Dissappearance of Reality and the Aura of the Original

While researching for and working on a new article here at Schloss Dagstuhl I stumbled upon a recent book of the SIG-GLUE group. The book is called "Affective and emotional aspects of human-computer interaction; game-based and innovative learning approaches". As the title already suggests, more than half of the papers published in it are about games and their effects on learning. Nevertheless, some articles deal with problems that are similar to those I research in my smart indicators project. In this book there is an article by Paechter and Schweizer in which the authors cite the work of Hartmut von Hentig. In the late eighties the author was following of a major philosophy and educational-philosophy trend of great technophobia. It is interesting in this context that many authors in that period refer that media and in particular digital technology that is used as media will cause a increasing virtualisation of life and a loss of or in case of von Hentig more difficulties of people to gain authentic real experiences. The concept of authentic real experiences is in art history, art theory, media theory and philosophy a direct reference to the works of Walter Benjamin mostly during the the first thrid of the 20th century. However, as a major misconception of Benjamin's work the loss of the "authentic real original" is nothing bad per-se but rather a way of distributing art, culture, and power.

For Benjamin, massive replication of originals is a way to enable social and cultural participation of the masses. The replication process in that sense must not necessarily be a loss less or exact copy of the original, but can also imply manipulations and variations of the "original". The key idea of Benjamin that through the process of replication the original looses its Aura and thus, to a certain extend also its value. While for many philosophers and art historians the loss of the Aura of the original has a clear negative connotation, Walter Benjamin's original work was actually mentioned the loss of the aura as something positive. The key aspect of Benjamin's ideas is that the massive replication (including the manipulation) of originals helps to emancipate the essence of the art, information, and culture from belief, power, and oppression. Taking the stance of enhancing the "original" over the replica would be in Benjamin's view similar in supporting the power of the State and the power of the Church against the power of the people and the social community.

Besides the problem of copyright and intellectual property, another important question arises from the thoughts of Walter Benjamin for virtual environments and learning using digital devices. This question is if a virtual reality has to copy and compete with the "real experience" or offers replciation (and variation) of the "real" alternative views on thoughts, data, and information? That implies that the exact copy of real experiences is not necessary in all circumstances. In many cases providing the essence of a idea, concept, information, or even emotions can be as good as the authentic real experience. The results of the work of Paechter and Schweizer actually show that making an environment more "real", will introduce more factors which affect how users read, interpret, emotionally engage, and anticipate the presented information. In particular adding emotional factors in the form of pictures of persons influences the way how information and its quality is interpreted by the users. In case of the experimental setting, adding pictures enhanced the emotional experience of communication slightly, but reduced the quality estimation almost in the same way.

The assumption that making things more real will improve the experience and the quality of experiences is therefore problematic. Emotional factors of the "real" can make things actually more difficult for all actors. As a consequence it is important to analyse emotional factors in human-computer interactions more carefully instead of taking theoretical assumptions for granted.