Where Am I? – Mapping, Augmented and Virtual Reality

Loyola Campus on Google Maps

Loyola Campus on Google Maps

This week’s focus was on mapping – a vital process in attempting to understand one’s location in space through a representational medium. Ever since the dawn of man, the human race has been trying to situate itself and understand its surroundings. Mapping is never a finished process; despite having fully illustrated the Earth, the land around us is always changing – and furthermore, there are infinite amounts of ways to understand the spaces we inhabit. In Mobile Interface Theory’s second chapter, “Mapping and Representations of Space”, Jason Farman explores how mobile technology has provided the foundation for a whole new contextually meaningful set of mapping practices.

Oculus Rift - Virtual Headset

Oculus Rift – Virtual Headset

Farman argues that mobile technology (i.e. GPS navigation using Google Maps on a smartphone) has a significant affect on the way we embody and conceive of a space. It’s also noted that this relationship between the virtual representation of reality and its literal counterpart are becoming so seamlessly integrated; so much so, that if a perfect representation exists, physical reality begins to lose meaning. Thus, Farman is in accordance with John Rajchman in stating that virtual reality shouldn’t aim to perfectly imitate reality but to cooperate and create a dialogue with it; this ultimately leads us to the notion of “augmented reality”.

In contrast with virtual representations of space, augmented reality will act as an additive element to material space that interacts and influences our embodied experience. Jason Farman identifies the importance of such augmented realities and their significance in our perception of physical space, largely because media has become increasingly mobile. Through the cell phone, we can now collect information on our environment that contributes to our experience.

Streetmuseum APP

Streetmuseum APP

Google maps is an obvious example used by the author to understand the difference in the experience of space through cell phones in contrast with paper maps. As users of the Google maps application, we are able to contribute to the visual representation of the space we use to help us navigate. We can filter our searches, view traffic predictions and choose a mode of transportation or a route option. As such, the overhead map made available to us through smartphones acts an augmented space from which we are disembodied from, in contrast with virtual nature of the street view. Another example is the app, “Streetmuseum” which lets its users point their phones at different landmarks and discover relevant historical information.

It is predicted that by 2018, virtual reality systems will be found in more than 80 millions dwellings (Dugal, par. 2). Virtual reality, as the name suggests, is a new technology that will allow us to travel and experience new sceneries, in the comfort of our home. It is an encounter with new spaces, as if we were truly there. Contrarily to augmented reality, virtual reality evokes a simulated world. Although the space depicted may be real, it does not take place in real time. The idea of “presence” is very important to this type of reality, as the spectator actually feels part of the environment, feels involved with it.


Second Life Application

In recent years, numerous technological companies jumped on the bandwagon, hoping to make virtual reality THE biggest innovation of the 21st century. The particularity of virtual reality is the combination of senses, mostly sight and hearing, helping to make the experience even more credible. Most of all, this marvelousness proves how easily our brain can be fooled, and how the human is prolific when it comes to imagining the world differently.

Questions to Consider

1. Might you consider being restricted rather than empowered by augmented reality tools such as google maps?

2. Farman mentions Umberto Eco’s argument, stating that, “once there is a 1:1 relationship between the representation and the thing it represents (such as a map that is the exact size of the space it represents), the former will destroy the later. They are unable to coexist.” Do you believe this to be true?

3. Do you believe applications such as Second Life to be harmful?


Dugal, Matthieu. “Voyager dans le creux de votre sofa.” La Presse + 16 Nov. 2014, Screen 2. Web. 25 Jan. 2015.

Thanks for reading,

Béatrice Viens Côté, Matthew Dessner, Joelle Cytrynbaum


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