Liao & Humphreys, “Layar-ed Places”

Liao, T. & Humphreys, L. (2014). Layar-ed Places: Using Mobile Augmented Reality to Tactically Re-Engage, Re-Produce, and Re-Appropriate Public Space. New Media & Society. 17(9), p. 1418-1435 (17 pages)

Looking specifically at the AR app Layar, Liao and Humphrey note the potential that augmentation has to change user’s relationship with the places around them; namely, the participants of their study reported that AR provided a new visual experience and source of interaction with their space, thus changing how they thought about their relationship to space and places. They note, specifically, a few ways that AR has changed how people thought about their space:

  1. Overlaying layers of information including public information or facts or private communications for a more specific audience.
  2. Historicizing/memorializing public place including creating memorials
  3. Questioning authority over place: “bring in voices or perspectives to places where they have been implicitly or explicitly excluded” (1428). From a participant: “Augmented reality is graffiti for people with bad backs. I joke, but it allows us to go places that might be physically impossible or risky to go to, where we can be free to make statements that transcend boundaries and limitations” (1430).

In discussing their findings, Liao and Humphrey see AR as a kind of tactic, per De Certeau. As a review, De Certeau offers two types of spatial practices that shape the construction of place: strategic actions  are those that are used by the powerful to discipline space. Tactics “refer to the specific devices, actions and procedures in which people create meaning for and move through those spaces in subversive ways” (see De Certeau 1984, pg 37; 1423). Liao and Humphrey write that “mobile AR instead opens up new tactical possibilities for reproducing and reinterpreting places in three important ways. First, users can modify what representations of space they choose to see and what the space looks like to them (e.g. changing the front of a building, adding objects to the space) [see; Perelman]. Second, these augmented creations only come into existence when someone chooses to look for them, which allows for a wide range of public and private communications that are simultaneously temporal and personal. Third the content is embedded in and accessed in place. A person has to be there in order to experience the augmentation. Without each component: the AR object itself, the knowledge/motivation to access it, and being in the physical space, the message is ‘invisible.’ Finally, mobile AR is non-exclusive in that one augmentation does not exclude another from being in the same space” (1430).

The authors also found that there was a particular kind of overcoding occurring: AR was done over specific physical space: “developers consciously chose highly contested public areas or curated spaces” (1431). Also, users utilized physical artifacts within the space to tell particular kinds of stories that “historicized, made commentary, changed the meaning of, subverted, and reproduced narratives of that place” (1431; see: Arola & Arola). In other words, “these mobile AR projects were attempts to change the narration of existing places and cut across the boundaries and limits of the place” (1431).

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