Secret information has been revealed to me, people. Twice a day, the king of time appears – via Buzzfeed.
We know where the jobs are now… but where will they be ten years from now? Twenty? Some job descriptions will always be in need, but many others are evolving to fit the ever-changing course of technology and science. When the future of employment comes, will you be ready? Read on for some ideas of what to expect:
New technology is doing amazing things for medical patients these days, especially in the world of robotics. We aren’t quite at a Six-Million Dollar Man level yet – but we’re getting awfully close. From physical therapy exoskeletons to new and improved forms of prosthetic attachments, science-minded individuals will be needed to help develop medical technology that is better, stronger, and faster than it ever was before.
As genetics continues to be fine-tuned, doctors will be able to run tests to predict all manner of markers and conditions. Genetic counselors have the job of helping families make decisions about their future children in regards to available genetic technologies. At the present, according to MSNBC, “about 2,000 counselors are recognized by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.” As technology improves and becomes more widespread, expect the need for counselors to grow right along with it.
The atmosphere isn’t what it used to be. Between congested highways, the pollutants of industry, and just plain old stress doing a number on our bodies, respiratory problems like asthma are rapidly on the rise. Under these conditions, it comes as no surprise that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is reporting an extremely good job outlook for respiratory therapists. Practitioners and technicians from varying levels of training will be needed increasingly to help future generations breathe well against all odds.
Whenever new terrain is charted, maps must be drafted to document and understand the new discoveries. Not only is this true in geography, but in biology as well. As genomic and molecular research continues to intensify over the years, the science community will need plenty of young bioinformatics majors to map, analyze, create 3-D models of and compare DNA and protein structures – hopefully resulting in better understanding and treatment of genetics in the future.
5.Stem Cell Researcher
Stem cell research has been a controversial topic since the day it started gaining plausible ground, entrenched in a war of progress and ethics. Still, science finds a way. Already, researchers may have found an alternative to embryonic stem cells that may put the ethical battle to rest. If this is the case, more researchers than ever will be needed to develop cures for diseases, genetic enhancements, and whatever other secrets these cells may hold.
6.Custom Implant Organ Designer
It wasn’t so long ago when organ transplants were the stuff of science-fiction novels. Now human ears are growing on mice for science, mouse brain cells are growing within robots for art, and the next wave of scientists are using gel-suspended cell cultures to draw custom-made organs for implants from scratch. When it comes to biomedical engineering, the sky is the limit, and young ingenious scientists are needed all the time to keep on searching for the next big breakthrough.
City populations only get more and more crowded as time goes on, and stresses will only increase as towering office jobs become more prevalent and intense. But you have the power not only to do something about it, but to get paid doing it. As the economy levels out and city life stresses become more compact, look for the already booming massage therapy industry to go through the roof.
As necessary as nurses are, it may stand to reason that we will never run out of nurses…but actually, that is exactly what is happening. According to the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN), our country is “in the midst of a nursing shortage that is expected to intensify as baby boomers age and the need for health care grows.” Nurses will only be more in demand as time goes on, and it’s a profession that will never go out of style.
9.Home Health Care Aide
An entire generation is getting older, and it’s a big one. As the Baby Boomers start to collectively reach senior citizenship, home health care aids will be in hot demand to help elderly folks continue to live at home with dignity, assisting with chores and care and providing valuable company.
Another classic. Just as the rising collective age of Americans is leading to a need for more health care workers, the same thing is also leading to a need for more prescription drugs and those who know how to prescribe them. In addition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a growing number of pharmacies are starting to offer on-site diagnoses and patient care, stretching the amount of skilled and well-trained pharmacists needed. The demand for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians is expected to rise by over 30% in the next decade.
11.Medical Records Administrator
What’s so high tech and futuristic about a medical records administration career? As a matter of fact: everything. The world of information is rapidly changing, and medical records are at the forefront with a huge push toward going digital. Once doomed to navigate halls of bulging paper files, the medical records administrators of the future will need to be tech-savvy and quick on the draw with digital databases, in a field where fast information recall can mean the difference between life and death.
