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Cynthia Wisehart on Screens

I don’t blame our industry for the anxiety of our public square and relationships. But I do blame screens in general—and the heaving maw of demand they create for content. We think of content coming out of a screen, but screens must suck in more than they put out. That’s the business model. They demand attention, emotion, collaboration (and not always in a good way). They need churn from us as their audience and co-conspirators. They need our attention and emotion and they don’t care how they get it.

On the good side, screens have never been so aesthetically capable. As a former theme park designer, I’m in awe of what I see from some content creators, projection mappers, visual and graphic artists, and “experience” designers, whatever that may mean. So in the sense that screens are inevitably interactive, many content creators today are striking an honorable bargain for our attention. They are stimulating the exchange of positive energy. I don’t underestimate that.

But just as some content creators seek to uplift with their screen communication, others use it to manufacture poison out of the discomfort and frailties of humans. This is what happens on the small screen at this point. I hope we will never have to experience the Internet on the big screen or digital signage platforms, or worse on video conferences or in educational settings.

Attention is the coin of the realm. We are very much in the attention business, because we provide the platforms. We can’t do much about what people do with those platforms. We can do our best to make them competent and comfortable to use, knowing that clarity, intelligibility, resolution, low latency, and UI affect how people feel when they are interacting in the AV jungle. People who are at peace with the platform, are more likely to create communication that is incrementally better. That’s no small thing and be proud of it.

But we are not just the AV guys. We are customers as well. As 2019 draws to a close and we head into what will be an eventful new decade, I’m thinking about where I put my attention. I’m thinking about how I give power to what comes across the screen platforms, whether it’s the Internet, signage, or a video conference. Screen content is people on both ends of the exchange. So just as cars in LA shape interaction and ripple through human life, so do screens. Inside cars there are people. Inside screens there are people. My holiday resolution is to remember that.

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