ape human physical activity and also mental activity. We can create robots that look and act a bit like us. We can create avatars and virtual words that look and can, to an extent (with the aid of that projected imagination) mimic human person and world. I am even open to the notion that, at some point in the future, we will be able to enter a lucid dream state and enter a virtual reality that really is an apparently perfectly rendered “place.”

Until then, we have most digital processes beginning to behave in ways that are alien. And by that I do not mean horrible-alien. I mean abhuman. What develops remains an open question. Authors such as Sherry Turkle suggest a pause to reflect might be a good idea. Jaron Lanier hints at the notion that it isn’t our smart phones that are our gadgets, it is we, the human users, who are the conforming gadgets to emergent meta-digital process that are starting to exhibit compulsive “beingness”, along side use-hungry corporate entities that are hungry for human (customer and employee) entanglement which is often presented as benevolent.

Abhuman behaviour is behaviour that lies outside our normal definitions of human behaviour. When program engages with program and outputs information, it is engaging in thinking processes – combining and processing data according to program instructions that are not easily rendered versions of human thinking. Cause and effect are used, but so are equations that we have discovered, not in the normal human mind as it deals with everyday physical and metal reality, but that exist in the conceptual domains of theory. We are both an input to the world, but also a process in it, and an output of it. Systems analysis isn’t a rendered version of daily human cognition. Nor is artificial intelligence.Computers are built of binaryness – on or off, one or zero in almost infinite diverse application and explosion. Human beings are (perhaps trapped, perhaps freed) by the quality of quality. We exist in the gaps between one and zero. Some scientists believe that is not the case, yet at things stand, the world of chaos theory, superstrings, dark matter and the elusive missing energy in the universe, things remain an open question.

The realm of digital working is only partially a thing of place. It is mostly a thing of flows and process. It is also a thing of newly emerging “Laws”, behavioural possibilities and potential that lies  in a  kind of “alien” place. We are discovering as much of what is possible as we are designing it. Virtual reality is a reality of partial otherworldliness, intersecting with and influencing our world, and often finding our human constitution to be too slow and clunky. I believe the emerging “egregore” of digital working finds our gadgets to be pisspoor and clumsy. Soon virtuality will offer its own mechanisms and we will be invited to either bugger off or plug in at the level where human creativity can be harnessed as a kind of “oil source” for binary beings and machines. Is that a nightmare world? Possibly.

Digital working is only partly about gadgets and what employees go at work when they use digital devices. It is a juvenile and short-sighted definition. Digital working is part of an emerging, revealing, dare I say, “incarnating” world that is beginning to influence us as much as we influence it. Many of us don’t really get this world even as we use its devices (often at very low levels of consciousness of its underlying processes and “natural” laws). Many of us use it clumsily and identify only with the limited parts of it that resemble human behaviour, rendered into recognisable labels such as “desktop” or “folder”.

The growing part of digital working that may be truly beneficial to us will not be that which augments reality with glasses and cyborg implants. It will be the processes where digital working acts without human direct involvement. It then becomes something at the service of human creativity, genius and ongoing input. We then become not the directors of digital working but the inspirers of its alien genius. Our inner freedom remains in tact. And our self,  whether a useful illusion, or a metaphysical reality, remains free.

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on February 22, 2013, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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