I haven’t played Pokémon Go, but the idea of augmented reality has intrigued me for quite some time, and so I’m glad it’s finally here. More than virtual reality, augmented reality strikes me as something that might transform the way we interact with technology, and the way we interact with the world. To my novice’s eye, it’s an interface as fresh and as exciting as the first iPhone was.
These sorts of technological leaps always seem to arrive in banal forms; if you had told me a few years ago that Pokémon would have been the portal through which augmented reality reached the masses, I would’ve believed you. Why not? The battle between VHS and Betamax was decided because of the porn industry. Why wouldn’t AR arrive in the form of a retro throwback game?
But more important than that, what’s next? If Pokémon Go is the launch of mainstream AR — and I can’t imagine there aren’t thousands of CEOs out there in the world demanding that their poor overworked staffs deliver the “next Pokémon Go” — then we’re about to enter my favorite period of any new technology: The Great Screwing Around. This is the period when the form feels like it has boundless possibility for creative pursuits.
And so I wonder: who’s going to write the first great AR novel? I hope someone is working on this is Seattle. Imagine an e-book that sends you around the city, to consult with characters crouched in doorways or visit virtual “buildings” built on top of city parks. Imagine a book with chapters that can only be unlocked when you visit certain spots in the city, a book that can be read in any order, depending on where you walk and how you uncover the story.
The e-book “revolution” has largely been a bust. E-books could have changed the popular idea of what books are, but instead they have unimaginatively clung to the form of physical books. Augmented reality offers a way to expand e-books, to link them inextricably to a place and a time, to expand a book out into the physical world in a way that print books simply cannot.
Dickens famously wrote in his head as he walked through the streets of London. Imagine a novelist who instead inspires her readers to walk through the streets of Seattle to read. Imagine a book that guides readers to its own discussion group, or that brings readers together for a party where the last chapter is revealed.
Right now, the possibilities to this format are endless. But as AR continues to be filled in with Pokémon and other intellectual properties, the boundaries will start to be delineated, and the possibilities will seem smaller and smaller. Right now, while the world is still enthralled with this technology, there’s still time for literature to grab its plot of land and see what can be found.