Keeping it “Real”: Augmented Reality, “New” Media, and McLuhan’s Message.
In the “New Media and New Technologies” section of New Media: A Critical Introduction, a whirlwind coverage touches on the major thinkers and issues surrounding media analysis. Some of theorists discussed include Jean Baudrillard and Gilles Deleuze to Raymond Williams and the Frankfurt School to Donna Harraway and of course Marshall McLuhan. While there is considerable disagreement between these media philosophers, there seems to be an overall consensus that the arrival of digital media, in particular computer and Internet-based forms (Lister 18), has represented a significant cultural revolution. This shift away from modernity, and its associated ideas of nationalism, centralization, industrialization, and colonialism, has led us towards a form of post-modernism defined by globalization, decentralization, post-industrialization, and de-colonialism. Instead of embracing a modernist “essence,” digital culture celebrates fragmentation and ultimately subversion of essential assumptions.
While I accept that arrival and widespread acceptance of digital media has had a revolutionary impact on global society, I strongly agree with the notion that “new media arrives with history” (Lister 45) and that the historical antecedents must be taken into account in understanding the true long-term impact of digital media. In other words, this latest revolution is more of an evolution, a by-product of the constant technologic experimentation and cultural power struggles that have defined human history. The term “new media” itself, for example, is inherently short-sighted in that it implicitly forgets that all media was at one time new and will ultimately become old. All media are, at least initially, a purposeful combination of technology and culture in order to achieve some end before ultimately being challenged by a more novel form. According to McLuhan, the medium, through its interaction with both audience and producer, comes to influence both in a physical and environmental sense (Lister 83). As a result, the line between human and medium becomes blurred, and the constant mediation on the part of both, irrecoverably changes both through repeated exchanges.
I would add, however, that all media forms are ultimately dependent on human interaction in order to achieve relevance. While it is certainly possible for two computers to communicate within one another without any direct human involvement other than a historic programmer, such interaction only constitutes media when it either directly or indirectly impacts on a person embodied in the “real” world. In other words, all forms of media, even virtual realities, are ultimately rooted in a connection to the so-called real world, not only by their physical presence as an electrical signal on a microchip, but through their connection with a user. All virtual realities, and all media for that matter, are ultimately augmented realities.
Lister, Martin et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.