In his essay “The Poetics of Augmented Space” (2002, revised edition 2005), Lev Manovich places Augmented Reality in the context of similar trends in New Media: Augmented Reality being one possible form of Augmented Space, characterised by overlaying dynamic data over physical space. For me, the most important statement he makes in his paper is to describe Augmented Space – m.m. Augmented Reality – as “idea and cultural and aesthetic practice rather than as technology”.
“here is the brief definition: augmented space is the physical space overlaid with dynamically changing information. This information is likely to be in multimedia form and it is often localized for each user.”
In an analogy with architecture he points out that overlaying physical space with layers of data is part of our cultural history since long. The main new difference is now the nature of the data: in contrast to e.g. paintings, pictures, colours, …, data are now dynamic, in multimedia form and localized for each individual user.
“The layering of dynamic and contextual data over physical space is a particular case of a general aesthetic paradigm: how to combine different spaces together. Of course, electronically augmented space is unique – since the information is personalized for every user, it can change dynamically over time, and it is delivered through an interactive multimedia interface, etc. Yet it is crucial to see this as a conceptual rather than just a technological issue – and therefore as something that in part has already – been a part of other architectural and artistic paradigms. “
Moreover, Lev Manovich sees Augmented Space as the next step in a logical progress in modern art from flat wall to 3-D space: “how in 20th century art from the dominance of a two-dimensional object placed on a wall, there is a trajectory towards the use of the whole 3-D space of a gallery.” Not just a physical space, but also a ‘dataspace’ filled with dynamic, contextual data with which the user can interact.
Manovich sees this ‘dataspace’ – built using newly available and emergent technologies – “as a continuous field that completely extends over, and fills in, all of physical space.”
As I mentioned above: describing Augmented Space as a next step in the evolution of cultural and aesthetic practice rather than focussing on its technologicial backbone, is an important statement. Maybe even more so because most Augmented Reality applications that ‘do the rounds’ suffer a bit from being very clear manifestations of the technology involved.
Taking a more neutral stance, you could also describe the field as such:
There is this general trend of new technologies becoming part of our physical world in an increasingly less obtrusive manner – Ubiquitous Computing. Parallel to and part of this general trend there is this dynamic and continuous ‘dataspace’ added to the physical world – Augmented Space. But as long as Augmented Reality applications keep focussing on the technology involved, they exclude themselves from becoming completely ubiquitous.
Ironically, new technological advancements are needed to allow Augmented Reality to make this next step towards effacing itself as tangible user interface to the (augmented) real world and thus become integral part of the world of Ubiquitous Computing.