Rumination 58: Everyday AR

In my previous job, I made the two-hour trip to Sydney CBD each morning—half in the car, half on the train. I never really became accustomed to it but I tried to form habits and routines to make it as efficient and painless as possible. Eventually, it was time to move on and I found a position in Wollongong, which is now much closer to my home.

Recently, I needed to travel to Sydney for a work-related event; the venue was fairly close to my old office and I was eager to see how it would feel to dip my feet back into that old commute again.

This time, however, I hadn’t considered how much a variety of technological changes—both personal and as a part of the environment—would influence my experience of the commute.

The first experience that completely surprised me was ‘tapping on’ at Sutherland Station, the midpoint. In the past, I always had to fumble for my Opal card in my super-slim wallet; this time, I had forgotten my card but then saw that the card readers now accept Apple Pay. What was once a minor, first-world problem that agitated me every morning had become a moment of sheer delight: being able to board a train by hovering my wrist over a card reader.

The next difference came in the form of my AirPods Pro. I was an early adopter of the original AirPods and they became indispensable during my daily Sydney commute, as I listened to various podcasts to pass the time. Now with the new noise-cancellation feature, I was able to enjoy all of my spoken-word content at a reasonable volume. Furthermore, as the earbuds don’t have full physical coverage (like over-ear or on-ear headphones), I could still faintly hear the world around me, which was great for hearing service announcements. I didn’t even have to use the transparency feature, which highlights external noise.

This continued all the way through to Wynyard Station in Sydney, when I left through the tunnel to George Street and was confronted by a very surprising image: a tram being tested on the street, accompanied on both sides by police on motorcycles. For years, I had made my way out through the same exit into a dirty, noisy construction site and on this day, the entire streetscape had been completely modernised and graced by new light rail. Everyone else looked just as surprised as they waited for it to pass.

Later in the day, following the conclusion of the event, I walked back to the station past Bligh Street and eventually back onto George Street. I had some time to try out shots with the ultra-wide lens on iPhone 11 Pro and it gave a very cool, somewhat different perspective to a number of places.

Looking up through a large glass awning with boulder-like sculptures in the foreground Chifley Square, Sydney

Looking up the centre of the building’s foyer with glass lift shaftsThe foyer at 1 Bligh Sydney

Looking up at the sky with an angular, reflective sculpture in the foreground and buildings in the background

Australia Square and the Flugelmann sculpture on the corner of Spring and Pitt Streets, Sydney

A view of George Street, looking south, with buildings either side of the image

The new light rail tracks on George Street

A train arrives on the tracks from the left, moving past large iPhone 11 Pro billboards to the right. Town Hall Station, Sydney

What occurred to me as I reflected on this trip was how technology had altered my view of reality or at the very least, challenged my memory of the sights and sounds.

As stories swirl around about future augmented-reality (AR) technology, such as Apple’s long-rumoured ‘smart glasses’, I realised that people are ignoring the everyday kind of AR that exists everywhere already. In my reading of media ecological texts, as a part of my study, it has dawned on me that media and technology are indeed synonymous and that they alter our view of reality—creating their own environments.

Let’s just recap these evolutionary technological changes:

  1. Apple Pay on the watch was quick and seamless and it made me feel better about paying for the service;
  2. AirPods Pro altered my appreciation of time and space, making the time go faster and enabling me to hear both my podcast and my surroundings clearly;
  3. The light rail, as a considerable, new piece of infrastructure, transformed my impression of the CBD and will no doubt go on to affect commuters’ understanding of navigation; and
  4. iPhone 11 Pro altered the visual reality of the city with an ultra-wide lens, which whether I like it or not, will go on to be my recorded memories of the day when I look back at my photos.

Some people dream of a future when AR glasses (of some kind) sit in front of our eyes but what will the consequences be? What will it mean presumably to have notifications flashing in front of our eyes and distorting the world around us? I would argue that with a range of current devices and even changes to our surrounding environment, we already have access to a variety of transformative technological experiences, whether in the form of audio, payment systems, cameras or transport.

I’m not calling for technological conservatism—just that we appreciate what we have today and consider the effects of what is yet to come. We need to think about this carefully and enjoy what we have now, rather than just looking forward to the ‘next big thing’.

Rumination 57: Subconscious Ferrari

More and more these days, you hear—particularly from educators—about how the earliest years of childhood are formative years. It’s a time when the course of your life, your skills and your preferences are being determined. It’s the foundation for the memories and stories that will define you.

I realised this in a very, very small yet tangible way during a recent visit to a local antique shop called Café 10 Port Kembla. Natasha and I had driven past it many times, intending to go inside but unfortunately always in a rush. When we finally entered the place, we were struck by how quirky it was… full of antique items, retro posters, second-hand books and models. Sonny, the owner, made us delicious coffees from behind the counter as he told us about the place. Not long afterwards, his friend Volkan arrived and they ate cabbage together (apologising for the smell, which we actually enjoyed).

