In the early fall of 2016, I was gathered with a group of friends playing softball in a local park. The park had the usual suspects: dog walkers, fitness gurus, ecstatic kids and us—goofy guys trying to relive the glory days of homeruns and hullaballoo.
But something was different. I kept seeing folks aimlessly walking around, staring at their phones. They seemed to be searching for something, but it wasn’t clear what was going on.
Then it hit me like a virtual brick—Pokémon Go! These folks were playing the new game that had swept the world and redefined the future of augmented reality (AR).
For decades, folks have been clamoring about the coming reality of virtual reality (VR). And in recent years, there’s been a lot of VR growth. It’s still catching on slower than the spontaneous, massively popular wave of AR.
The difference is simple VR transports you to a virtual world, completely immersing you into another, completely digital reality. AR, on the other hand, transforms your real world into an immersive, new version of reality, right before your eyes.
VR is still looking for its shining moment of success; AR is already here to stay. And as TeenSafe.com reports, “…augmented reality is poised to become the ‘fourth wave’ of the digital era (the first three being the PC era, the Internet era and the mobile era).”
That’s a bold statement, but the success of video game superpowers and face altering fun–time apps like Snapchat have already seen that the sky’s the limit…literally. Snapchat has sky altering filters, and Skrite is an app company that hopes you’ll want to use AR to completely change the way you do your messaging, opting to leave little notes hovering above your favorite skyline, written right under the beautiful arch of a scintillating rainbow or teetering on a towering mountain in real time. How fun!
But AR is not just for fun and games. The AR revolution is changing the way we do life. Heads up displays (HUD) in cars are increasingly popular. Businesses are using AR to plan for projects and cast their newest vision. Design gurus are using AR to see what a remodel of an aging home might look like with a digital renovation applied in real–time. Even archeologists are using AR to reimagine with new eyes how ancient structures were positioned and purposed.
Like with any new technology, however, there are challenges. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published an online article almost a year to the day before the Pokémon wave hit, noting the uncharted waters of the way AR might affect brain development: “Research is incomplete, but some clinicians fear that children and teens whose reality testing was altered as children could go on to develop much more severe psychoses as adults. Children and teens with underlying psychological or emotional problems appear to be especially vulnerable.”
Admittedly, this sounds over the top, but their sentiment isn’t uncommon. New technology always has its pendulum swinging ideas. When cars first emerged, folks wondered if there would be a speed at which people might turn to mush…and now we’re wondering something more sophisticated, but similar, about our children’s brains as they are inundated with AR.
Perhaps more concerning than brains melting on AR are the almost certain challenges that will be added to already challenging issues such as social media. The fears of social media have been written about ad nauseam, and for good reason. Now add to that mix the ads and fads bombarding your child’s real/augmented world at unprecedented rates.
And kids won’t be the only ones force–fed new conceptions of reality. One current YouTube video shows how our skylines could become a polluted parade of business advertisements as household names jockey for shelf space—not at the grocery store, but right before your eyes.
As with all new technology, we parents need good boundaries. The summer of 2016 not only saw the most massive adoption of AR that the world had ever seen, it also saw some sad stories of kids being hurt and even killed by not paying attention to their real surroundings in a virtual world…a world that isn’t as easily rebooted as a frozen app.
AR is here to stay. Let’s be cautious and careful as we have fun with our new reality; only then can we augment our futures in ways that are healthy, safe and productive.
By Richard Singleton, MACE,MAMFC, LPC, is the executive director at STARRY in Round Rock.