Should we augment reality?
A philosophical question: should we augment reality? What does “augmented reality” mean, and perhaps in which circumstances is augmented reality good or bad?
What is augmented reality?
First of all, let us address the question:
What is augmented reality?
In Latin, to augment means to increase.
So inherent in this concept of “augmented reality” is to increase reality, or perhaps “improve” reality.
Now this is tricky — I don’t think reality needs to be “improved”. But in practical terms, augmented reality does improve our everyday lives.
For example, when you use Google Maps, you’re using augmented reality. It certainly makes finding directions much easier. I wouldn’t give up Google Maps in my everyday living.
Already our reality is augmented with smartphones. We can instantly translate things with Google Translate, and even photography is augmented reality (we don’t see the world in black and white).
But perhaps the question I want to address is this:
Does reality need to be improved or increased?
The real world is good!
First of all, we are lucky enough that we don’t live in the dystopian world of “Ready player one” or “Matrix”. The real world (right now) is very nice! We got air, sunshine, green trees, and nice folks to interact with in real life.
But for some people, their reality sucks. They may be stuck in jobs they hate, and they escape to the virtual world after work (second life, video games, etc) to live a “better” life. Yet, the problem is this:
By trying to substitute your reality with a virtual world is like putting a band aid over a cancerous tumor.
First and foremost, we must always seek to improve our real-world reality. Even with friendship — the only true friends are the friends we have in the flesh “in real life” (IRL). If you had the option of eating a virtual meal in virtual reality with a friend, versus the option of having dinner with a friend at a nice local restaurant (in real life), of course you would choose the real life experience.
So when in doubt, choose reality.
The problem with augmented reality
This is the problem with augmented reality:
It infers that real reality is deficient and needs increasing.
And this is my concern:
When we become too dependent on augmented reality, that we no longer delight in “un-augmented reality”.
For example, it’s a problem when people cannot interact in real life without the assistance of a phone. It’s a problem when we don’t know how to drive to the local grocery store without Google Maps and GPS. It’s a problem when we no longer wonder or try to answer difficult questions (before deciding to Google it). I think augmented reality is stealing our ability to imagine, think, and use our faculty of critical judgement.
Be suspicious of technology
I love technology, yet I’m still wary about technology. I go through periods when I “fast” from technology, and I go through periods when I allow myself to be “jacked into the matrix”.
Ultimately, I think technology has given humanity a “net positive”. Writing is a technology which augments my ability to think. Recording videos augments our memory. Taking down notes also augments our memories when we need to remember important details.
Yet this is what I encourage you:
Be very critical and discerning when using technology. Leverage technology which empowers you, and disconnect technology which disempowers you.
Why I deleted my Instagram
One of the biggest reasons I deleted my Instagram was that it was re-wiring my brain in a way I didn’t like. When I was driving, I would be distracted and wonder: “What photo should I upload to Instagram today?”
I also hate having a phone in my front pocket, because I cannot concentrate. For example when having dinner with a friend or a loved one, and if I have a phone on the table or in my front pocket, I cannot fully focus on the conversation. I’m distracted.
No pills for me
If I were a kid in 2018, I would for sure be prescribed Ritalin. I am quite sure I would be pathologized as having “ADHD”. I have a difficult time focusing, therefore I have put in Herculean efforts into ruthlessly eliminating any (undesirable) sources of distraction from my personal life. For example, I got rid of my phone, and I almost never check email. I’m just too easily distracted.
Now, technology affects me uniquely. I’m very certain that technology doesn’t affects you the same way it affects me. What you must figure out is this:
“Which negative parts of technology should I prune from my life?”
Prune to grow
Any good gardener knows that we must prune the superfluous in order to grow. We must remove weeds, and parasites.
Unfortunately most of modern technology and media are just parasites. They drain us. For example, our vibrating phones and notifications are parasites which suck away our focus. Media hijacks your eyeballs and focus. Algorithms control much of our everyday behavior in negative ways, by “nudging” us to make certain decisions in life.
Prune whatever prevents your personal growth.
There are certain things which augment my strength in beneficial ways:
- Reading Seneca has augmented my courage. Reading philosophy (especially Stoic philosophy) increases our bravery, and increases our resilience in life.
- Music augments my energy levels: Listening to empowering hip hop augments my focus, energy levels, and hustle and drive. For example, I’ve listened to Kanye’s “Yeezus” album probably at least 100 when at the gym, and have hit many “personal records” in my deadlift to the song, “Black skinhead”.
- Computers have augmented my mind: Using the computer has augmented my intelligence — because I’ve been able to use the internet and Google in order to find information which has empowered me.
- The camera has augmented my artistic output: The camera is a great piece of technology which empowers us as artists. It allows us to create instant pictures, or visual art-sketches of the real world. I like drawing and sketching, but I still prefer using the camera as my paintbrush.
- Friends and family: They have augmented my ability to appreciate and love life!
As a simple conclusion, it is good to augment your reality. But be very critical on the use of technology.
Don’t be a slave to your phone, limit your use of algorithms, and never forget — real reality is always the best.