Last spring I participated in an interdisciplinary symposium called Unthinking Television: Visual Culture[s] Beyond the Console. I was an invited guest on a roundtable devoted to the vague idea of “Screen Life.” I wasn’t sure what that phrase meant at the time, and I still don’t know. But I thought I’d go ahead and share what I saw then — and still see now — as four trends in what we might call the infrastructure of screens.
Moving from obvious to less obvious, these four emergent structural changes are:
- Proliferating screens
- Bigger is better and so is smaller
- Screens aren’t just to look at it
- Our screens are watching us
And a few more details about each development:
1. Proliferating screens
I can watch episodes of The Office on my PDA, my cell phone, my mp3 player, my laptop, and even on occasion, my television.
2. Bigger is better and so is smaller
There is a much greater range in sizes of screens that we encounter on a daily basis. My high definition videocamera has a 2″ screen and I can hook that up directly via HDMI cable to my 36″ flat screen, and there are screen sizes everywhere in between and beyond.
3. Screens aren’t just to look at
We now touch our screens. Tactile response will soon be just as important as video resolution.
4. Our screens are watching us
Distribution networks like Tivo, Dish, and Comcast have long had unobtrusive ways to track what we’re watching, or at least what our televisions were tuned to. But now screens can actually look at us. I’m referring to screens that aware of us, of our movements. The most obvious example is the Wii and its use of IR emitters in its sensor bar to triangulate the position of the Wiimote, and hence, the player. GE’s website has been showcasing an interactive hologram that uses a webcam. In both cases, the screen sees us. I think this is potentially the biggest shift in what it means to have a “screen life.” In this trend and my previous trend concerning the new haptic nature of screens, we are completing a circuit that runs between human and machine, machine and human.