The United States is dealing with an obesity epidemic of epic proportions – it affects 32% of adults over 20, and leads to complications that add up to $147 billion a year in health care expenditure. Something has to be done, and a healthy diet is a great start. In addition to a growing need for nutritionists and dieticians to help combat obesity, there will be an increased need for nutritionists who can work with elderly patients on adjusting their diets to improve health in the face of age-linked conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Not so futuristic in theory, but certainly a perennial. No matter how far into the foreseeable future, we will always need our teeth – and we only get one natural set, so it pays to treat them well. Unfortunately, the dental profession is seeing a shortage as populations grow while the average age of dentists rises, with many dentists retiring faster than they can be replaced. That’s good news for new crops of prospective dentists, who will find themselves highly in demand.
SCIENCE and ENGINEERING
14.Space Tour Guide
When the time comes for space travel, tourism will be there at the forefront, giving the wealthy and the curious a taste of the exotic. But who will narrate the tours and bring the majestic vistas of outer space to life? You, if you become a space tour guide. It’s not as far off as some might think – multimedia mogul Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space tourism venture is already garnering some serious financial backing – so anyone interested would do well to start brushing up on their public speaking skills.
From precision factory work to precision surgery, a robot’s place in society is growing every day. Of course, skilled workers are needed to tend to robots: to build them, maintain them, and keep them running smoothly. Well-versed in both sturdy classic machinery and cutting-edge technology, technicians of the future will play an important part in greasing the gears that keep the world turning.
True, science is expanding – moving ever outward with space probes and grand robotic and architectural creations – but it is contracting just as surely. Nanotechnology is the study of matter on a molecular scale: manipulating individual atoms, building structures by the nanometer. It’s a fairly new practice where sciences are concerned, due mostly to it previously being physically impossible, but scientists predict it to have possible applications ranging widely from medicine to electronics and even new forms of energy production.
Advanced 3D technology is improving everyday (already movies are a far cry from the headache-inducing red/blue lenses of yesteryear), and it shouldn’t take long for holographic and other simulation-based technologies to follow suit. According to UCSD’s Jacobs School of Engineering dean Frieder Seible, in an interview with MSNBC, “simulation will be in every industry and every engineering field.” The age of full-size interactive holodecks is coming, and Physics and Comp-Sci whizzes will be at the helm of it all.
18.Energy Resources Engineer
Where does our energy come from? Mostly from electricity and oil, but perhaps not for long. As global concern over environmental issues grows, a race is on to create new major sources of energy. New engineers with fresh outlooks are greatly needed to help develop more effective wind turbines, more compact solar panels, safer atomic fission, and the next big thing in energy production.
While MIR and our probes are impressive, our country’s space program has by and large stalled for quite some time. Where will you be when it starts up again? It’s only a matter of time before thoughts turn once again toward exploring the great frontier of space, trekking to new planets and seeking out new life and civilizations – and with the right engineering degree, you could be the one to design the craft that makes it all possible.
20.Biorefinery Plant Manager
A huge talking point of the last presidential election was the potential of biofuels as a valid replacement for our finite sources of petroleum. From corn-based to grain-based ethanol, biomass technology has become a formidable opponent to our current fuel situation. If efforts continue at their current pace, it won’t be too much longer before biorefinery plants are cropping up with the frequency of oil rigs, all of them needing plant workers to make sure the crops flow smoothly on their journey to powering the nation.
No man is an island, and that includes scientists: behind every good scientist is a crackerjack team that gets the job done. A laboratory technician takes care of everyday tasks like testing, sampling, measuring, recording data, and generally ensuring that experiments in progress are running smoothly. With so much focus on science and technology in industry, the job outlook for taskmaster lab technicians is quite promising.
In just a few short years, rising oil costs and economic downturns have led most of the world to shun former single-serving social status titans like the Hummer and the Segway, while falling head over heels in love with the Prius and the light rail. The face of transportation is changing, and engineers are needed to help design newer, cleaner, and more efficient ways of moving people.
23.Seed Production Technician
Changing technology changes all factions of our lives, and even agriculture is getting a different look these days. With the rise of factory farms, jobs are becoming increasingly parsed out by specialty. Large corporations like Monsanto are consistently looking for skilled workers in fields like seed production, to distribute and produce the crops that keep the country running.
Robots, rocket ships, computers, prostheses and enhancements: all of these are new or evolving technologies, and none of them are exactly simple and self-explanatory. Someone needs to be there to write the manuals for these products, and that person could be you.
The best part about emerging technology is that it never goes out of style. Whether your interest is chemistry, biology, physics, or engineering, scientists of all disciplines are always needed to think, hypothesize, develop, and create. They are needed by private corporations and government agencies alike, to build better weapons for the army and better toys for the holiday store shelves. Inventors are necessary to progress, and will be needed for as long as progress of civilization is an option.
