‘Here’s Peeping at You’: The Computer Screen, the Logic of the Gaze, and the Miniaturization of the Image Window

Symposium:


Session Title:

  • Media History

Presentation Title:

  • ‘Here’s Peeping at You’: The Computer Screen, the Logic of the Gaze, and the Miniaturization of the Image Window

Abstract:

  • Much of our daily communication takes place through “image windows” that are constantly shrinking in size. The tiny cell phone screens are among the most important information surfaces today. We watch “micromovies” from dedicated windows opening up on our desktop. The videogame displays can consist of a screen divided still further into even smaller units. The purpose of this paper is to discuss this tendency towards miniaturized communication interfaces by relating it to larger media historical and theoretical issues. The shrinking of the visual interface goes back to the 19th century and can be detected from various fields from photography and mass produced images to optical toys and fantasies about personal “tele-communication” devices. This
    miniaturization is actually part of a cultural phenomenon I call the “gulliverization of reality”. It has to do with a constant dynamics between expanding and shrinking, exploding and imploding, the static and the mobile, a phenomenon progressively moulding the mediated environment and the role of the spectator within it. This paper tries to understand the logic of the gaze occupied by and involved in such a perceptual process. By looking at neglected media archaeological layers of historical data it aims at a better understanding of our contemporary interfaces and the “traffic” that goes through them.

     

    1. Introduction

    Considering the centrality of screens in contemporary media culture, there have been surprisingly few attempts to define their identity as cultural artifacts. In spite of their ubiquitous presence screens seem strangely evasive, constantly appearing in new places and new forms. We use them, but we rarely stop to think about them. They are treated as barely noticeable surfaces connecting us to streams of data or giving us access to virtual worlds. Screens, however, have not always had such a central role. There was a time when they did not even exist. They have evolved within cultural processes, as answers to deeply felt social, psychological, ideological and economic needs. They have, in other words, a history which can and should be uncovered. However, simply writing a chronicle of the succession of different kinds of screens would not make much sense. Screens should not be studied in isolation of the apparata they are part of.1 Such apparata provide conditions for the actual viewing experience, both enabling it and constraining it. The viewer is at the same time physically related to the screen in the viewing space, and mentally connected to the space on the screen. These aspects are always interconnected and affect the total experience. Viewing apparata change in time and are submitted to varying cultural readings depending on context.

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