After much hemming and hawing (and other antiquated phrases) and much, much inspiration and brainstorming with Noreen (thanks Noreen!), I am starting to zero in on a final assignment topic (I think). I had been debating doing nanotechnology as a mapping to the skin (like tattooing in a way), the skin itself as input device, and the ramifications on perception and consciousness on all of that, but I want to go a slightly different direction.

I am intrigued by Augmented Reality (AR), which is just a catch all term for a “live direct or indirect view of a physical world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated sensory input”, like sound, graphics, etc. Some refer to it as mediated reality as it is reality modified by technology. I care less about the technology and more about the implications for (cyborg) perception and presence. I wanted to focus on one instance of this in particular, Layar. The name itself doesn’t particularly matter; more importantly is how it “augments” perception, allowing for layers of reality to be experienced, even simultaneously.


I am walking down the street (doing my best impersonation of a flaneur). I look down an alleyway. I point my mobile down the alleyway. I see various layers of information mapped to it. The history of the street. Older photographs of the buildings. Real estate prices. Voting preferences. Carbon emissions. Building construction materials. Anything. I wander off.

I think this has potential if viewed as both a perception issue and a presence issue. What about this expands my perception, disregards boundaries, laws, the very things that cyborgs ignore and humans cling to? The mobile devices affording augmented reality become the magnifying glass and binoculars (both micro and macro perception issues) of the digital flaneur, tools of the trade.  Augmented reality allows the cyborg to not only disregard boundaries, but to see through them, to understand them at both the conceptual and molecular level. If the world was converted into information (DNA, consumer purchases, biological processes), then this perception becomes a reappropriation of that information in the self/cyborg (Shields, 212).

It also situates the cyborg in space, a fuzzy material reality that complements  the “overlapping nodes in webs of power, not discrete and unitary sites” (213). These augmented reality layers may contradict, bleed into one another.

So, long story short, I would like to look at augmented reality as the tool of digital flaneur/cyborg towards expanding the scope of both perception and presence. Any thoughts on this one? Sorry for rambling.

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

4 thoughts on “Augmented Reality as the Magnifying Glass/Binoculars of the Mobile Flaneur: Ideas for Final Assignment”
  1. hi Michael – I like your thinking here a lot. You might like to ask Silvana if you can attend her Digital Futures seminar – running in week 11 – about the ethics of learning and researching in augmented environments. Layar was what really triggered her interest in that topic. May I suggest one of readings that we do in relation to ‘ubiquity’ on the Digital Futures course, also – I think it might be relevant. The other main thing I’d say in relation to your proposal is that it’s good to think from the outset about a learning angle for your topic, to keep with the overall theme of the course.

    Crang, M. and Graham, S. (2007). Sentient cities: Ambient intelligence and the politics of urban space. Information, Communication & Society, 10/6, p.789-817.

    1. Thanks for this, Jen. Didn’t know Silvana was pursuing augmented reality, so I will reach out to her as suggested. Many thanks for the reading as well; I will get to it. As for the learning angle, I am approaching it specifically from a disciplinary perspective (cultural heritage studies), a discipline with a distinct sense of “place” and how learning might proceed in this context. Many thanks again, Jen!

  2. I’ve really enjoyed your reflections on the texts these past few weeks; I have been captivated by the readings I think as i’ve found them quite a brain-shift! I feel i’ve been a little slower in catching on here, the links between the theory of the cyborg and actual real life scenarios; not just even about identity/ virtual reality but practicality.

    Thanks, you’ve given me a lot to think about.

  3. Thanks, Marie,

    At the end of the day, there is always a pragmatic real life element in all of this exploration. Essentially, we are exploring what it means to be human and as such there will always be human, occasionally mundane, elements of that. Like for example when I look at a new service or social media and I immediately think “Why would I do that?”. If I can’t answer that question, even as mere curiosity, then I ignore it.

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