Digitization and Public Space

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Stereoscope’s Project Blinkenlights in Toronto in October 2008 was an impressive show of technological wizardry, especially the interactive aspect of it. Garrick Schmitt at AdAge points to the installation as an example of how pubic space is becoming increasingly digitized. The proliferation of screens in public spaces, Schmitt says, shows how “our culture’s seemingly ravenous desire for digital experiences is
changing our expectations for physical spaces — both in public and
private.” He continues,

the trend is more than just “digital out of home,” which is a phrase
that gets used a bit too broadly to describe this cultural shift.
Instead, it’s a complete rethinking of our public spaces as digital
experiences.

Traditionally, ideal public spaces either enhance collective experiences or break down the barriers between public and private spaces. HBO’s Voyeur promotion in New York City seemed to do both, but the experience was collective only in the sense of a common marketing demographic. But Schmitt is on to something in his suggestion that screens in public spaces represent a new kind of experience, that reproductive technologies are changing how we perceive reality, even in public space.

In “Little History of Photography” Walter Benjamin talks about how photography reduces all the complexities of reality to a mere
signifying function.  Because it can’t show any social significance or
human meaning in a photograph of, say, a factory, a photograph has to
build up meaning, to elaborate the visual. In the 1920s the Surrealists and the Russian cinematic avant-garde responded to these
conditions by deconstructing reality within the photographic image.

We have a ravenous desire for digital experiences because we’re estranged from public spaces. The buildings all look the same. Our movements are circumscribed by security restrictions. We can’t see any social significance in what we see because it’s hard to imagine people inside buildings doing anything that isn’t completely boring. Consequently, meaning of the real has to be built up in the manner to which we’re most accustomed: digitally.

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