Matrix reloaded in shadow of the Acropolis

One Wednesday afternoon Thiseion is busy as usual with youngsters hanging out in cafes, parents with prams strolling along the Dionysiou Aeropagitou pedestrian zone, cyclists weaving through the crowd and tourists taking photographs below the Acropolis. Suddenly eight young people in groups of four start running and pressing keys on portable appliances as part of an experiment conducted by Athens University’s Communications and Mass Media Department. They are exploring «the boundaries of the new mixed reality created from the convergence of physical and digital space,» journalist and sociologist Nikos Kaimakamis told Kathimerini. Kaimakamis, who is also one of the researchers, agreed to explain the project in plain language. He showed me a 3G mobile phone with a map of Thiseion on its large screen. In theory the experiment is simple, and entertaining. The two teams see the map and themselves as emoticons on their mobile phones. The carry a bag containing a GPS transmitter that transmits their exact location to a satellite, as well as a digital recorder on which they record their thoughts. The eight are the heroes of a video game that takes place in reality as well as on the digital map. The aim is to collect as many gifts as possible from those they can see on the map (but not in the real world), and which each team takes back to their base by using their mobiles. In order to achieve that, they have to cooperate because the designers have calculated the distances so as to make it impossible for anyone to succeed in doing it alone. «What kind of sociability and behavior will we develop in an environment in which even our communication with space will be mediated by digital appliances? That’s what we want to know,» said Dimitris Haritos, head of the Locunet research program we observed. Haritos is also a lecturer at Athens University’s Communications and Mass Media Department, where the subjects he teaches include «human-machine communication,» and «contemporary communication environments.» As the players race through the streets of Thiseion sending text messages, back at the university technicians, social psychologists and other experts watch the action on computer screens. What kind of world will mixed reality be? The first answers might come from the research team at Athens University.