Representing Texting, the Internet & Memes

Last night, I came across a short film ‘A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film’ by . Academic Dr Victor Fan from King’s College London had posted it through the Facebook Group 影戏共观团/影戲共觀團 (La Commune du Cinéma Chinois) that flags up some great films, research and thoughts every single week. Tony questions – ‘Is there a better way of showing a text message in a film? How about the internet? Even though we’re well into the digital age, film is still ineffective at depicting the world we live in. Maybe the solution lies not in content, but in form.’

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Tony talks about ‘problem solving in filmmaking – how do show a text message in a film?…texting is kind of visual so in theory it shouldn’t be hard. In the last 4-5 years, filmmakers have started using a formal convention of the onscreen text message…from soap operas to teen movies to films from South Korea and Japan. Film-form is always evolving. Why are filmmakers doing this? There are three reasons…filmmakers can save money, second it is artistically efficient, it combines action and reaction in the same frame, third reason is elegant design…maybe it is a new conventional, maybe it is a new stepping stone. There is still no way to effectively show or communicate the internet. The desktop film seems to be quite effective as this is the way in which we process information on a daily basis. If you really want to see how things can develop…Japan is the place to be. Physical rooms where people chat or animated rooms within the cell phone…experiments of representation. It is a level playing field. Remember – cheap, efficient, elegant. We must appreciate the small formal steps in the right direction.’

This film reminded me of an excerpt of a paper by academic Monika Jaeckel recently presented as part of the ‘In Dialogue 2014’ symposium at Nottingham Contemporary last month. She was speaking about the notion of touch as dialogue then referencing the touching of screens as a response and exchange practice. Her paper – ‘The Touching Moment: touching matter – matter of response’ can be read in full here.


‘Even ‘staying in touch’ over a long distance, either in time or space entails a sort of mutual exchange. As already the manifold meanings of the word (English) ‘touch’ suggest, it does not necessarily need to be a literal way of touching to create contact. ‘Tap, tap, swipe, tap’: being in touch, by remotely linking via a digital interface to each other, has become a quite common experience. A literal relation created via technological devices that allow interaction. Today this often implies to touch upon a screen to get in touch with someone else. But the tactile experience of impacting the smooth surface of glass or plastic is almost ignored.

Touching a touchscreen addresses the responsiveness we desire but seems less affecting than being pointed at with a red laser pointer. You might be annoyed by this fleeting spot causing futile grasping but that cannot be caught. Still it is not unimportant what touches on what, as only some materials react in the presumed way to each other. E.K. Sedgewick remarks in her book ‘Touching Feeling’ that texture despite its grounding reference with touch ‘involves more than one sense’ and consequently it has to be considered that ‘the different properties, and radically divergent modern histories, of different perceptual systems […] torque and splay the history of texture as well.’ Albeit she states that the sense of physical touch itself ‘has been remarkably unsusceptible to being amplified by technology.’ (2003) The sensational extension of affect enabled in current technology through its prolonged connectivity, seems but to mitigate the sensation of touch into routines of a coded performance. In that it counters Barad’s definition that it is essential for the ability to respond not to be a calculation that is performed.’ – Monika Jaeckel

A further perspective of reference is provided by the curatorial research group, the amaCollective, who in their recent performance ‘dontdrinkthemilk: a de-synched conversation’ again as part of the ‘In Dialogue 2014’ symposium at Nottingham Contemporary last month, referenced a recent collaboration Post-Internet Landscapes (PIL)’ with artist Juan Crespo. ‘It is an online collection and virtual institution which explores the possibilities of .gif and meme formats as a material suitable for artistic and cultural discourse. It will take advantage of new media features through collection and archival methods and take the form of a web installation.’ They are currently looking for proposal submissions of .gifs to be featured in the gallery. More information about the project can be read here


‘Consider for a moment…how unevenly technology has impacted the various fields of knowledge in the twentieth century…The sciences are utterly dependent on advanced technologies…But what of the humanities? During this same time what has happened to them?…The scholar of literature or history works exactly as his predecessors did a hundred years before…Because no new technology assists them. No one has ever developed a new technology for the benefit of historians – until now.’ – Michael Crichton, Timeline

All three of these perspectives look into how the changing digital media of texting, the onscreen exchange and relationship, the Internet, the representation of the digital image, the .gif and meme can be understood and (re)represented through film, through online and visual media, through artistic practice and understood as part of new film, art and curatorial historical discourse. It is all part of a process, an exchange, “touch”, resonance, a dialogue, a new language, a translation. As Tony Zhou states

‘…they are all experiments…people are trying, it is a level playing field, you and I have much of a chance as a Hollywood filmmaker…the answer is no doubt already out there…(film) form is not set is stone. People don’t stop inventing this stuff. It is a big problem we haven’t solved yet, and a level playing field for anyone that wants to go for it.’ – Tony Zhou

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