Technology plays a larger role in today’s society than ever before. We utilize technology to stay in touch with our families, to complete our homework assignments, to watch media, and to become involved with those around us. We are bombarded by a variety of interactive screens and it is usually necessary to use these forms of technology to manage our day. I have assembled a collection of three screens integral to our society today: the smartphone, the school projector, and the movie theater. These screens serve the purpose of presenting media for entertainment and education, yet all provide a fundamentally different context for viewing. Where, how, and with who we observe this media is distinct for each of these screens, a phenomenon that parallels technological changes in our society today.
The first smartphone, introduced in mass in 1992 by IBM was truly a revolution in technology; an individualized device which could be used to make calls as well as send emails and faxes. However, since then, the technology of smartphones has been improved upon significantly, providing users with a plethora of different abilities that add to their experience. Today, a common use of smartphones is the streaming of movies and televisions on platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, etc. Developed by Apple and mass produced by Hon Hai Precision Industry, iPhones are a prominent device used to stream movies and television shows. The roughly 6×3 inch screen is the perfect size for an individual viewer to watch their desired media wherever and whenever they would like. The portable, accessible nature of the smartphone has contributed to the increase in movie streaming over the past few years as a predominant way to experience films.
School Projectors –
French physicist Edmond Becquerel created the original overhead projection system in 1853 and it was first advertised in America shortly after as a “vertical lantern.” Since then, the overhead projector has been adapted mostly to the classroom setting, where it is the prevailing technological staple in schools. Companies such as Epson, BenQ, and ViewSonic make the most popular models of projectors, which are usually ceiling mounted devices, around the 1’x1.5’ feet, that project onto a wall or screen. Typically in a 4:3 aspect ratio, the projectors can be used for a variety of tasks, such as casting films or mirroring a computer screen. These school projectors are for the benefit of students, as they broadcast media for an entire classroom to observe, thereby utilizing technology to enhance education.
Movie Theaters –
The first, permanent movie theater was Tally’s Electric Theater in California, completed in 1902, which first showed films such as The Great Train Robbery. Today, companies such as AMC, Cinemark, and IMAX dominate the movie theater industry and serve as an extremely popular event for all ages. These theaters externally project onto screens typically ranging from 30-90 feet wide and 10-30 feet tall. The enormous size of these screens makes it possible to completely engulf viewers in the film being presented. The size of the screen in combination with the surround sound and dark environment allow moviegoers to be transported in almost a different reality, making movie theaters the most thrilling way to experience cinema.
The smartphone, school projector, and movie screen are all used to display media in their own, specialized environment. Pomian, in his work Collectors and Curiosities, describes a collection as a “set of natural objects…afforded special protection in enclosed places adapted specifically for that purpose and put on display.” Whether it be at school, in a theater, or in your own hands, these devices are put on display in their respective areas and used to entertain and inform us. These screens capture our attention through the electronic media they present; movies, television shows, presentations, etc., are all featured on these devices with the goal of amusing and teaching viewers. Vivid imagery from a film or an engaging, interactive presentation seize and maintain our attention, using the screens as a medium to do so. Therefore, the media remains a context for my collection because these objects are used to communicate the media they present to their audience. Without intriguing information, the items in my collection are just screens; however, the introduction of powerful media transforms them into an accessible means of educating and inspiring their viewers.
The three objects comprising my collection form relationships with their viewers, an essential component of screen practice, by utilizing media to entertain and instruct. Screen practice rose to prominence in the mid 1900s when observers viewed the extremely life-like images projected to them as life itself. Charles Musser describes, in The Emergence of Cinema, that before the installation of screen practice onlookers saw projected images as magic and almost fictitious. However, with the demystification of these images, spectators began to observe the images as art, signifying the dawn of screen practice. This unveiling set up a relationship with the producer, the images themselves, and the audience which has remained unchanged ever since and is fundamental to screen practice because it establishes a connection between all parties involved. This imperative connection between technology and user is achieved by the items in my collection through a variety of ways.
