Visualising mediated interaction

This video, edited by Tony Zhou, offers a nice articulation of the kinds of imaginative strategies for attempting to represent, on film, the ways we interact through screen-based devices (i.e. computers and phones). Zhou demonstrates how the clunky attempts at verité don’t work – showing the screen while someone types takes ages and so its expensive. Instead, employing abstraction – such as floating text bubbles –advances the narrative without the need to film screens.

A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

Of course, because these kinds of sequences are in a linear narrative it necessitates the character reading the message instantly – whereas a lot of our screen-based interactions are asynchronous. Its also a narrative device that has been employed in ‘design fiction‘ films to illustrate the abstract communication that takes place by quasi-autonomous software programmes that (will/would/may) underpin the ‘internet of things’. For how else are we to represent the apparently immaterial and abstract mechanisms that constitute what Kitchin and Dodge have called ‘coded spaces’ (and/or coded objects, infrastructures and so on)? For example…

The Social Web of Things from comsicomsa on Vimeo.

What this does, of course, is to render processes that operate in diverse temporalities (like the not-quite-speed-of-light, the speeds of electro-magnetic radiation) which are frequently cyclical and sporadic (CPU cycles and so on) and organised in ways that are oriented towards different modes of legibility (for speed of processing) in the linear conventions of film/tv. We have nuanced understandings of how these things operate within our daily lives (up to a point – they’re mostly figured around individual sensibilities rather than complex collectives) but I’m not really convinced that we have, yet, have a nuanced means of articulating these things.

To adapt what Derek McCormack suggests, these are attempts to represent the ‘abstraction [that] is a constituent element of the background infrastructures that allow life to show up and register as experience’ [p. 720]. The reason I’m framing it this fairly awkward way is that I think what Zhou’s video points to is that it is increasingly difficult for the ‘lay person’ to appreciate and understand the complex assemblages (or, rather, ‘agencements‘) of electronic systems that intimately affect how we live our lives. They are manifestly abstract, but this abstraction is frequently not treated in an affirmative sense but rather in an obfuscatory way.

Thinking about Zhou’s video and the growing impetus amongst social scientists to study the complexities of contemporary networked technologies, I am drawn to the idea that perhaps the kinds of visual devices used in the kinds of videos I’ve discussed here ought to be further employed to help describe and explain how contemporary processes of mediation function”¦ Probably something the students on courses like ‘Design Informatics‘ are already doing..? Its certainly something that ought to be part of any kind of ‘digital studies‘.

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