How many senses do we have? We learn to name many, but far from all, already in childhood. We taste, smell, see, hear and touch, but we also balance, hunger, and lust. With these senses we consume and appreciate products made to stimulate them, often crafted with scientific rigor and craftsmanship.
We have gotten incredibly good at stimulating and entertaining the senses that are amenable to such manipulation.
An Oreo is a carefully crafted and balanced taste sensation, designed to make you reach for another. Teams of scientists painstakingly iterate on products and chemistry to create these experiences that play with our senses of hunger and taste.
The coffee I’m drinking has been grown and selected for its pleasant roasted scent, and the perfume left on the collar of my shirt was made to pull you closer.
The noise-cancelling headphones I’m wearing and the well-produced music I’m listening have both been engineered to please me, and our CTO is spending his free time studying how to program and balance digital instruments to make them sound as well as his favorite artists
Across many industries, our civilization has amassed a deep knowledge of how to stimulate, satiate, irritate and manipulate our senses. In some industries, like mobile gaming, the craft has advanced to levels that cause addiction and harm. Some game designers are powerful sorcerors with the power to make us enslave our own minds.
From rollercoasters that artfully play with our sense of balance to animated adult entertainment that makes us lust for surreal beauty, to potato chips that make you lick the bag lining, it seems like every sense has multiple teams of sorcerors and scientists working out how to make the experience more enjoyable.
Today I want to tell you how one of the big frontiers of human entertainment is right at door, and how technology is unlocking a new sensory canvas to paint experiences on.
In case my language is too flowery, let me put it plainly: I believe new technology is about to make it possible, for the first time in decades, to leverage a new human sense when creating products.
The technology is augmented reality, a word you will almost definitely have heard by now — but I only anticipate a handful of readers to know the name of the sense that I wish to discuss.
Love in the time of spatial
I want you to read this article so asking you to close your eyes is admittedly counterproductive, but all the same, I’d like you to try something with me for a moment.
I want you to put your hand in front of your face so that you clearly see your fingers. If you close your eyes and then close your fist, do you not still “see” or feel your hand? If I had touched your outstretched hand while your eyes were closed, would you not have a sense of how far away from your face this touch occurred? Can you not reach down with your mind and count your toes?
This sense of spatial awareness is a sense we rarely speak of, but some of you may already know its name: the sense of proprioception.
The Latin roots of the word are easy to intimate, a combination of the Latin that gives us English words like “proprietary” and “perception”, your proprioception is your (spatial) sense of self.
Don’t confuse this sense with the sense of touch. The specific sense I want you to examine is the spatial awareness of where your limbs are, how you have a model in your mind of where every part of your body is.
But this sense doesn’t quite limit itself to keeping track of your body. If you close your eyes and turn away from your screen, you can still point a finger towards the screen. You have a spatial model in your mind of yourself and your surroundings, and shared augmented reality is the first technology that lets creators play with that sense.
If you’re playing a game and you put your phone back in your pocket, that’s where the phone and the game are now — in your pocket. But what happens if you and your friend are watching your matterless companions play on your dining room table, and you turn around?
Augmented reality allows us to imagine, to sense, digital content in our proprioception, and when augmented reality is shared then the suspension of disbelief is made even more powerful. Your friend’s continued perception of your pet on the dining room table reinforces the sense that the pet is truly spatially embodied, present, and as a result, you perceive the space you’re in differently.
As we touched on in a previous issue of the Matterless comic, the spaces we inhabit are “colored” by emotions we have for other inhabitants of that space. The bed that our family dog used to lie in before she died looks (feels?) different to me now that she has passed, but I also recognize that there is a part of the couch that feels safer because I know that our cat likes that particular spot.
I don’t know of a name or word yet to describe that sense, the one that connects with the emotional substrate that my perceptions render on top of, but it is real, just as my proprioception is real. I am passionate about augmented reality, and Matterless, because this incredible new technology of shared augmented reality lets us paint amazing new experiences into your actual space, not onto a screen in your hand.
Even though the screen remains (for now) the looking glass through which you reveal the matterless creatures, they will manifest in your sense of space — and we believe that has the power to color your whole conscious experience.
Our foundational hypothesis is that shared augmented reality lets us bring experiences into your space, your proprioception, and create the sensation of embodiment and presence so real that it makes you perceive the real world differently. At Matterless, we are on a mission to use augmented reality to paint your space with companionship and love. When we can paint on a bigger canvas, can we dream bigger than another dopamine hamster wheel?
-Nils Pihl, CEO, Matterless Studios
About Matterless Studios
Digital life. Real connections. True Affection.
Matterless Studios is an augmented reality studio building the future of digital relationships, creating outlets for human love, nurture, and creativity. For more information visit www.matterless.com, join the Discord, or follow us on Twitter or here on Medium.