I realize that expressing suspicions about Vamonde comes with the possibility of being called a luddite, but hear me out. I understand the appeal of Vamonde, but I worry that it may produce two unintended consequences. Firstly, I think that every modern person spends some portion of their brainpower paying attention to the physical world and the rest of their energy inhabiting the online/digital one. It almost goes without saying that these two universes require different types of attention and require us to interact with them in fundamentally distinct ways. Further, there’s a certain cognitive cost required to switch from one mental space to another, particularly from the digital to the physical dimension. For example, if I’m writing an essay and look at Facebook for just a moment, it derails my work momentum. Similarly, if I’m sitting outside and check Twitter, I lose whatever contemplative stillness I was cultivating up until that moment.
Vamonde’s creator, Professor Anijo Mathew, has this to say about the motivation behind his product:
We want to not just see what’s out there but also… gain authentic experiences, and enrich and deepen our connections to history, place, and each other… we have stopped collecting objects; instead we have become experiential collectors.¹
I’m definitely not trying to argue that online media is entirely bad, I’m just pointing out that if your goal is to experience physical reality more mindfully–to really take in the nuances of a particular location and come to know it in an intimate way–Vamonde may very well disrupt that process rather than enhance it. It’s cool that I can access a particular music track when I enter XYZ building… but doesn’t that distract from rather than amplify the space? (If, on the other hand, your goal is to share what a particular experience was like for you, in a similar way to posting on Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, etc, then Vamonde seems like an interesting new way to do that.)
I’m also a little worried about the hedonic treadmill. Every time a new technology is invented, it wows us for a brief period of time before it becomes commonplace. We demand forms of entertainment that are endlessly more evocative to our dopamine-numbed brains, which can barely read books anymore for lack of stimulation. Meanwhile, Vamonde promises “a rolodex of adventures.” If multimedia escapades that take us all over the city become too easily available, part of me wonders if “adventures” will become… boring. “Ugh, another trans-continential breakfast tour replete with handpicked classical music tracks to accompany each meal? Those are so cliche.” This is possibly a sillier concern than the first, but I mention it for the sake of completeness.