26.Organic Food Producer
While it’s always been popular with the eco-conscious, now organic food is more popular than ever before. Taking up nearly 10% of the food and beverage market, a tenfold increase from a decade prior, so many people are clamoring for the “organic” label that it’s on the verge of going mainstream. When the scales do finally tip in organic food’s favor (an event that no doubt will be happening some time in the next ten years), more farmers, producers, and scientists will be needed than ever before to improve organic farming techniques and just simply grow the food that the population is demanding.
Sustainability has become a real concern among businesses, but it can be hard for busy execs to find the time to learn all the ropes. Instead, many companies have started hiring on eco-savvy individuals as “sustainability officers.” It’s a new title, and it entails finding, researching, and implementing eco-friendly policies that are of the most benefit to the company at hand. Green Tech Media describes it as a little like IT Techs in the 1980s, helping older businessmen navigate a strange new world – once technology, now sustainability.
28.Waste Management Consultant
Waste is a problem on our planet, and someone has to deal with the overflowing landfills. Consultants will be needed, with backgrounds in biology and chemistry, to bring new ideas to the table on how to break down and eliminate the tons of refuse currently clogging waterways and stretches of land. In addition, scientists are needed more than ever to come up with improved ways of dealing with e-waste, which is becoming a bigger problem with every passing year.
What’s in your dinner? In the near future, that answer may get a lot more technical. Food science is huge: in genetics, vegetables are being modified for more pest-resistant corn and frost-resistant tomatoes spliced with fish genes. In agriculture, farmers are looking for better ways to grow food more organically on a local scale. Meanwhile, in chemistry, scientists are trying to build more effective supplements to make us stronger and healthier on less. No matter what your scientific interest, there’s a way to incorporate our most important fuel of the day.
30.LEED Certified Architect
These days, even constructing houses is a delicate science. People tend to want the best for their new homes, and increasingly this means paying special attention to environmental awareness concerns. For new up-and-coming architects, the smartest career move available is to invest time and study into LEED certification, giving you the training to draft buildings that are ecologically state-of-the-art. Your clients will thank you, and the Earth will thank you more.
31.Renewable Energy Technician
Many electricians these days are still working within the same tired old paradigm of energy resources – but we’re approaching a new age of energy, and the industry will soon require a heavy influx of fresh new faces that reflect that. In the past, industry standards dictated your career to consist mostly of repairing your standard air conditioners, radiators, and electric lines. Soon, however, these tasks will be upgraded to installing and troubleshooting solar panels and integrated home climate control centers as everyday consumers continue to embrace a new world of energy in all its sources.
Water is one of our most vital resources, and hydrologists study both the form and function of water: its distribution, its physical properties, and patterns of circulation and rainfall. In recent years though, both private and government sectors are recruiting the talents of hydrologists for other purposes, namely conservation. With their reservoir of knowledge, hydrologists can help to predict drought zones, analyze quality of newly discovered water sources, and judge how safe construction projects are for surrounding bodies of water – all functions that make the skills of a well-trained hydrologist as desirable as water itself.
33.Sustainable Urban Planner
Individually, engineers and architects are all working on building cleaner and greener homes, offices, and vehicles. What about someone, however, who ties all of those individual pockets together into a cohesive city structure? Sustainable urban planners work hard to solve current spatial problems like urban sprawl and excess pollution with innovative ideas, or even build separate communities known as “eco-villages.” Who will construct the best solution since vertical farming? It could be you.
The work of a geophysicist is in the study of the earth. Earthquakes, atmosphere, the shifting of the continents – these are all within a geophysicist’s realm of study. While some find work as professors, most are employed elsewhere. Some geophysicists work for government agencies, working with architects and predicting earthquake zones. Others work for mining, oil, and gas companies, charting magnetic forces and the probability of natural resources from location to location, making them a powerful asset in the corporate world.
35.Ecotourism Travel Guide
Preferred modes of vacation vary from person to person, and there is a new trend emerging in the travel world: ecotourism. Defined by the International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people,” the main emphasis is on building awareness, fostering cultural sensitivity, and minimizing impact on the destinations visited. Thus far ecotourism has collected a niche following, but with our country’s recent enthusiasm over going green, it’s an industry poised for mainstream popularity.
