This new OK Go video is more than just a celebration of the DIY aesthetic -- it's a flat-out rejection of the MTV aesthetic. Goodbye, vertiginous cuts. Goodbye, post-production god-tricks. Hello, one-shot plus dog tricks.
And, though it's not my usual cup o' tea, the song's pretty good too. Kind of Prince-y without being too precious.
Yesterday, I had a very interesting getting-to-know you chat with my new colleague Chirag Shah. He's a computer and information science guy, and I'm a media and culture guy, but even casually, we were able to find a lot of common ground. Mostly, we talked about the evolution of wireless technology and strategy, and the coming Google vs. Apple vs. Microsoft battles over the mobile OS.
As an aside during our conversation, I mentioned that "of course, eventually the handset disappears altogether, and becomes virtualized through pico or retinal projection, and all that's left is maybe a little bluetooth or RFID fob, and maybe a pair of earphones." This has been an assumption in the back of my mind for the past decade or so, but I'd never really stopped to think about whether it was actually true, and what these developments mean in terms of culture and technology. To put it another way, Apple especially has spent the last decade investing the mobile media/communications device with almost talismanic qualities, and would it really want to destabilize its market power by dematerializing the very object that defines its strategy? Judging by the prevalence of "concept videos" that feature transparent, AMOLED screens and other barely noticeable interfaces, I'd say the answer is yes.
OK, so people want see-through phones and laptops. So what? Is that any different than Crystal Pepsi, and other aesthetic stabs at dematerialization in the marketing annals?
Maybe. In the past 2 years, "cloud computing" has reached mainstream awareness, as a greater and greater number of applications are departing end users' local spheres and entering the ether, accessible (to anointed users) via any and every informatic orifice. This isn't necessarily a good thing, as Cory Doctorow and others have pointed out. Yet, for a variety of technological, economic and social reasons, it's almost certainly the next thing.
What if the aesthetic of dematerialization is a nod toward this trend, and even an intimation that hardware will soon follow in software's footsteps? The immediate version of this would be the virtualization of the device itself, as I described above: visual, auditory, haptic and network interfaces decoupled from one another, comfortably nestling in easy reach of the organs they're supposed to serve. But the next phase would be the disappearances of the interfaces themselves, and a shift of the burden of recording and transmitting information to the already-pervasive, already-redundant network of communication devices in our urban environment.
We're already being captured on dozens or hundreds of cameras as we go about our appointed rounds; why don't we just tap into that network for video communications a la Skype or FaceTime? There are already screens pervading nearly every inch of public space, from elevators to subways. Why not use the closest one to check your email, or catch up on the latest episode of the Daily Show? With audio spotlight technology, we could theoretically walk down the street having a conversation out loud via VoIP, protected by an ensconcing cone of silence. And so forth.
I'm hardly suggesting that these possibilities are a reality given our current technological and social infrastructures. Nor am I suggesting that this is a desirable next phase for communication. But I do wonder whether this vision of the hardware cloud plays into the current trend of dematerialization, and to what degree it's been discussed explicitly within the HCI and design communities. Anyone?