At this point, we decided to stroll around the shop to see what was available. I was drawn in by a cool typewriter but managed to resist temptation. Natasha found a small collection of old car manuals, considering purchasing one for her dad, who is a Charger/Mopar enthusiast. They were interesting but not the ones that he sought.

It wasn’t until I circled back to the front of the shop that I noticed something that I had missed at first: a cabinet with old Bburago Ferrari models, naturally, all in red. Although I think that they’re beautiful cars, I’m not the biggest Ferrari fan. Friends and family would tell you that I’m more partial to Teslas or German cars like Audi, Porsche and BMW… but I was very keen on these models, which spanned decades of Ferrari design. I ummed and ahhed, walking backwards and forwards, trying to decide which one I wanted. I had no idea why but I was completely taken by one particular model over the others and I ended up purchasing it. I didn’t even know what it was until I asked for it out of the cabinet and turned it over. Shown below on our bookshelf after purchasing it and taking it home, it ended up being the Ferrari GTO (1962).

After buying it, we thanked Sonny for the coffee and left to go grocery shopping. As we walked to our car, I wondered what it was about the design of this Ferrari that I liked so much compared to the others, especially when I couldn’t even name the model. It was at that point that a thought jumped into my mind: I played with this model as a young kid.

I quickly sent a message to my mum, asking for her to send a photo that she used to have up on the wall when I still lived at home. It took some time for her to search for it but eventually, it came through on my phone.

Sure enough, it was exactly the same model, the GTO (1962), that I had played with as a young child, in a photo that was taken by my godfather, John.

When in any shopping situation, I typically avoid buying things needlessly that will end up as clutter at home. In this case, I was so overcome by materialistic desire that I had to buy this car model. This object that I played with as a child, which probably wasn’t even mine, had planted itself so deeply within my subconscious that when presented with it again in a cabinet, I couldn’t resist.

Memory is a funny thing and we often think about our early years as being difficult to remember. We only recall fragments or think that we can picture things, perhaps because an older relative or friend described something or we saw it in a photograph. Perhaps I was only reminded of this as I got older because it hung up on the wall at one stage… regardless, it shows the impression that all manner of things can have on you as a kid, from the music that your family enjoyed together, to the house that you grew up in, to the objects that filled it. These things stick with you, even if you’re not aware of them.

So, what are the things that you can recall from your early, formative years? In what ways, big or small, have they come to define your taste and who you are today?

Rumination 56: Holy Synergy!

On the weekend, I attended a first communion at a Catholic church in Wollongong. To be upfront about my views, I am an atheist but attended out of respect for others’ beliefs in my extended family.

I noticed two things whilst at the church that showed that for all of its supposed emphasis on humanity and relationships, religion is still, at its core, a business.

The first thing that I observed was this sign at the entrance of the church.

Yes, that’s right, you’re looking at a tap-payment facility in a church. In case it is hard to see, the text on the sign reads as follows:

‘Help support St Francis Xavier Cathedral. ‘Tap and Go’ is an easy and safe way to donate. Each tap of your credit card will deposit $10 straight into the St Francis Xavier Cathedral account. Your donation will help us continue our work. Thank you for your support.’

If you ever needed evidence of the massive success of tap payments in Australia, then here it is. Whilst the United States struggles to achieve widespread adoption of things like Apple Pay with retailers, banks and so on, Australian Catholics are tapping their cards happily as they dip their fingers into holy water. (I’m not being facetious here… the holy water really was adjacent to it at the entrance.)

Now I accept that churches require money to operate. What frustrated me about this was that it also stood next to a donation slot for church restoration and a slot for the church’s regular newsletter plus during the service I witnessed an additional two rounds of of the collection plate. Add all of this together to the fact that any voluntary contribution through this payment machine must be $10 and it all seems like a bit much. The icing on the cake was the point during the service in which the priest declared that we should look beyond money in our lives and find meaning in relationships and God. Somewhat mixed messaging, if you ask me…

This brings me to the second thing, which was a sign that stood in the aisle between the pews.

Here I was thinking that LinkedIn was the most effective way to build your professional network in the 21st century… I was wrong! By joining Catholic Business Connections, business and spirituality combined conveniently: ‘Are you looking for an opportunity to enhance your faith life and build your professional network?’. I would never have thought to put all of those words together to form that sentence.

Beyond the evident focus on business, work and money, this sign also presented a bit of an issue with representation of the local Catholic community. The priest and all of his assistants and altar boys during the service clearly had Asian backgrounds. The attending parishioners were also very diverse in cultural background and dress. Every single person in this advertisement above for Catholic Business Connections appears to be a white Australian with presumably Celtic (or perhaps Anglo-Saxon) heritage. Clearly, the Catholic Diocese in Wollongong, which runs these business events, not only has an issue with the representation of diversity but also in understanding the very make-up of its own clergy and community. (Don’t even get me started on the thing that looks like a mullet coming out of the guy in the bottom-right image.)

In a time when people around the world are becoming ever more aware and critical of business practice, the representation of minorities and the conduct of major religions, what I saw at this church seems to be a bizarre anachronism.