Seeing what is not really there

Science fiction often resorts to alien battles or dystopian futures, but Gary Shteyngart tried a different tact in “Super Sad True Love Story” — he simply played out today’s tech trends a decade or two to illuminate how crazy we are becoming. In his novel, a middle-aged Jewish man who is losing his looks falls in love with a much younger Korean woman as the U.S. economy collapses, rich people try to buy immortality via nano-technology, and everyone walks around wearing an iPhone-ish äppärät that broadcasts an augmented reality stream of data. The äppärät device in this novel is the key, showing the tension between the fakery of who we want to be vs. the grit of who we really are. In this near future, you walk into a bar, tap your äppärät and see everyone’s household income, savings, credit scores, personal history and, um, f-ability rankings floating in the air.

So today Engadget reports that Vuzix is producing augmented reality glasses that will track your visual location with motion sensors and overlay 3D representations of, well, whatever app-makers dream up. For $5,000 — a price that will fall rapidly, just as digital cameras and flat-screen TVs have done in the past decade — you could conceivably walk into a bar, tap your glasses and see a data overlay of everyone’s household income and f-ability rankings.

The world of art has long predicted reality will be blended with artifice. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, James Cameron’s Terminator, Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, Wall-E’s fat humans on their floating spaceship pads … at some point, the falling price of digital displays will make it cheap to blend electronic vision with the real one.

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