In college, my English history professor made the case that the mid-19th century British garden was a perfect rejection of Enlightenment thinking.
In stark contrast to the rectilinear, continental parterre gardens of the 18th century (embodied by Versailles, with its perfect lines and geometry showing man’s mastery over nature), the English garden invited strolls around curving shrubbery borders, corners, with little benches and follies meant for lingering.
In essence, the gardens of English landscape designers like Capability Brown (no relation) represented a complete break from the Enlightenment’s efficiency of “Point A to Point B” thinking, and embodied the “new mood” of the Romantic period. Most importantly: to them, the journey was more important than the destination.
Today, new technologies offer us a new garden, of sorts. Augmented reality – harnessed to deep analytics and content creation - is poised to turn many of the journeys we make, involving virtually every industry, into a highly personal, and highly engaged experience-driven moment of truth.
What if you could use augmented reality to shape every journey you made – to a bank, on a plane, to a store, on the subway, if you broke your arm – exactly the way you wanted it? Say you’re a huge fan of George Lucas: you’re on a 5 hour plane ride from JFK to SFO, and wanted to plug into your augmented reality Star Wars immersive channel and dynamically interact with different characters, settings, or planets. When you get bored, jump into the world of the Indiana Jones channel. Or go beyond these into the world of Harry Potter? Or the dancers of La La Land? And so on?
Augmented reality offers an entirely new set of options for journeys, and how people augment, diminish and extend their relationship to time while they're moving from place to place.
The Signs are Everywhere
You’re seeing glimmers and signs popping up everywhere.
- Consider Pokemon Go! Whether you thought it was cool or ridiculous, its advent in 2016 was a watershed moment. Until then, you only thought you knew what augmented reality was (slapping foreheads – “of course it works on GPS”!)
- In April, Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook Spaces, the first mainstream augmented reality platform. According to some, it's going to “sign the death warrant of the smartphone”...
- According to Zuckerberg, “We don't need a physical TV. We can buy a $1 app 'TV' and put it on the wall and watch it. It's actually pretty amazing when you think about how much of the physical stuff we have doesn't need to be physical."
- Augmented reality is about to go WAY beyond being an “entertainment thing” – from giving eyesight to the visually-impaired, to enhancing factory floor safety, to how to furnish your apartment, to placing your next tattoo
- And this, from Tim Cook at Apple: “The smartphone is for everyone ... I think AR is that big, it’s huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives. And be entertaining. I view AR like I view the silicon here in my iPhone, it’s not a product per se, it’s a core technology.”
According to futurist James Mackie, because of AR: “Your office is about to change forever. No longer will you be using a mobile phone, monitor, keyboard and mouse. In 7 years you will not have a monitor anymore. In 5 years you will not have a mobile phone anymore. In 3 years you won’t need to touch type. In 1 year if you’re an early adopter, you can skip the above 7 years”
What if Tesla had Invented Pokemon Go!?
The possibilities are as endless as they are interactive. Perhaps as a youth, you read the “Choose Your own Adventure” books like The Cave of Time, or Your Code Name is Jonah. What if you could take the plot-lines, decision trees and outcomes, and overlaid them into the through-line continuity of AR? This starts to take on aspects of gaming, which is why Pokemon Go! was so instructive as a template for the future possibilities around journeys applied to AR. Imagine if Tesla had invented it instead of Niantic, and with all due consideration given to safety, suggested different routes and streets to take to rack up points, thereby helping to reduce traffic congestion?
A Pandora for your Journeys
Here's a different dimension. Consider the mission statement of Pandora: “At Pandora, we have a single mission: To play only music you'll love.” That concept could be a springboard into the worlds we're describing above, with AR as a catalyst. But diving into an experiential pool that goes far beyond music. Imagine in 5-10 years, AI driven “journey experience services” will emerge that create, calibrate, diagnose, gamify, reverse-engineer and suggest – like Pandora does with music – the perfect “genome” of the things you see, interact with, decide, and experience during those journeys. Included will be the mood, setting, information, tone, characters, suggested things or experiences to buy, side-destinations to take, friends to include, and more.
Clearly, this isn’t the ubiquitous “lolling tongue dog face” of Snapchat (to the chagrin – or joy? -- of teenagers everywhere).
Given the potential of augmented reality technologies to change the experience of people as they move through time and space, we're about to usher in the next chapter of what some are calling “The Experience Economy”. Augmented reality will be a catalyst, and journeys everywhere will be an open canvas for new journeys of creativity.
But this is really just the opening of a massive aperture; it’s not about the AR devices at all (they’re the tip of the iceberg). Like the plants, trees, hedges, flowers and benches of the English garden, it’s not the individual elements, it’s about the overall experience and feeling you have as you move through the garden. Lingering when you want. Strolling when you want. Sitting. Chatting. Being delighted. But instead of Jeeves bringing you a Pimms Cup, you’re hanging out with Salah and Doctor Jones in 1936 Cairo having dates (virtual - not poisoned!) while you wait for your flight to take off.
Or, if you want Jeeves and the Pimms Cup, who’s to say you can’t have it? After all, it’s your trip – inside the garden in your mind. And it’s as big as the world.