36.Wind Turbine Technician
If solar power is the weathered veteran of the alternative energy trade, then wind turbines are the bright young upstart. As natural as the sun and just as plentiful, wind power is being hailed as one of the best new energy forms. At the moment, production is rocky due to the economy, but once funding picks up in the near future, wind is predicted to be one of the fastest growing industries in the green energy sector.
37.Cyber Security Specialist
Back in the 1990s, hackers were demonized as the reckless pirate scourge of the internet. Who would have thought that, a short time later, their dexterous computer skills could be put to good use? Cyber security is a swiftly growing industry, and few reveal site weaknesses and better than those who know a thing or two about exploiting them. Interested in turning your cyber whiz skills into a real profession? With a degree and ambition, it’s possible.
38.Media Search Consultant
The internet is major in business these days, and being seen is everything. Nothing says “you’ve made it!” like showing up on the first page of a Google search, and media search consultants can make that happen. Armed with search engine knowledge, a good media search consultant finds clever keywords and the right ways to drive up traffic and take your website to the top (of search engine ranking)!
Every year we are finding new ways to exchange and process data. We are conducting more business from the screen of a mobile phone than we ever could have thought possible ten years ago. It’s all thanks to data technologists, who are constantly designing and developing new technology from ever smaller processing chips to innovative operating systems to finding the next big thing. If we’re conducting business from the display of a cell phone today, who knows where we’ll be in another ten years?
Pretty soon your PC won’t be the only interactive digital element of your home. It’s probably already started with your television, but more scientists are needed to work on ways to streamline the home experience. From integrated entertainment elements to simpler multifunction pads to adjust climate control devices, part of the challenge is to devise ways to make new interface elements attractive and user-friendly.
41.Distance Education Consultant
The future of college is online. There has been a boom in the distance learning sector over the past few years, as people struggle to balance getting a college education with holding down a day job to support themselves or a family in this economy. It’s a fairly new teaching model, however, and improvements are needed. In turn, more distance education consultants will be needed to develop new techniques and use innovation to solve any and all current problems within the structure of distance learning.
42.Site Acceleration Engineer
The internet is faster than it’s ever been before… but that doesn’t mean it can’t be faster still. The more people get online and the more data is transferred on a daily basis, the more innovation is needed to transfer that data faster and more efficiently. Computer science majors with an interest in the inner workings of the World Wide Web could find a rewarding career advancing the technology of the hypertext transfer protocol.
43.Computer Forensics Analyst
Crime takes many forms, and evidence is left everywhere if you know where to look. Sometimes evidence is locked away within computers, and that’s when computer forensics analysts are called in. In our generation and those to follow, computers and other data devices are found in nearly every household, making computer forensics a hot career commodity. With a solid education in computer science and a clever analytic mind, you can spearhead the next trend in CSI.
44.Quality Assurance Engineer
As new technology evolves, someone has to be on the frontline to observe, test, and suggest corrections for every prototype that emerges. These brave soldiers are known as QA Engineers, and the need for more sharp, analytical, computer-savvy minds will be huge as digital applications, devices, and components continue to stock our shelves at an exponential rate.
45.Cloud Computing Engineer
Look up “cloud computing” on Wikipedia and, faced with a 20 page thesis comprehensible only to comp-sci graduate students, you may assume it has nothing to do with you. Quite the contrary. Facebook, WordPress, Flickr, Gmail: wherever you can store data and access it from any internet port, cloud computing is to be thanked. Savvy engineers are needed to brainstorm ways to streamline processes, cut costs, and enhance usability.
46.Internet Crack Team Volunteer
The internet is near limitless, but it is also fragile. Its integrity rests on the back of an elite group of programmers with the skills and the know-how to find errors, navigate the tenuous web of the internet, and restore service to damaged sectors. So far this job is selfless and volunteer only, but as the world becomes more dependent on internet service, it stands to reason that a few will find careers for themselves by doing what they’ve so thus far done for free.
47.Integrated Digital Media Specialist
Once, media outlets mostly worked independently: newspapers, film reels, glossy magazines were all completely separate entities. Thanks to the advent of the internet, however, media forms are starting to conglomerate. The journalist of the future must know how to harness the power of multimedia, working with photography, video, sound and written word to create a well-rounded picture of events that will stimulate the average media-saturated mind.
48.Casual Game Developer
PC and console video games have always been a mainstay of the gaming industry, but that industry is changing. With the advent of the internet and mobile applications, casual games have captured the hearts of people who might not otherwise be into gaming but appreciate those mini-distractions throughout the day. Advertisers have taken notice as well – high click rates for game-associated ads have made casual web-based gaming a rewarding pursuit for developers on various levels.
