When I was a tiny child, before I’d even started going to school, I’d watch and re-watch the first Harry Potter movie every afternoon until the VCR tape inevitably began spilling out of its plastic shell. Somehow, out of all the whimsical spells and wondrous charms in the movie, I found the printed pictures in the wizarding world most fascinating; newspapers, photos, and posters that move and change dynamically. Although we still haven’t quite cracked the code for printing out GIF’s straight to paper, the muggle world isn’t far from replicating this magic with modern technologies. An increasing access to digital screens have allowed for the creation of dynamic, digital ‘posters’ spread across the surfaces of public areas.
I spent a week taking notice of public screens and digital signage around my University, and I was surprised by how many I had not noticed before. Digital displays have such a strong presence in everyday life that the signs around campus are almost camouflaged. These signs were almost exclusively used for advertising and promoting different aspects of Uni life; events, student resources, and on-campus activities. Some also had features like weather forecasts and a news feed, though most did not. In my own experience, I don’t consciously find myself looking at these signs unless they have something that hooks me by my peripheral vision. Again, they blend into the background. When observing those around me I found this level of interaction was common. Though public screens and signage should be great at grabbing attention, they are competing with the constant presence of private screens; smartphones.
Public screens can also be seen on a much larger scale in urban cities across the world. Times Square in New York City is known worldwide for its bright, digitised billboards, which loom overhead of up to 460,000 pedestrians per day. By contrast, some urban cities use public screens for a different purpose to advertising. When going on a trip to Melbourne, I’ll often try to catch a couple games of tennis on the big screen in Federation Square. Urban areas with large public screens like this one become hubs of public intimacy, gathering masses of onlookers to share a viewing experience. Mirjam Struppek discusses the potential uses of public screens in urban planning in their 2006 journal article, with a focus on interactivity and alternative content to advertising. Struppek argues that to create a sustainable network of digital screens within the public sphere, the uses for digital display technologies need to be broadened. They suggest accommodating cultural institutions, or TV broadcasters, and creating more desirable, publicly-intimate spaces around screens in urban settings. By usefully integrating these screens within the space, our cities can become interactive, networked, and sustainable alongside the increased presence of public screens and digital signage.