On Interactivity and its Power

This text was originally written for the Interactive Media Business course.

Born in 1988, in a rural village located on the countryside of the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, running down the farms and hills, I clearly remember landline telephony being such big news. Before the internet era, living in a small town up by the mountains certainly drew a huge delay regarding technological modernization. Any innovations would first have to arrive to my country, then to its urbanized capitals, and eventually showed up in my surroundings. My father applied for a mobile line financing when I was 8, and when his bid was raffled in a huge antenna attached to a brick, I thought the future had finally arrived. Throughout my childhood I frequently visited some relatives in the capital, where they had more than 5 storey buildings, as I became paranoid over self-moving things. Escalators, elevators, moving walkways – basically anything with hidden kinetics – were my main subject of childish conversations and demands for many years. I’m still well known in my family for the word “automatic” (automático in Portuguese) which I babbled endlessly to describe the targets of my fascination, regardless of whether the use would fit or not. My contact with technology held still by these terms for a reasonable amount of time. My little hometown had no “automatic” things, and what was the best place to grow up free by the nature slowly became a source of frustration.

Long story short: teenage hood came, I could not relate to my environment, few to no engagement at all – the perfect recipe for an insurgent teen. Circa 2003, dial-up internet made its way to my house (not without a good shot of struggle and family drama, of course). Suddenly my reality was no longer conformed to that little social circle high school provided me, and through chat rooms, MSN messenger, and ICQ I was able to find people that shared the same interests as me – from music to games and, most importantly, sexual orientation. I found out there were uncountable homosexual teenagers going through the same adversities as I was, and even though critics insist to define internet relationships as shallow and superficial, I met some people back then that still live as my closest friends today.

This is a great example of the social impact of the early internet era because it changed my behaviour in deep, transformative and – ultimately – positive ways. There was SMS before, but its reach was almost irrelevant: it was too expensive, and it was limited to your existing social circle anyway; thus internet for me was the first real democratic experience of the digital age. From those times to nowadays the communication platforms have changed a lot, but the mechanisms are basically the same. I met a guy back in 2007 through Orkut who lived in the other side of my country, 1500 miles away from me, and we started chatting back then. Eventually he moved to my city, we started dating, and he’s been my husband for 9 years now. Shallow and superficial internet relationships, can anyone say?

Mcluhan’s deep reflections on this new era bring valuable references about the changes of perspective in our society’s way of thinking the world itself. His analogous comparison between what Cubist painters did to the art world can be related to what the internet did to your society as a very interesting way of understanding this complex process:

“In other words, cubism, by giving the inside and outside (…) in two dimensions, drops the illusion of perspective in favour of instant sensory awareness of the whole. Cubism, by seizing on instant total awareness, suddenly announced that the medium is the message.” (McLuhan 205; my emphasis)

Content is not exactly a priority anymore, and the very core of thinking and perceiving reality becomes a fluid aggregate of language overtaken by Media – somehow the ultimate and most dominant expression of a “Liquid Modernity” (Bauman). These are very intricate concepts, and of course we still care about content and form; however the question here is about the way we consume and digest information. People don’t ask themselves about the utility or final end of media content anymore (McLuhan 205), they just digest it as the language embedded in it compounds the shape of the message itself. Content just flows around as a cloud of interrelations between media.

My first experiences with the job market were also extremely influenced by the digital transformation in society as I started working in small architecture offices transitioning from paper based presentations to digital media in project development. The architectural market had its very specific conundrums when dealing with digital work flow, especially because CAD software had been around for decades; however (and also referring back to McLuhan’s text) the process wasn’t digital at all. It is an amusing paradigm, though: professionals were used to drawing on computers for a long time, however the process was still based on analog drawing. The medium was different, but the logic of paper still dominated creative thinking, and this is still a deadlock that architectural education can’t seem to solve. I always believed that projects shouldn’t be based on two dimensional thinking which clients can’t seem to relate to; therefore I continuously looked for more interactive ways of translating architecture into something more substantial. Virtual Reality could definitely be the answer, however it is extremely dependent on investments in robust hardware setups and digital media development – a reality that is still too distant to the daily work flow that most design offices can afford or are willing to implement. This impasse was one of the reasons that later led me to establish my own private practice (which slowly shifted from architectural projects to 3d visualization and web design) and later influenced my decision to change careers. I just could not bear another day standing by an environment where everyone insisted on a decaying language, and slowly what I loved so much became a frustrating experience of constantly getting lost in translation.

I don’t think that my perspectives are the only right ones; however I believe that my beloved past career is too stubborn in thinking its formalist language will survive contemporary society. Architects get so lost in their architect-to-architect faux intellectually superior speech while on the real outside world the whole concept of communication is being reshaped. I believe in the dominance of the digital language as a fundamental stone of our society now:

“The collapse of Modernism brought forward the dominance of the symbol (…) there is no form that does not carry infinite layers of meaning. What is suggested is as real as what is physically present. This is the language of graphical user interface, where the icon reigns supreme, and language is larded over the top of everything.” (Greenwold 19; my emphasis)

These are both realities and futures of any creative field, and while it can be utterly scary to think that we might no longer have any control over media and content, the change is happening regardless. The language of the future is fluid, cloudy, and dubious, and I cannot imagine what will be of those who choose to stay behind. I won’t be one of them.

Cited Works

·McLuhan, Marshall. “The Medium is the Message”. The New Media Reader, edited by Wardrip-Fruin, Noah; Montfort, Nick. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003.
·Greenwold, Simon. Spatial Computing. MS Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003. https://goo.gl/SE78e5 (7 Feb. 2017).
·Bauman, Zygmunt. “Foreword: On Being Light and Liquid”. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity, 2000, pp. 6-9.
·Matsuda, Keiichi. “HYPERREALITY.” Online video clip. Vimeo, 2016. https://vimeo.com/166807261 (11 Feb. 2017).