49.Mobile Application Developer
Progress in mobile technology has been swift and immense – it wasn’t so long ago that cell phones resembled bricks and car phones were a sign of wealth. Now, mobile phone use has spread throughout the ranks and technology has seriously blurred the line between phone, PDA, and personal computer. The mobile media industry is continuing to rise in revenue, and as technology continues to become more sophisticated, more developers will be needed to ensure its upward climb.
The world can be a scary place, but intelligence analysts help the general public to sleep a little more soundly at night. Usually working for the military – but sometimes for private interests – intelligence analysts examine information compiled from different intelligence operatives (think James Bond types), make sense of that information, and plot the next move of terrorists and villains before they make them. In the world’s political climate, intelligence analysts are always in need to save the day one encrypted file at a time.
Unfortunately, as the earth’s population continues to multiply, one of the side effects is that the prison systems start to overfill. In addition, new “tough on crime” legislations are demanding longer prison sentences and tighter control on inmates. Thanks to these circumstances, The Bureau of Labor Services is projecting growth for corrections officers in the near future, in both the public and private sectors.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act was introduced in 2002, to better regulate financial practices within the corporate sector. Observance of the act is not a choice: all businesses, no matter how large or small, are required to comply. It isn’t always simple, however, which is why many companies are hiring Sarbanes-Oxley specialists to work with their auditors to design business plans that both benefit the company and fall within the walls of compliance with the act. A fairly new profession, it seems poised to become a booming career choice for anyone with a mind for business and accounting.
Nothing can be said to be certain in life, except for death and taxes. Tax examiners have been around since practically the dawn of civilization, but as long as people are doing their taxes, tax examiners will be needed to check over those taxes and make sure that every credit, exemption, and addition is perfectly kosher.
54.Regulatory Compliance Officer
Are you a stickler for regulations? If you’re interested in a career as a regulatory compliance officer, it could really get you somewhere. Regulatory compliance officers work with corporate and administrative staff, ensuring that procedures at companies fall within acceptable boundaries for federal and state regulations. Just like tax officers, as long as we have a functioning government there will always be a need for compliance officers to keep things in order.
55.Small Business Owner
This one is really quite simple: there has never been a better time than right now to be a small business owner. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to get your products to the public without a third party or the massive pull of corporate backing. If you have the ideas and the gumption (and a business degree for the know-how can’t hurt), then you have a mighty good chance of making your business plan work.
In a future world full of technology and cold metal science, few skilled tradesmen will be in higher demand than welders. Whether fitting together pieces for a factory machine, or repairing vital oil pipelines under the ocean, corporations need welders now and will only need them more in the future. In case the job security doesn’t sound convincing enough, according to Popular Mechanics most welders leave trade school making $17-20 per hour.
Quite simply, a growing population demands a growing number of jobs, and the job-hunting climate in our country isn’t always the kindest. Regardless of our economy’s fluctuations, ever larger masses of people will be flocking to employment agencies to help them find suitable careers in a time when “suitable careers” are far from a free-flowing commodity.
Entrenched in both finance and technology, the financial engineer is a unique animal. Financial engineers are well-versed in finance and mathematics, money and technology, and the relationships between them. Unlike risk-taking stock market cowboys, financial engineers
59.Quantitative Finance Analyst
Also known affectionately as “quants,” quantitative finance analysts are the numerical wizards of the finance world. Rather than gamble stocks and bonds based on trends and feelings, quants employ mathematical concepts, patterns, and even calculus to better understand investments and offer quality solutions for investors. If this line of work interests you, rethink that economics major: most quants hold degrees in physics and mathematics.
60.Virtual Services Worker
The internet has changed everything, from the way we communicate to the way we handle daily transactions. Role playing wonderlands like Second Life may have started out purely recreational, but forward thinking captains of industry have established nightclubs, shops, and even online colleges within its cyber-walls. Of course, someone has to keep those establishments running. As more people venture into virtual reality otherworlds, more people will be needed to conduct sales and offer a friendly personal voice, without ever leaving home.
So that’s it, my series is over. All that’s left to do now is credit the academic sources that influenced and aided in the construction of my argument. Thanks to everyone below, and thanks to you, dear reader, for coming along for the ride.
