What is (Augmented and Immersive) Digital Media?

What is (Augmented and Immersive) Digital Media?

Photo used with permission from The Impossible Studio.

This is a guest post from Master of Digital Media Program Director Richard Smith.

A while back I wrote a blog post titled What is Digital Media? Judging by the traffic to the article, a lot of people have the same question. I recently re-read that post and decided I wouldn’t change a thing. I do think that it could do with some addition, however.

As we move solidly into the 21st century, and old analog media is becoming either a distant memory or merely a final analog artifact at the end of a completely digital production chain (you don’t think radio reporters are actually using tape recorders any more or film editing is done with a splicer, right?), we might ask ourselves again what is special about digital media.

In the previous post I pointed to two features—interactivity and the ability to form groups—that distinguished digital from older media forms. There are another couple that are starting to have a growing impact on our lives and promise to become even more prominent in the future: augmentation and immersion. In this post I will talk about the first one: augmented reality.

Augmented reality is the addition of a layer on the existing world, without totally taking you out of that space. Quite often it adds additional information, or highlights something that is already there, but needs to be accentuated."

Augmented reality is the addition of a layer on the existing world, without totally taking you out of that space. Quite often it adds additional information, or highlights something that is already there, but needs to be accentuated. These enhancements are done in a variety of ways but two common ones are in car mirrors and mobile phones.

In a car, an augmented mirror (or dashboard) will warn you—based on a camera or proximity sensor on the side or rear of the car—about the presence of another vehicle in your blind spot in the lane beside you. A light or symbol illuminates in your side mirror or your dashboard. 

On a mobile phone, augmented reality can be found in a great number of applications, but a simple and useful one is the Measure app built into recent versions of iOS for iPhones. You can quickly get the dimensions of just about anything you can take a picture of. Here is a screen capture of me measuring my trackpad:

These augmentations can get much more elaborate and detailed. Already people are using this every day to receive Yelp! reviews just by pointing their phone at the front of a restaurant.

The "heads up display" approach—common in modern military aircraft—is coming to cars and (eventually) eyeglasses, warning us of dangers or providing additional information to objects around us.

And augmentations are not limited to the realm of the visual—your hearing can be augmented as well. The most popular form of this is the sound-reducing headphones often used by those who seek a little quiet on the plane. Bose has just released a set of sunglasses that include audio augmentation (additions, not subtractions) as a core feature.

The idea that augmentations include the ability to block out or otherwise remove/replace visual or audio features of our life could become very popular in our very busy world. Eventually, we may come to see these additions and subtractions as commonplace and as normal as an ad-blocker is on your web browser.

In a future post I will discuss the next frontier for digital media: immersion through virtual reality.

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