A self-described ‘digital hippie’, Ariel’s passion for the political and social implications of technology has informed her work across all disciplines. This past summer she released her first book, Augmenting Alice, on what will happen to the notion of identity, experience and reality in the (near and far) future.
‘I love technology,’ Ariel says. ‘It is actually perfect. After all, it always does precisely what it is designed to do. The issue begins with the fact that the human bias towards what it can and should do is ultimately flawed. Technology can make the world better and human interactions more meaningful, but it is rapidly becoming an instrument that flattens the human experience. This is a dire consequence of designing technology to satisfy human “wants”, oversimplifying processes and guaranteeing quick gratification.
‘The side effect we are all suffering from now is a constant flattening of knowledge and culture. We no longer explore information in a non-linear way, we don’t contextualise, and in so doing, we are losing layers of depth and meaning. Everything from information to visual culture is oversimplified, resulting in everything looking, tasting and sounding the same everywhere.’
This accelerated flattened cultural landscape Ariel refers to is mirrored in the economic and political landscape as well. ‘Technology doesn’t just make tailor-made lifestyles super easy and accessible,’ she says. ‘It does the same to our politics, social, and personal identities. Technology makes it scarily simple to connect to a certain type of people. In my book, Augmenting Alice, I call it the Pintrest effect. Where we are trapped in a constant cultural déjà vu. Mirroring the physical surrounding and relationships with our digital interaction.’
The rise of technology as a cultural channel is what tipped the boat in politics and populism. In the 2016 US elections - being the best example – Trump’s success reveals how it is no longer possible to separate technology and politics. ‘Politics, the economy, and culture, all exist on a mono channel,’ Ariel says.
In her book, Ariel talks about how AR (augmented reality) might amplify positive and negative aspects of emerging technologies. ‘Augmented reality is especially important for the human experience and for humanity,’ she says. ‘Other immersive technologies are interesting for specific experiences, but more limited. AR represents a new interaction platform that will be layered on top of physical spaces and existing interactions. It is more social and inclusive, and more embracing of what it means to explore new depths and experiences within our physical world.’
And what’s more, AR will harness other emerging technologies. As Ariel explains: ‘It is truly “the one ring to rule them all”, the ultimate ubiquity platform that will allow us to embed technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence), cognitive computing and big data within our physical space. Altering our perception of technology as a “remote”, “artificial” or “unreal” thing.’
The function of a screen is what matters in Ariel’s distinction here because we still distinguish behind the screen (digital/non-reality) and in front of the screen (physical/ reality). ‘In a social sense we neglect to understand that our screens are a mirror of existing social behaviours, rather than just windows into new ones,’ she says.
And it is our relationship with screens that make us suffer most. ‘Especially for young- er generations,’ says Ariel. ‘They have been curating their lives on social media and face burn-out in their mid 20s. We have given them this idea that life can be accessible, editable, efficient and linear. They are encouraged not to dwell on their digital representation and to focus on success, instant gratification, and quantifiable skills. It’s all supposed to be so clear and transparent, but real life is imperfect and weird.’
Whether your proclivity is for AI or AR, we all need to ask ourselves why we are so busy trying to better our experiences? There seems to be a constant attempt to escape reality, which is surely a troubling scenario. ‘There appears to be this need for never-ending, exponential growth. But what about just living with what we have?’ posits Ariel.
In response to the emotional cognitive computing article DAMN° published in the last issue (#65) on the research being conducted by the VPRO Medialab, Ariel shakes her head. ‘Do we really need technology that reads your psychological reactions?’ she asks. ‘It might make for a better customer experience, and maybe some people want it, but does anyone we really need it? The human experience is also about the unknown, sometimes even a sort of pain that helps us to grow. Not a quick-fix five-min- utes-a-day mindfulness app.’
But we have entered an era where harnessing big data, cognitive computing, and targeted marketing to avoid uncertainty, randomness, exploration, failure, and dissatisfaction has become the norm – all the things that make up life, and that make us real. Experience can be designed, but the result is not a real and varied life.
There is also the issue of language and how the language of technology reinforces this flat mindset. ‘I hate how the word “disruption” has started to be used,’ says Ariel ‘What is disruptive innovation? Innovation by its very nature will disrupt some existing setups, but the tech world seems to be fixated on abolishing existing systems instead of improving them. I find this obsession utterly anti-social. Consider tourism, enabled by mobile platforms that simplify the process of accessing holidays, accommodation and transportation. These travellers pose a threat to the existing ecosystems of such cities on a fiscal, infrastructure and even cultural level.’
Today we bear witness to how technology enabled a physical and digital globalism. It has enabled some great things, but if we want future experiences and creative expression to be authentic, something needs to give. We need to find a way to deepen experiences and meanings again.
‘We need to always be able to find poetic complexities and personal truths,’ says Ariel. ‘This is what technology was meant to be doing for us – elevating the human experience. Not merely translating it to a “to do” or a happiness app.’
Augmenting Alice. The Future of Identity, Experience and Reality by Galit Ariel is published by BIS Publishers.