William J. Mitchell on mass media, context independence and facilitated immersion

“…the mass media of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries transformed the global information dissemination system by radically separating the contexts of message transmission and reception. Novelists writing for thousands of readers, musicians in recording studios, and radio performers at their microphones could not know all of the potential reception sites for their productions, and could not assume uniformity among these sites, so they could not count on site features to help clarify or elaborate their meaning. This condition favored the production of works that were not only repeated exactly at different times or in different places, but were also as self-contained and independent of the context of reception as possible.

A closely related outcome was a growing demand for places and devices that masked the consumer’s immediate surroundings in order to facilitate immersion in standardized, modular, mostly self-sufficient information structures: quiet places for undistracted reading; darkened movie theaters where all attention is focused on the screen; the white-walled, minimalist art gallery; the Walkman or iPod that plugs into your ear; and—at the logical limit—the immersive virtual reality installation. Open a book, enter a movie theater, or dial up a track on your iPod and your attention is instantly shifted to another place or time. The dense embedding of these discrete media spaces in the urban fabric yields a city that, like a film with jump cuts and flashbacks, is experienced and understood as a sequence of spatially and temporally discontinuous scenes—some of them expressions of the current, local reality, and others ephemeral media constructions.”

Notes: with smartphones, endless media spaces of one? (Williams’ mobile privatization?) “Addiction by Design” the ultimate immersive media space?

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