Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Blog 3: Screens as Imprisonment, Wed. section

Manovich talks about the imprisonment of the body by the use of screens in "The Interface". I found this argument hard to buy, given the extreme to which it was taken. Manovich claims that even after miniaturization brings the screen into our own eyes, we will still be imprisoned by them. I can't really understand what he's trying to get at, since by that point there is nothing at all limiting by the screen. I claim, rather, that the screen is liberating, especially when brought to such an extreme as an eye implant. Compared to searching through books or watching a film from a video-cassette, the screen-based technology we employ today grants us much more freedom than it could possibly revoke.

Manovich argues that screen-based tools are fundamentally limiting, because the tools themselves are real, physical, and have limited functions. He notes that as technology improves, these limitations shrink. But then he then claims that depending on screen-based tools is the imprisonment. This argument has been made time and again, but it is still bogus. The same argument can be naively applied to any medium. Are we imprisoned because we are dependent on written language? Of course not. It is a medium that has given us much more freedom.

Manovich brings his argument ultimately to the extreme of having a cellular eye implant as the screen. But here, the user is only limited by software, because there are no longer any physical restrictions. The user instead, borrowing a common buzzword, sees an "augmented reality". That is, the user enjoys all the freedoms of looking around with the eye in the true physical world, plus he can elect to view extra information--anything the software is capable of--on top of that. The vision is "augmented", and therefore the user has more freedoms than before.

This is a stark contrast from an imprisonment. While certain screen-based technologies of the past and today are limiting--smartphone screen resolution comes to mind--it is naive to claim that the screen is fundamentally imprisoning. All technologies have limitations, but using a limited technology does not necessarily increase the limitations of the user. Almost always, these types of technologies are liberating instead.

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