These are boom times for Augmented Reality

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There’s no escaping the pandemic, but bizarre Instagram filters and Zoom backgrounds give us the illusion that we can.

I am alone in my apartment, as always, and I’ve just replaced my left eyeball with an orange springing out of its peel.

A mile away, a friend, also home alone, is taking her seat—every seat, actually—at the table in The Last Supper, yelling as the camera pans down the row of disciples and her face replaces that of one man after another. Another friend is watching a mouse dressed as the Pope dance across her kitchen floor. A third is smiling while a strange man wraps his arms around his throat.

Many of us have nowhere to go, no one to see, no communal experience to be a part of, no shared feelings other than dread. But the platforms of the pandemic—Zoom, Instagram, Snapchat, FaceTime—all let us pretend that our life is more than just four walls. With augmented-reality filters, users can mess with their appearances in elaborate ways. Before the coronavirus hit, out-there virtual effects were something of a novelty, but now they’re becoming a major mode of passing the time, giving us the technology to make our faces interesting enough to keep on sharing.

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