I’ve been in three separate conversations over the past week with individuals who work in projection technology, video art, and media design that have revolved around or at least touched upon the idea that interactive media is the future of the electronic media for the stage. Ordinarily, I’m the first person to jump on that bandwagon—nothing in the artistic world excites me more than a creative experience that I can participate in or that I can see being generated spontaneously.
Obviously, a lot of people feel the same way. University departments have been experimenting with varieties on this theme for decades now—a fact that begs some serious questions. Like: Why has none of this research made it into mainstream entertainment? Is the technology just not sufficient yet? Then why are technology companies still concentrating nearly all of their efforts on output only—presentational playback and display advances?
Ten years ago, the conversation about the future of the Web was on similar ground. Technologies were being developed that would make mass culture more participative— the world could be united by the effort of the entire population. A billion hands make light work. To a certain extent that has come about, but, perhaps strangely, people seemed most inclined to contribute most frequently where the stakes are lowest: YouTube, LOLcats, the comment strings that seemingly follow every item of information on the intertubes. Wikipedia might be the only exception.
After my week of conversation about interactive media on the stage, I’m forced to confront the possibility that today’s audiences might not care about interactivity any more than participative culture—that the creators will always be outnumbered by the consumers. If we are responsible, then, our job is to tell the stories that speak to them the clearest in the most concise possible way. That kind of communication is almost always easiest to achieve through prepared, non-interactive means. Or perhaps I just have to wait longer…
Jake Pinholster is the professor of media design in the Herberger College School of Theatre & Film at Arizona State University. He can be contacted with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.