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IMmersion : Lauria
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*what am I?
electric poetic space: full sensory immersion
by rita lauria

Douglas Englebart's notion of the development of a synthetic superstructure to extend our biological being for intelligence augmentation is in a very real sense the development of electronic consciousness. Although construction of this consciousness, what cognitive psychologist Merlin Donald calls "external memory," has been going on for centuries, only recently has the implication of its potential become apparent.

We are experiencing the 'birth pangs' of a new era, different in kind from what was before. Agriculture yielded to industry, the economics of the soil yielded to money, then credit. The mechanistic, industrial behemoth supporting our expansion in the past now gives way to hi-touch technologies and information industries, which weave a bio-electric loom across this planet: a global information, infrastructual brain, knitting together a global village, a global consciousness, what Teilhard saw as "social changes and the awakening of the masses."

Brenda Laurel, a digital interface designer, researcher, and writer focusing on human-computer interaction, culture, and technology, designs in electric space with virtual reality (VR) communications media. She refers to electric space as a new landscape, a superabundant sensory environment, a supermedia world. Laurel says in a superabundant sensory environment the brain's strategy of interpreting sensory data differs from the strategy used in a less densely sensory-saturated environment. When enveloped in dense sensory information characteristic of electric media, sense data are collapsed into larger patterns before integration rather than parsed into pieces before the question of meaning emerges. Laurel says the consequent effect is that the experience of being replaces point of view. Electric space is poetic space, where the means of perceiving one thing are in terms of perceiving another.

Laurel says the "pattern that emerges from a view within the superabundant sensory environment replaces content with relationship as the dimension of meaning." She further notes that this fundamental shift "reveals the true nature of the landscape of global media, giving us our first view of the common ground of global consciousness."

Electric space is full-sensory immersion, an environment that has a certain quality, a certain 'feel.' McLuhan perceived the effect of electric media as tactile, saying it mediates all the senses to create an overall sensibility, or 'feel,' of the input sense data that the brain uses to dynamically generate the imagery of thought. He pointed out that "electricity is only incidentally visual and auditory; it is primarily tactile."

Laurel describes immersion in the sensory saturation of electric media as "viscous." She reports an experience in the sensory saturated neon/video landscape of Tokyo as "feeling it on her skin" rather than in her head. "I am inside the experience. I do not have ideas."

William Bricken, a recognized expert in software architectures for virtual environments, attests to the tactile relationship and a sense of presence in electric, enveloping, environments. "Touch," he says, "demands a physical interaction with the body, while hearing and sight are themselves mediated by the space surrounding the body; they are not direct ... touch both connects and separates."

I asked him about his experience with virtual reality. I asked how the virtual space feels to the body? How the body knew it was (t)here? He told me electric touch plays a significant role in opening to virtuality; in fact, it plays a most dominant part in establishing presence in VR's electric poetic space. Bricken said, "Virtual reality is never without touch since a person is always feeling the floor, the force of gravity ... The question is not VR without touch, it is VR without consistency, without integrating the touches being experienced with the VR being experienced. Without integration, touch degrades presence. With integration, touch is the most dominant form of presence ... so the moral is haptics is the royal road to credibility, to presence in VR. In a sound-bite: Our bodies are the interface."

Touch is a whole complex and the sensory feel of electric media becomes the touch of electric, poetic space. Immersed in electric space, sympathetic identification with the full electric manifold takes place through the feel of its 'hi-touch.' Electric media effect a sense of tactility that mediates the senses to establish the 'feel' of electric space.

Interplay, dynamic relation, multi-sensory immersion characterize the environmental effect of electric media. Time and space dissolve through the actions of the organic, speed of light interrelations of electric media. Information and energy are affected. Spatial representations merge as space shape changes, with multiple views of objects possible from a single perspective because planes and volumes become one. New patterns emerge with the rapid flow of electric information. A change in the nature of thought is a change in consciousness.

Bricken affirms this effect, providing experimental observations in virtual reality. He says, "We have data from several experiments that suggest an interesting relationship between our perception of VR and of physical reality (PR)":

1) The experience of temporal duration (time) is compressed in VR. For novices, on the average perception of one VR second takes about three PR seconds;

2) The experience of space is also compressed. One VR foot is about nine PR inches;

3) Models using exact physical laws feel wrong in VR. Angles and velocities in VR are also not aligned with those we measure in PR

The manifold characteristics of electric sensibility are seemingly instantaneity, spontaneity, simultaneity, discontinuity, tactility, continual modification through dynamic relation. Like McLuhan said, "at electric speed, all forms are pushed to the limits of their potential."

The speed is masked in consciousness by the awareness of the action itself. The brain/body respond accordingly. "Consciousness," Teilhard wrote, "...leaping and boiling in a space of super-sensory relationships and representations."

The whole system is nothing less than the brain, the body, and the environment in interaction. What is 'without' is 'within.' Thought, feelings, mind are ordered through a process of whole interaction between the electric environment and the organism. Mental phenomena, and any psychic transformation, can only be fully understood within this context.

Our world is awash in information, immersed in a bath of electric media poetics, the world's cultures now globally linked and interrelated by meta-technology, a superstructure built through convolution into proximity. The world is undergoing continuous and rapid change due to the acceleration of light-speed information flow.

Our view has changed. That is to say, our perception of reality has changed. When our view changes so does our mind. Our theories of nature, our natural philosophy, as well as our theories of mind, self, and soul reconfigure as the lens of our perception shifts in interplay with the biases of our artifactual use.

Copyright © 2000 All Rights Reserved

Rita Lauria is a research associate of the M.I.N.D. Lab (Media Interface and Network Design LAB) at Michigan State University. Her research involves the philosophy and design of virtuality. Link to her Web page from the lab at http://mindlab.msu.edu/mweb/people.htm

 

 

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