Augmenting Reality: The Markers, Memories, and Meanings Behind Today’s AR

“Augmenting Reality: The Markers, Memories, and Meanings Behind Today’s AR”
By William Urricchio
Leonardo Electronic Almanac
Volume 22, Number 4

Humans have long ‘marked’ the world, cities included, augmenting their surroundings with traces of their experience. They have learned to read the signs inscribed on the world’s surface, whether in search of prey or precedent. And they have sorted out how to give those marks coherence, whether as narrative or insight. Publically deployed, discovery-based, or even personal, augmentation’s inherently dialogic character requires reality for its work. This essay considers today’s AR technologies in terms of these more deeply embedded practices of augmentation, particularly as they play out as interfaces in urban places. It explores underlying continuities between earlier augmentation practices and our own, suggests strategies that can usefully inform our deployment of AR technologies, and points to semiotic reciprocities that can help AR move from the gadget du jour to an ally in a profoundly human conversation.

Read the full piece at the Leonardo Electronic Almanac.

About William Uricchio

William Uricchio revisits the histories of old media when they were new; explores interactive and participatory documentary; writes about the past and future of television; thinks about algorithms and archives; and researches narrative in immersive and interactive settings. He is Professor of Comparative Media Studies, founder and Principal Investigator of the MIT Open Documentary Lab, and Principal Investigator of the Co-Creation Studio. He was also Professor of Comparative Media History at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and has held visiting professorships at the Freie Universität Berlin, Stockholm University, the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen (Lichtenberg-Kolleg), China University of Science and Technology, and in Denmark where he was DREAM professor. He has received Guggenheim, Humboldt, and Fulbright fellowships, the Berlin Prize, and the Mercator Prize. His publications include Reframing Culture; We Europeans? Media, Representations, Identities; Die Anfänge des deutschen Fernsehens; Media Cultures; Many More Lives of the Batman; Collective Wisdom: Co-Creating Media Within Communities, across Disciplines and with Algorithms, and hundreds of essays and book chapters, including a visual "white paper" on the documentary impulse ( He is currently leading a two-year research initiative on augmentation and public spaces with partners in Montreal and Amsterdam.


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