Bolter, Engberg, & MacIntyre, “Media Studies, Mobile AR, and Interaction Design”

Bolter, Jay, Maria Engberg, and Blair MacIntyre. 2013. “Media Studies, Mobile Augmented Reality, and Interaction Design.” Interactions, 20 (1): 36-45. (9 pages)

Bolter, Engberg, and MacIntyre draw upon the language of media studies to produce interactive design platforms including augmented reality (AR). Media studies, however, is often organized with a view toward analysis and critique rather than creative production. Media studies, as the authors writes, allows us to look “at the history of media and relationship to culture…For McLuhan, media have always played a central role in determining what culture is and how it changes” (37). The authors pose succinctly, “is it possible to reframe media studies to make it a productive theory, a theory that can be applied to practice?” (38).

The first look toward the concept of aesthetics as a starting point. Traditionally defined, aesthetic refers to “a branch of philosophy and art history that focuse son what makes things beautiful” (38); however, in recent theorizations of aesthetics, research has considered the emotional, affective, nature of aesthetics. Namely, it is phenomenological: how design prompts emotional response. “Aesthetics can be defined as the study of our perception of our whole environment, not just objects and beauty. Media aesthetics, then, can focus on how we perceive the world in and through new technologies” (38). In fact, per McLuhan, “digital technologies remake our processes of perceiving and thinking” (38).

Turning specifically to AR, the authors note that AR combines the cartographic view of space (“a symbolic representation of a portion of the world, and gives the user a particular view…is abstract, regularized, and measurable”) with visual media immediacy. “By combining the symbolic and the visual/immediate in a particular way, this application offers the user a different aesthetic experience—a different understanding of the park as a place where symbolic information from the Internet can be located and acted upon” (39). Users’ aesthetic relationships change dynamically as they move within space: “this sense of being part of the map is one new media aesthetic that is fostered by mobile applications” (39). The authors also look to panorama as a particular kind of affordance that facilitates ways of knowing in AR. Since “viewing requires physical engagement,” the panoramic view enables a greater degree of mobility: “the panorama was an attempt to create a transparent medium, a medium that would become invisible and leave the viewer in the presence of the objects being represented” (42).

Panorama also allows the mediation of time (viewing spaces from different periods of time). In museums, panorama AR allows artifacts to be re-seen within a context outside of the museum itself: “museums often exhibit objects that have been taken from their original larger context…curators may present photographs or architectural drawings to try to give visitors a sense of original whole…the visitor could experience the object in its museum setting and then access a panorama on her phone to see the object in its original context” (41).

The authors also emphasize the tactile-visual aesthetic that these interfaces promote. Viewing, in itself, is a tactile and visual experience. As such, the authors propose the concept of polyaesthetics as a key concept in the production of interface design. Polyaesthetic refers to the way we experience the world through various media forms, often bringing together several aesthetic experiences at once: historical dimensions, the dimension of sensation.

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