12: Third Spaces: Fusing The Real And The Virtual
The author opens with a flurry of examples:
- A method of communicating that gives two people in different locations the sense that they are standing on opposite sites of a translucent whiteboard.
- Another creates a wall that gives people in separate locations the sense that they are sharing a single workspace separated by a pane of glass
- Another uses sensors in a given space to create a virtual mirror of the space and the people moving freely within it, a sort of "Second Life" that takes its data from real environments.
In each of these examples, technology is facilitating a shared experience between people who are not in a shared location.
Fusing the Real and the Virtual
The author sets aside the concept of realms to focus on the nature of the experience, borrowing from another theorist the terms "cross-reality environments" and "third space" to reflect that they involve real people, real places, and real time - but connects two environments that are geographically separate via some artificial means.
A third space is created by any technology that transverses boundaries, or even a single boundary, between two realms in a single experience. The author provides a number of examples (EN: none of which add much, and some of which seem rather oblique) that illustrate ways in which technology is applied to bring people in different environments, or at different times, together.
The important factor is not the gadgetry, but the way in which people interact with one another, through technology, to overcome the obstacles of space and time.
Defining Third Spaces
The vast majority of experiences resist clear classification in the author's notion of the realms. A physical object such as a book exists as a physical object in the real world and the activity of reading happens in real time: but the words on paper create for the reader an experience that happens in an virtual environment, filled with virtual things, that are not necessarily consumed in a linear and contiguous time.
(EN: I think this goes to the definition of experience as something that occurs in the mind of the subject - any physical prop or the data it delivers is merely the means to an end.)
As such, the author considers the realms to have "soft boundaries that blur at the edges" such that a given experience has both the physical and virtual blended together in some way.
He also touches on the notion of the user's contribution to an experience, specifically the way that the human mind will fill in the missing details. (EN: When someone reads about a "pirate," that simple word conjures a mental image that is not provided by the designer. Though in film, the designer provides more details to prevent the viewer from doing so.)
The critical factor is the designer's assessment of the details needed for the experience. If he can define which elements are essential to an experience, he can deliver it without much artifice or gadgetry.
Hence acknowledging that the detail we provide is part of the experience, that stimulates the subject to have an experience of his own, is essential to understanding the way in which the variables function together to create an experience that extends from the real to the virtual.
It's Really All Real
While experience is created in the mind of the subject, it is not completely fabricated from stardust, but instead is amalgamated from a real-world experience. That is, an imaginary garden is filled with plants that are either cloned from ones that we have seen or assembled with bits and pieces of plants we have seen - and if we have only seen illustrations of plants, the artist who created the illustration took his inspiration from the real.
In that sense, even the most fantastic vision of a virtual world is dependent upon reality, which itself is "the source of all experience."
When you present a fantastic vision, you must understand the reality of the subject to successfully transport them: if their experience is insufficient to support your fantasy, it will not be accepted - or the subject may be unable even to perceive what you are attempting to describe.
And our means of artifice are limited by technology, but this does not prevent us from leveraging what we have to produce an acceptable representation. A picture of a rose evokes scent-memory of the subject (provided he has ever smelled one) even though technology is currently incapable of providing an actual scent.
The author runs through the realms to demonstrate how reality is incorporated:
- Warped Reality plays on time without straying from the material substance of places
- Augmented Reality uses reality itself as the backdrop of foreground for an experience
- Alternate Realty superimposes virtual elements onto the real to create a different understanding
- Physical virtuality takes things that are conceived in virtuality and produces a real artifact
- Augmented virtuality presents elements of material reality to engage the mind and often the (real) body of the subject
- Mirrored Virtuality reflects reality by creating a simulation of the real world tied to actual time
- Virtuality, which is nominally a complete departure from reality, still incorporates elements from reality into a fabricated experience
Ultimately, we never leave behind reality in the virtual world: we may combine the two, or represent the real in the virtual, or at least depend upon fragmented elements of reality to construct the fantasy.
It's Virtually All Virtual
On the other hand, experience is all in the mind of the subject. Even if we place a person in a real environment, give them real props, have them act in real time, these physical elements are merely tools by which a virtual experience is created. It is very much theater in real life, everything that surrounds us is a prop or a stage setting in which we act, superimposing our own interpretation of what is "real" that is based on our interpretation of the physical things we perceive through our senses.
In that sense, there is an element of the virtual even in the most mundane of experiences. Reality itself is interpreted subjectively, such that two people in the same real-life situation have different impressions.
And again, a consideration of the realms, in reverse order:
- Mirrored Virtuality models real things and events by artificial means
- Augmented Virtuality engages a real body in an artificial experience
- Physical Virtuality results in a real artifact, but conceived artificially
- Alternate Reality imposes an artificial layer over reality
- Augmented Reality inserts an artificial element into reality
- Warped Reality applies an artificial timeline to a real experience
- Reality, the epitome of the physical, results in an experience in the mind of the subject that is not entirely dictated by the real.
So even though the concepts of reality and virtuality are presented as polar opposites, they are related and represent theoretical and unachievable extremes between which any experience is placed. Said another way, no experience is entirely real or entirely virtual.