Defining the Digital Medium

General / 01 May 2018

The Microsoft HoloLens is a digital artifact that I propose embodies Ceruzzi's definition of computer and Murray's digital medium characteristics.

Computer Definition
The head-mounted display (HMD) sits on one's head and serves as a mobile computer in which input is given by the user to solve problems through a network of data, communication, and other processes driven by circuits within the device (Ceruzzi, 1).  Its mobility is similar to that of other mobile devices like laptops, tablets, and phones, but the way in which the user interacts with it is its most distinguishable quality.  The various applications that can be accessed through the HMD interface are software programs operating through the the hardware and work with wireless communication networks to relay and compute data.  The interface  through which the user interacts with is displayed and superimposed on a set of lenses to allow the user to see both the interface and through the lenses to the real environment, creating an augmented reality experience.

Encyclopedic Capacity
The HMD epitomizes "our desire to get everything in one place," and it just happens to be on the user's head without depriving him or her from other non-involved activities (Murray, 6).  With access to various software applications, data storage, and communication networks, the user has the potential to access countless resources.  In addition, the ability to input new information through its interface allows for the aggregation to these data repositories.

Spatial Navigation
A coordinated "capability for embodying dimensionality" is defined through the HMD's built-in cameras and other hardware for geo-locating its use together with the real environment (Murray, 6).  The spatial navigation is utilizing the familiar real environment with a new superimposed interface, creating an augmented reality for the user.  As a result, the transition between reality and the computer "as a place" can be seen as blurred (Murray, 6).

Procedures Input
The hardware and software used with the HoloLens are programmed with the steps necessary to compute the assigned procedures, and together with user participation, define the foundation for its interactivity (Murray, 6).  The built-in software and access to other tools in its network are further enhanced by the various methods in which a user can provide input: cameras built into the HMD to identify unique hand movements that it interprets as input, a microphone for vocal commands, and a handheld accessory that communicates through a wireless connection to the HMD. 

User Participation
The HoloLens relies on user participation to react and process tasks.  Again, the distinguishable aspect of its interface is the way in which the user participates.  Visual cues to the HMD can range from looking through the lenses at a particular surface or tracked object, speaking commands, to making hand gestures.  While some of these are consistent with other traditional digital media, the natural actions of looking, speaking, and moving one's hands blur the line between reality and "the sense of participating in a world that responds coherently to our participation" (Murray, 6).

Other Criteria?
These four characteristics can create a foundation that "define the boundaries of the digital medium," but I can also see opportunities where other factors may contribute to a greater degree, more so than they already contribute to these criteria.  For example, communication networks are an important component in the encyclopedic criteria, but it may be that communication networks are emerging to be a criteria of its own, in the same way that the "'spatial' property is derivative of the procedural and participatory properties" (Murray, 6).  Personally, and probably to a large set of the population, being out of range from a communication network (loss of signal in a mobile device, lack of WiFi, and other network issues) feels like one is out of the loop to the point that the digital medium is no longer fully capable.

Works Cited

Ceruzzi, Paul E. A History of Modern Computing. 2nd Edition, The MIT Press, 2003.
"Microsoft HoloLens: Mixed Reality Blends Holograms with the Real World." YouTube, uploaded by Microsoft HoloLens, 29 February 2016,
Murray, Janet H. "Inventing the Medium."  The New Media Reader, edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, The MIT Press, 2003, pp. 3-11.
"The World’s First Holographic Head-Mounted Display" Microsoft, Accessed 27 March 2018.