Happy New Year’s from Santa Fe.
That’s the sunset from the Cross of the Martyr’s a little outside of downtown. I’m sorry it’s been so long since my last post. Christmas in Toronto followed by driving to St. Louis, Tulsa, Dallas, Amarillo, and now here, hasn’t given me much time to compose (I also have a book review due for Tasha that I should get a start on tonight). It’s beautiful here, and old – very old, it’s one of the first American cities, founded in 1607. It reminds me of Quebec city in Canada in some ways, which was founded a year later. They’ve both been longstanding urban areas in North America whose initial cultures weren’t Anglo (places like Montreal and New Orleans were founded well over a hundred years later).
I keep being astounded by how diverse America is (yes, I know that’s kind of ridiculous) in terms of its cities. St. Louis, our first stop, is pretty much like Chicago, except smaller and with more white flight. Tulsa wasn’t much different. But I got to spend some time in Fort Worth, which I never really realized is distinct from Dallas, and it’s still a western town in many ways – they actually run cattle through the downtown once a year to commemorate the city’s ranching history. And Santa Fe is totally different as well. New Orleans is completely distinct, too. I’m not sure how many other countries can boast of such range in urban life (or in general culture). Canada has its different areas – the prairies are different from the center of the country, which is different from the maritime provinces – but, aside from Quebec, the changes I’ve noticed between Canadian cities is not as profound as here. Even with my point about Toronto’s immigrant population, Canada is still a very Scotch-English-French country, at least culturally. That’s changing, of course, and maybe one day we’ll have the same kind of physical diversity of cities that America does. I’d be surprised, though.
But back to that photo I posted at the end of my last letter.
That’s my sister with a cgi dinosaur. We went to an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum (kind of like a cross between the Field Museum and the Smithsonian). This particular exhibit had an app you could download that would create an image on your iPad/Pod/Phone’s screen replicating what the various dinosaur skeletons would look like in real life (only smaller, much smaller). My first thought when opening the app was: holy shit, augmented reality.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the concept, but bear with an explanation if you are. Augmented reality is the idea of filtering the world through a lens and annotating it – writing on the image of the world around the recipient in order to grant her insight about it, whether that be directions towards her intended destination, or showing her what this dinosaur would actually look like. The information displayed will react to the world (as when you’re google maps app reroutes you when you’ve taken a wrong turn), as well as how the lens is being manipulated (just as this dino did. When I pivoted my iPad, I saw him from a different angle). Those glasses that Google is coming out with are perfect examples of augmented reality devices.
The best way I’ve seen it described is in William Gibson’s Spook Country. Gibson is credited with coining the term “cyberspace,” and his early books all deal with virtual reality (The Matrix is SUPER indebted to his work. If you’ve never read him I highly suggest bringing Neuromancer along with you to Tahoe). In the first chapters Gibson shows how augmented reality can lead us to new forms of art – large-scale interactive works that appear once we look at them through a mobile screen (there are goggles similar to Google glass in his book, but the idea is exactly the same as me and my iPad). The fact that museums are now already using augmented reality to help give patrons a better understanding of their exhibits is super exciting. Clearly artists aren’t the only ones who can use this new technology for novel purposes.
I understand some of the worry behind naysayers who don’t like the idea of grafting the internet onto our daily visual life – we shouldn’t be wearing google goggles 24/7 – but the idea of a whole new kind of art/educational tool just starting to form is too good of an opportunity for us as a culture to pass up.
p.s. By the way, I finished Fifth Business. I’ll have more to say about it when I’ve settled in Wyoming.