Movie theaters are exemplary of the original “magic” of the screen; their use of powerful speakers, an engulfing, high-definition picture, and surrounding ambiance all work to enrapture its audience and almost remove them from reality. By immersing the viewers, the movie theater sets up an external connection between screen and observer, thereby representing a core element of screen practice. Similarly, smartphones provide an external connection because we constantly have phones on our person. Smartphones are integral for navigating everyday life so we must carry them with us consistently. This dependence on our phones establishes the connection which Musser elaborates upon in his depiction of screen practice.
On the contrary, school projectors establish an internal connection with observers through the media they present. Instructional films or presentations provide students with valuable lessons that accompany them for the rest of their lives. In fact, the projector serves as a direct conduit between teacher and student as it is utilized to relay the instructor’s knowledge to their pupils, illustrating the relationship screen practice aims to create through media.
All three of the technological objects in my collection are intrinsically similar as they intend to present media as entertainment to their users. Both the movie theater and school projector use an external source of projection to display images whereas the smartphone utilizes internal projectors to arrange pixels on the screen. This being said, the three items all project images and media used to instruct and/or entertain their observers, thereby exemplifying screen practice. Screen practice itself is the display of images on a screen, typically accompanied by music, voice, and sound effects, according to Charles Musser. Musser asserts that “screen practice always has a technological component, a repertoire of representation strategies and a cultural function,” all of which flux and adapt over time. A shift in the cultural view of these projected images was indicative of the beginning of screen practice.
Shifts in culture also describe how the objects in my collection have been transformed in their assemblage: they are indicative of technology’s impact on our culture today. The personalized and portable nature of the smartphone has led to its predominance and implies a singular way of viewing. The small screen size makes it so only an individual can view, which has led to the independent, closed off, and largely distracted nature of our society. Movie screens, on the other hand, suggest a more communal means of viewing due to their larger screens, allowing a group of people to come together and share a common experience. We always have our phones and take for granted the technology we hold at our fingertips; however, going to the movies still remains a special event. Friends and family attend the movies to observe images being projected together, making an occasion out of it and preserving the “magic” of the screen. Today, this form of screen still functions as an outlet for social gatherings, preserving the notion of community that is slowly being lost due to the advancement of screen practice. However, movie theaters are becoming antiquated as phones now can stream movies and television shows, images that were once unique to televisions. Phones and the enhancement of their abilities are thereby emblematic of the individualization we are experiencing as a society due to technology.
On a more positive note, school projectors are representative of the great educational benefits which an augmentation of technology has brought to our society. Whether it be instructional films, student powerpoints, or interactive presentations, school projectors display images to a group of students with the goal of using technological media to inform. Technological advancement contributes both positives and negatives to our society, a phenomenon that my collection of screens represents.
There are many other screens prevalent in our world today that could potentially be added to the collection. Tablets, laptops, and televisions are all related to my assemblage of media because they are all capable of relaying information to viewers for their enjoyment and education. These items provide unique contexts of presenting media to viewers unlike the other objects in the collection. Smart televisions today can display a variety of pictures, ranging from your typical movies and television shows to interactive games and web searches. The television, however, is oriented to the family because it typically resides in a living-room, implying it is meant for a family or group of people to gather around and experience media in common. In observing television as a family, bonds are strengthened since everyone spends quality time revelling in and talking about their shared experience. The television’s ability to bring together and bond a group of people indicates a very special context for viewing media and is a somewhat magical quality of the screen.
On the contrary, laptops and tablets imply a more individual form of observing screens. Although they are large enough for two or three people to watch, laptops and tablets were created with the purpose of increasing the portability of the standard computer for a single person. Similar to the smartphone, these devices are easily stored and transported, allowing the user to view media wherever they desire. They too are indicative of the increasingly individualistic nature of society and therefore would accomodate my collection’s relation to the changing world around us.