For the moment, if you want to surf a website, email or chat with a friend, or watch a movie or TV show, you need to type or tap a device that’s on your desk, in your lap, or in your hand. But the time may be coming sooner rather than later, that the computer and the iPad may hit the scrapheap in favor of technology that does not even require a finger or voice to operate.
The recent announcement by Google of its forthcoming glasses has sparked new discussion of the possibility of “augmented reality”. For those who don’t know the term, augmented reality (AR) is adding one or several layers of information to the visual landscape. Imagine walking down the street and looking at a string of restaurants or stores, and then seeing digital labels and links providing the names of the places and providing online reviews. It’s basically the way the Terminator sees the world, except you’re more likely to see a map to the nearest Starbucks than the most efficient way to kill John Connor.
Let’s say you see a poster on a bus shelter and decide you want to see the movie as soon as possible. AR allows the possibility of pulling up a map to the nearest Cineplex within walking distance and the day’s showtimes. An AR app that could do this would delight any cinephile. And if you’re watching a movie at phone, you could conceivably check out the designer label of the outfit the lead actress is wearing, as well as if it’s available at the local mall. AR is the potential to take movie merchandising to a whole new level.
But think about the actual experience of watching a film, whether it’s “The Avengers” or “The Maltese Falcon”. We already have 3D and surround sound to take us further into the movie than merely the image we see onscreen. What happens, though, when all this data and imagery that we’re increasingly bombarded with overloads our perception?
The speed at which society circulates information increases exponentially with each day. In New York City, video advertisements appear in taxicabs and even over urinals. We’re fast approaching a point where you won’t be able to look in any direction without seeing a digital video clip of some kind. YouTube is no longer a website; it’s a zeitgeist. Absorbing a single segment of media that conveys a single message is akin to talking on a pay phone while a freight train is roaring by.
What film-lovers should ask themselves is as the experience of viewing films and other media evolves, is it sensible to blindly follow the times and trends or question whether new is necessarily better? If you’ve got millions of pixels and megabytes and ones and zeroes coming at you per second, how much of all that information can you really process? If we get to the point when you directly access all of the movies product tie-ins and production notes and cast bios simultaneously, is there any time or attention span left to enjoy the actual story?
In the future, audiences may find it necessary to discipline themselves against absorbing an excess of information, to filter out the maelstrom of sights and sounds just to pick out the beginning, middle, and end of the tale they paid to see.