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AR technology grants virtual objects presence in physicality. This is a concept ripe with potential for academic study. Baudrillardian thought states that we would seek to assign these objects similar values to other, real world objects. The School of Economy offers the truth that scarcity creates value. Our physical, tangible world is finite, but The Virtual is infinite. Now, any object in space denies the opportunity for another object to exist there, however we know this not to be true in an Augmented Reality. I proffer that virtual objects taking up space in a finite world hold economic value, but Benjamin might argue against this view.
In his piece The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1968) which was written in the thirties, Walter Benjamin argues that film and other ‘reproductive’ media diminished or destroyed the aura that had belonged to earlier art. As Bolter et al. (2006: 24) put it, “Aura belongs to works of art that are unique, as most art was before technologies of mechanical reproduction. Aura is the sense of the ‘here and now’ that each such work possesses because of its history of production and transmission. This uniqueness lends to each painting or sculpture a special quality, which can in turn evoke an attitude of reverence on the part of the viewer”. Benjamin (1968: 222-223) said that:
“We define the aura as the unique phenomenon of a distance, however close it may be. If, while resting on a summer afternoon, you follow with your eyes a mountain range on the horizon or a branch which casts its shadow over you, you experience the aura of those mountains, of that branch.”
Benjamin (1968: 222-223)
In this we see that Benjamin equates Aura with immediacy and the uniqueness of the moment of an artefact’s viewing. Since each moment is unique for each of us, it is economically valuable, auratic even. The information age of perfect digital reproduction does not detract from the personal uniqueness of experiential reality, only diminishes the aura offered by certain mass-produced elements within it. In Benjamin’s time, art was sanctified and extremely auratic. Now, most view classical art as a digital copy or encyclopaedia reference, which embodies little of the aura of the original piece. Travelling to the Louvre offers only the added auratic experience not gained from a home computer, where one’s experience is more like anybody else’s experience of the subject, but visitors must get very close to a works in order to experience what Aura remains there.
Benjamin might say that in a world of perfect digital reproduction, virtual objects can have no Aura. The Magic Lens is not spiritually void, however, and my Reality 2.0 is not a stagnant place. It buzzes with an aura of its own, borne from the uniqueness of each interaction, live and in context. A virtual object can be duplicated infinitely, but its location in space and the immediacy of its presence in that moment that helps shape its unique meaning for every AR denizen. Physicality offers the backdrop to the unique experiences offered by virtuality, indeed, experiential reality is improved through the wider opportunity for unique moments.
Returning to the economics of virtual space, virtual objects cannot hold currency in and of themselves, but the context surrounding them has value. Advertisers could exploit this if they act fast in commercialising AR space. More interesting to me is the potential for unique virtual art objects and sculptures that could hold purely aesthetic value. In this case, interested parties would seek out the object and view its intricacies and movements in the space it was designed to fill. There is much room for spatial enquiry in this field, some of which I will come onto in my next section.
I begin with McLuhan, whose Laws of Media or Tetrad offers greater insights for Mobile AR, sustaining and developing upon the arguments developed in my assessment of the interlinking technologies that meet in Mobile AR, whilst also providing the basis to address some of this man’s deeper thoughts.
The tetrad can be considered an observation lens to turn upon one’s subject technology. It assumes four processes take place during each iteration of a given medium. These processes are revealed as answers to these following questions, taken from Levinson (1999):
“What aspect of society or human life does it enhance or amplify? What aspect, in favour or high prominence before the arrival of the medium in question, does it eclipse or obsolesce? What does the medium retrieve or pull back into centre stage from the shadows of obsolescence? And what does the medium reverse or flip into when it has run its course or been developed to its fullest potential?”
(Digital Mcluhan 1999: 189).
To ask each of these it is useful to transfigure our concept of Mobile AR into a more workable and fluid term: the Magic Lens, a common expression in mixed reality research. Making this change allows the exploration of the more theoretical aspects of the technology free of its machinic nature, whilst integrating a necessary element of metaphor that will serve to illustrate my points.
To begin, what does the Magic Lens amplify? AR requires the recognition of a pre-programmed real-world image in order to augment the environment correctly. It is the user who locates this target, it is important to mention. It could be said that the Magic Lens more magnifies than amplifies an aspect of the user’s environment, because like other optical tools the user must point the device towards it and look through, the difference with this Magic Lens is that one aspect of its target, one potential meaning, is privileged over all others. An arbitrary black and white marker holds the potential to mean many things to many people, but viewed through an amplifying Magic Lens it means only what the program recognises and consequently superimposes.
