Rear Left

Swipe/Wipe – Tilt/Cut

Across its 100+ year history, cinema has developed a lexicon of edits – meaning laden codes built around the visual representation of temporal progression from one image to the next. As screen-based media migrates onto handheld devices that add the element of touch to the existing audio-visual interface connecting text and reader, a new language of image transition that incorporates physical gesture is emerging. Unlike the conventions of visual edits, gestural interface has not yet developed as a shared set of conventions, and experimental texts proliferate on the iPhone and similar devices. Swipe, tilt, shake, and tap are becoming related to cut, wipe, mix, and fade, but the conventions that shape their meanings for audiences are still up for grabs.

Ruben and Lullaby (2009) is an interactive fiction for iPhone. Drawing on Bolter and Grusin’s (1999) analysis of new media’s incorporation of pre-existing forms, Ruben and Lullaby can be seen as remediating the shot sequencing of a conventional cinematic dialogue scene between two characters. Ruben and Lullaby adds a gestural twist to a readily recognisable scenario by empowering the viewer to determine when edits occur. By tilting the screen to one side or the other, the program cuts to another shot and an audio cue on the soundtrack is triggered. Building on the conventions of audio-visual editing in cinema, these cuts produce an affect in the viewer which may suggest a range of readings, primarily related to the tempo of the cuts. For example, rapid tilting from side to side produces an equally rapid series of cuts, resulting in a sense of narrative conflict for the user-viewer. Adding levels of complexity to the interaction, the user can produce affects in the characters on screen by either stroking the screen to soothe or shaking it to agitate them. The scenario is algorithmically played through, combining the user’s input and the two character’s affective relationships to each other to produce an outcome that fits within a conventional narrative structure.

The physicality (one might even go so far as to say the violence) of this interaction with the screen can be read as an attempt to break with the traditional fixity of the viewer’s body in relation to the screen (as noted by Lev Manovich in The Language of New Media, 2001), although it is important to note that although the viewer is able to affect the narrative discourse with their body, in order to view the screen a degree of fixity is still required between the eye and the image.

A century after the montage experiments of Lev Kuleshov, algorithmic media is developing a new language of embodied interaction with the text. Gestural human-computer interface adds significant new spatial dimensions to narrative works, as montage forced a reconceptualisation of the relationship of spatiality and temporality of images. For critical media theorists the next step is to dig into how this embodiment of the user-reader opens political possibilities in art, just as montage offered great opportunities for the exploration of a productive liberatory discourse.

Spaces of Refusal

Posted in DigiCult, Dog Food by rearleft on September 25, 2010

Preliminary findings from new research into young Australians’ usage of mobile and social media reveals that while networks of information and communication technologies are changing rapidly, so too are the social practices that surround them. One interesting aspect of Kate Crawford‘s three year study into the practices and attitudes of 18-30 year olds across Australia is the comparison between mobile phone (and media) usage in urban and rural populations.

In cities, where 3G coverage is near-ubiquitous, the study captured a population that is, in a sense, always online. This ability to connect with others in one’s social network through a number of channels (face-to-face, telephone, text message, social networking sites…) can, in the situation of a failure in the technological networks, result in a “connectivity panic” in which the individual experiences anxiety as a result of being unable to use their device to connect to other people or sources of information. As a way of addressing this hyperconnectedness, nuanced social norms are emerging around how to deal with the ability to reach and be reached at all times. These may include taking intentional time offline, or away from social networking sites, but also in more subtle practices such as the differentiation of styles and modes of communication for various cliques and social clusters that one is part of. For instance, one might develop a norm for using telephone conversations as the primary mode of communicating with family members, but prefer the use of email for work contacts because of its ability to be answered in an asynchronous fashion, and thereby to seem less socially demanding on the person contacted.

In rural and regional locales, where data and telephony network coverage is far more patchy, attitudes and practices around the use of such technologies takes on a different character. In the situation where technological networks cannot be regularly or reliable accessed, social norms emerge that account for the fact that communication is not always possible. Respondents to the study reported practices such as writing and storing text messages while offline and transmitting large amounts in bursts when a signal became available. Conversely, in a low-coverage area it becomes more socially acceptable to not respond to a message at the time it was received by virtue of the fact that it is possible to have been out of range.

These methods for defining when and how one sends and receives information to one’s contacts can be seen as tactics by which individuals and groups are negotiating community norms in the context of rapidly changing technological and social network formations. In the case of placing limitations on one’s availability to the communication network, Crawford notes that these tactics can be seen as the creation of what Genevieve Bell has called “spaces of refusal”. However the creation of such spaces and times without connectivity to networked communications media should not be seen as a total rejection of the new communication technologies, but rather as an important aspect of negotiating new ways of being connected to online and offline communities.

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