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Big Tech Can’t “Augment” Our Reality, But We Can

David Suissa is President of Tribe Media/Jewish Journal, where he has been writing a weekly column on the Jewish world since 2006. In 2015, he was awarded first prize for "Editorial Excellence" by the American Jewish Press Association. Prior to Tribe Media, David was founder and CEO of Suissa Miller Advertising, a marketing firm named “Agency of the Year” by USA Today. He sold his company in 2006 to devote himself full time to his first passion: Israel and the Jewish world. David was born in Casablanca, Morocco, grew up in Montreal, and now lives in Los Angeles with his five children.

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David Suissa
David Suissa is President of Tribe Media/Jewish Journal, where he has been writing a weekly column on the Jewish world since 2006. In 2015, he was awarded first prize for "Editorial Excellence" by the American Jewish Press Association. Prior to Tribe Media, David was founder and CEO of Suissa Miller Advertising, a marketing firm named “Agency of the Year” by USA Today. He sold his company in 2006 to devote himself full time to his first passion: Israel and the Jewish world. David was born in Casablanca, Morocco, grew up in Montreal, and now lives in Los Angeles with his five children.

Tech companies live or die on their ability to seduce us with new stuff. Their latest bet, according to a recent report on CNBC, is a series of technologies called Augmented Reality (AR), which involves “some kind of computer worn in front of the user’s eyes.”

Evidently, the perfect smartphone is no longer enough. Just as these super mini-computers have become glued to our hands, we’re told that something better is around the corner. The future’s no longer in our hands—it’s in our eyes!

“Users will still be able to see most of the real world in front of them,” the CNBC report states. (Gee, thanks.) But “unlike virtual reality, which completely immerses the user in a computer-generated fantasyland, augmented reality layers computer-generated text and images on top of reality.”

Who’s leading this new revolution? Apple, of course.

According to industry watchers and participants, “Apple has a good chance to validate and revolutionize AR like it did with smartphones. Apple has been prototyping headsets for years.”

I guess this is what happens when a product becomes too good. Eventually, you run out of cool upgrades. That may explain why “smartphone sales have dropped two calendar years straight for the first time… Smartphones are old news.”

But a smartphone is old news like a spoon is old news. Most of us would be perfectly happy if smartphones stayed just the way they are now.

But not all of us.

Growth-obsessed tech companies are counting on “early adopters” and the modern fetish for the latest new thing to add a few trillion dollars to their future bottom lines. Since they’ve saturated the market with smartphones, to really grow they must introduce a whole new way to interact with computers. Hence the move from the hands to the eyes.

Apple is not the only company working on these AR eyewear products. According to the report, all the big tech players — Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon — are in the game as well.

What really gets me, though, is the name of this new game—Augmented Reality. How can a tech company hope to “augment” my reality?

Presumably, by taking whatever “reality” is already there and offering new ways to interact with it. But here’s the catch: technology can never actually create any of this reality. Only humans can do that. This is the AR (Actual Reality) we call real life.

While Augmented Reality aims to seduce us into interacting with its dazzling new technology, human beings augment their reality by interacting, above all, with other humans— in person and in real time.

While Augmented Reality aims to seduce us into interacting with its dazzling new technology, human beings augment their reality by interacting, above all, with other humans— in person and in real time.

We’ve learned that lesson well during this pandemic year. As much as the miracle of technology has kept us connected, it also has reminded us of its limits. There’s just no substitute for real hugging, for sitting at a café with a friend, for gathering with your community in a place of worship, for attending a live event, for walking barefoot on a beach with the wind blowing on your face.

Who’d want to wear AR glasses on a beach while the ocean itself is augmenting your reality in unimaginably beautiful ways?

We’re already knee deep in the virtual and the digital. Even if you marvel, as I do, at the wonders and usefulness of technology, it’s worth treading slowly before we get sucked in even deeper. It’s tough enough maintaining our humanity as it is.

When there’s too much technology between us and reality, reality itself speeds up and gets distorted.

When there’s too much technology between us and reality, reality itself speeds up and gets distorted. In the end, there’s only one reality that matters— the one we create in our own lives, see with our own eyes, and feel with our own hearts. It is that reality which gives us the deepest satisfaction, and no technology can create it.

That may be bad news for Big Tech, but it’s good news for our souls.

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