This superimposition necessarily obscures what lies beneath. McLuhan might recognise this as an example of obsolescence. The Magic Lens privileges virtual over real imagery, and the act of augmentation leaves physical space somewhat redundant: augmenting one’s space makes it more virtual than real. The AR target undergoes amplification, becoming the necessary foundation of the augmented reality. What is obsolesced by the Magic Lens, then, is not the target which it obscures, but everything except the target.
I am reminded of McLuhan’s Extensions of Man (1962: 13), which offers the view that in extending ourselves through our tools, we auto-amputate the aspect we seek to extend. There is a striking parallel to be drawn with amplification and obsolescence, which becomes clear when we consider that in amplifying an aspect of physical reality through a tool, we are extending sight, sound and voice through the Magic Lens to communicate in wholly new ways using The Virtual as a conduit. This act obsolesces physical reality, the nullification effectively auto-amputating the user from their footing in The Real. So where have they ‘travelled’? The Magic Lens is a window into another reality, a mixed reality where real and virtual share space. In this age of Mixed Realities, the tetrad can reveal more than previously intended: new dimensions of human interaction.
The third question in the tetrad asks what the Magic Lens retrieves that was once lost. So much new ground is gained by this technology that it would be difficult to make a claim. However, I would not hold belief in Mobile AR’s success if I didn’t recognise the exhumed, as well as the novel benefits that it offers. The Magic Lens retrieves the everyday tactility and physicality of information engagement, that which was obsolesced by other screen media such as television, the Desktop PC and the games console. The Magic Lens encourages users to interact in physicality, not virtuality. The act of actually walking somewhere to find something out, or going to see someone to play with them is retrieved. Moreover, we retrieve the sense of control over our media input that was lost by these same technologies. Information is freed into the physical world, transfiguring its meaning and offering a greater degree of manipulative power. Mixed Reality can be seen only through the one-way-glass of the Magic Lens, The Virtual cannot spill through unless we allow it to. We have seen that certain mainstream media can wholly fold themselves into reality and become an annoyance- think Internet pop-ups and mobile ringtones- through the Magic Lens we retrieve personal agency to navigate our own experience. I earlier noted that “the closer we can bring artefacts from The Virtual to The Real, the more applicable these can be in our everyday lives”; a position that resonates with my growing argument that engaging with digital information through the Magic Lens is an appropriate way to integrate and indeed exploit The Virtual as a platform for the provision of communication, leisure and information applications.
It is hard to approximate what the Magic Lens might flip into, since at this point AR is a wave that has not yet crested. I might suggest that since the medium is constrained to success in its mobile device form, its trajectory is likely entwined with that medium. So, the Magic Lens flips into whatever the mobile multimedia computer flips into. Another possibility is that the Magic Lens inspires such commercial success and industrial investment that a surge in demand for Wearable Computers shifts AR into a new form. This time, the user cannot dip in and out of Mixed Reality as they see fit, they are immersed in it whenever they wear their visor. This has connotations all of its own, but I will not expound my own views given that much cultural change must first occur to implement such a drastic shift in consumer fashions and demands. A third way for the Magic Lens to ‘flip’ might be its wider application in other media. Developments in digital ink technologies; printable folding screens; ‘cloud’ computing; interactive projector displays; multi-input touch screen devices; automotive glassware and electronic product packaging could all take advantage of the AR treatment. We could end up living far more closely with The Virtual than previously possible.
In their work The Global Village, McLuhan and Powers (1989) state that:
“The tetrad performs the function of myth in that it compresses past, present, and future into one through the power of simultaneity. The tetrad illuminates the borderline between acoustic and visual space as an arena of the spiralling repetition and replay, both of input and feedback, interlace and interface in the area of imploded circle of rebirth and metamorphosis”
(The Global Village 1989: 9)
I would be interested to hear their view on the unique “simultaneity” offered by the Magic Lens, or indeed the “metamorphosis” it would inspire, but I would argue that when applied from a Mixed Reality inter-media perspective, their outlook seems constrained to the stringent and self-involved rules of their own epistemology. Though he would be loath to admit it, Baudrillard took on McLuhan’s work as the basis of his own (Genosko, 1999; Kellner, date unknown), and made it relevant to the postmodern era. His work is cited by many academics seeking to forge a relationship to Virtual Reality in their research…