Tangible. Touchable. Sensible (1)

There are dangers in surrounding ourselves with screens. Not the danger that we will become one, but the severe danger that we will lose contact with the tangible nature of the environment we live in. Tangible, touchable, palpable — not just words, but essential parts of our being, fundamental to the cellular/physical nature of humans.

Smell, passion, sight are not just extensions of who we are, but at the heart of what we mean by human life. I am not a believer in the post-human, since I am pretty sure the term references more of a psychological state than a real one. I am a lover of digital culture and the world it has generated, but not ready to give up on the sounds of birds, the smells of a wet tropical forest or the vistas available to anyone who climbs a hill or a mountain.

The visual power of screens and in particular, the visual power of internet-based communications technologies does not so much convert the world into a vast array of signs and symbols, as it supports and promotes the potential strength of people interacting with each other. Screens now mediate most of these interactions, but that does not mean that we have to abandon the physical world we share.

How does this make you feel? A father is feeding his daughter. He holds the bottle in one hand and an iPhone in the other. The screen of the iPhone is in Facetime mode. The baby is staring at her mother who is talking and gesticulating — trying against all odds to reach out from the screen to her child. The interaction is rich in potential and contradiction. On the one hand, mother and child are “together.” On the other hand, they are not. The father has become the medium and is a passive observer.

This scene, which is more like a tableau, took place in Whole Foods near their food counter on November 29th 2013.

If screens are boundaries, mediators and frames for reality, then it is possible to envision the baby connecting with her mother solely through the screen of the iPhone. As preposterous as this may appear to be, that is essentially what Facebook is, a virtual environment to which we entrust some of our most personal moments. This is largely because connection has superseded the rather banal and sometimes trying moments of physical interaction. That is the ultimate irony of networks. They permit, encourage and support interconnection without the need to test the physical space of touch and smell and more. (Part 2 will appear soon.)






Interface Realities

A superstorm hits Brisbane, Australia

A superstorm hits Brisbane, Australia

The interface between reality and human perception has shifted from our eyes to eyes/screens/events/experiences/screens.

I am not sure where memories fit into this process/flow, but whereas in the past, reality was mediated by language and on occasion images, we now need screens to visualize not only what we are doing, but what we have done. This is a vast and expanding process of human annotation and visualization which now defines experiences according to the strength with which they have been recorded. Iphoneographers and Androidographers collate all these images into albums, folders and files. The management of all of this data requires more and more time and all of this time is spent within screenworlds. It is not that reality disappears, just that experiences become so layered that we become archeologists, constantly searching for meaning amidst all of the detritus left over from the many thousands of images we take over the course of a few months. 

Comment and response from Felix de Mendelssohn

Dear Ron,

I came back in September from a conference in Sendai, Japan about working with survivor families from Fukushima and the tsunami-affected region. Here the reverse had been true - only privileged people and foreigners had at the time been able see what was happening on CNN etc. The Japanese TV for the local population brought no news, no pictures, no-one knew what was going on. Then Hurricane Sandy hit the East coast of USA and I heard later from locals that at the time they knew nothing, they had only the unfathomable reality, but because the power was down there was no radio, no TV, no phone and no gas to get to somewhere to find out what was going on. So there is perhaps a flip side to your comment - when we lose the images and their interpretations we can be plunged into the terrifying Real.