Public Screens: From Display to Interaction

Public Screens: From Display to Interaction

Scott McQuire (University of Melbourne, Australia), Sonja Pedell (University of Melbourne, Australia), Martin Gibbs (University of Melbourne, Australia), Frank Vetere (University of Melbourne, Australia), Nikos Papastergiadis (University of Melbourne, Australia) and John Downs (University of Melbourne, Australia)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 21
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2012040102


Large video screens situated in public spaces are characteristic of the mediated public environment of contemporary cities. These screens are now able to support a range of new applications, including interactive gaming. However, urban planning policy frequently treats urban screens as if they were display surfaces only. This underestimates the possibilities for public screens to become sites that incubate innovative modes of urban communication. This paper discusses a research project focusing on public use of interactive gaming on the Big Screen at Federation Square in Melbourne. The project is part of a larger research initiative exploring the impact of new media technologies on how people interact with each other in public space. Material was gathered from a combination of observation and interviews. In addition to informing further development of interactive projects at public sites, the findings also raise important questions for urban planning in the context of pervasive networked media.
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Situating Large Screens In The City

If we date their emergence from the pioneering ‘Spectacolour Board’ erected in New York’s Times Square in 1976, large publicly situated video screens are now more than three and a half decades old. Yet, despite the recent rapid growth in their number and prominence, there remains relatively little empirical data concerning their impact on urban space. This is in marked contrast to the rapid development of a growing body of empirical data on the impact of ‘small screen’ devices such as mobile cell phones (Beaton & Wajcman, 2004; Ito, Okabe, & Matsuda, 2005; Ling & Pedersen, 2005; Katz, 2006; Horst & Miller, 2006; Goggin & Hjorth, 2007).

Scholarly analysis of the impact of media on social life and urban space has historically been framed by concern with spectacle and the commodification of space on the one hand (Debord, 1970; Cooke & Wollen, 1995), and surveillance and the policing of urban space on the other (Lyon, 2007). Since the 1960s, sociologists, architects and urban planners have pointed to the decline of public space and the emergence of de-centred cities lacking a traditional sense of ‘place’ (Jacobs, 1961; Sennett, 1977; Soja, 2000). In these analyses, the impact of media, notably the role of broadcast television in effectively ‘privatizing’ public culture by relocating critical aspects of the public sphere into the suburban private home, has often been held in a negative relation to public space.

This predominantly negative association has been subject to some revaluation in recent research. For instance, research into creative industries and the role of culture in social inclusion strategies has attempted to map the links between cultural practice, urban regeneration and social cohesion (Yudicé, 2003; Paddison & Miles, 2007). There has also been an emerging body of work looking more generally at what Saskia Sassen (2006) terms the imbrication of the digital and the non-digital in contemporary cities (Mitchell, 2003; McQuire, 2008; Souza e Silva & Sutko, 2009; Gordon & Souza e Silva, 2011). And there is now an emerging body of work on the specific phenomena of large screens (McQuire, 2006; McQuire, Martin, & Niederer, 2009).

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