Familiarity is a result of sedimented experience which, when functioning properly, allows us to move through life almost without conscious thought. It’s easy to pay complete attention to audiobooks while using dangerous woodworking tools when one is familiar with the shop and all the various material manipulations that take place there. This kind of situation, where the body performs in a familiar sphere, seems to lend more power to conscious thought and amplify concentration. Other familiarity-building routines for the body like yoga, martial arts, tantric sex, and sports are often purported to have this same effect. It should be no surprise, really, that kinetic engagement with the world should stimulate all parts of the body, including the brain.
In complement of kinetic familiarity there is artificial familiarity. You may have read other works by me or, in fact, read this same piece repeatedly. I do change, but with enough sedimented experiences of this change, reading something new I’ve written would still be a familiar experience. This is not a bad thing, but I can’t gesture, smile, or involve my body in this exchange. Granted, we are both performing familiar kinetic routines when I type and you click around with your mouse, but these are secondary nuisances to be done away with as quickly as possible, or so it would seem. I do not use a pen or a printing press, and you do not read paper because these impede artificial familiarity. On the surface, this is fantastic because I could never afford to print as many copies as this site distributes digitally. However, something very pernicious is going on, worthy of all the scare packed up in the word ‘artificial’. At the same time as the divorce of the familiar from the body deepens, artificial familiarity becomes more and more superficially like kinetic familiarity. Photographs become colored, move, then become three-dimensional, and bodily sensations which seem entirely kinetic are produced just by watching 3d blockbusters like Avatar. The impetus for this amplified artificial familiarity could be found in civilization’s lack of intimate naturalistic kinetic familiarity, or perhaps it has got something to do with the dualistic religious fetish for that immortal spirit outside of the body. We have, after all, told stories for as long as we’ve had words.
Augmented Reality, referring to future devices along the lines of automated navigation systems, is perhaps an overly optimistic phrase. Rather than augmenting and adding to the richness of life, as the woodworker listens to audiobooks while at work, Augmented Reality seems aimed at replacing as much kinetic familiarity with artificial familiarity as is technologically possible. Indeed, artificial familiarity may go much further than that, at which point it becomes true Artificial Familiarity or AF–which is how I would characterize Augmented Reality. It’s not hard at all to imagine that a sufficiently advanced AF device could completely replace the human capacity to become familiar with the world, which sounds like a horrifying proposition, but the human tendency is actually to dislike and fear the unfamiliar, so a device that would completely eliminate the unfamiliar would sell quicker than the iPhone. In short, kinetic familiarity’s being usurped by artificial familiarity, and AF systems are working on taking that over for you next. Things may very soon be much worse than Baudrillard, Heidegger, or Marx probably ever imagined. Move over, Constituting Yourself, hegemony’s got you all figured out and you don’t know how much you’d love to finally know what it is you love.