My early days as a rock scribe pre-dated most indoor smoking bans. I used to keep a separate wardrobe of club clothes — stuff I didn’t mind getting infused with ashtray aromas, since even repeated tumbles in the wash didn’t remove the smell completely. I stopped smoking at the dawn of the ’90s, but my transition was made easier by working within the clubs’ secondhand cloud. When I was a critic again in Chicago the last few years, it was always strange to be seeing a band clearly and exiting the club not reeking of cigarettes.
Nathan Jurgenson (he of the smart arguments against dualisms of online-offline, virtual-real, live-mediatized) recently tweeted: “lol-op-ed idea: ‘the rock club’s cigarette-haze has been replaced by screens & now we’re all coughing in the digitality.’” Funny, but true — and perhaps a useful metaphor: the eversion of cyberspace is an exhalation, a long stream of bits billowing into our various environments, from the backrooms of clubs to the backseats of cabs.
One of my favorite perspective on the evolution of screens and some of the implications is a paper by an engineer, Luigi Lentini, who considered the multiplication of screens within public spaces and forecast that the ability to escape the virtual was getting more and more difficult — a development he called “a manifestation that is absolutely new in all of history” (1991, p. 336). Lentini saw the intrusion of the virtual into reality (augmenting it, mixing with it) as taking the screen’s transparency and turning it into an opacity — actually blocking out parts of reality, overlaying physical objects and environments, obscuring them from view. He depicted this in his paper with a simple figure (above) showing the nebulous screen (S) expanding into and covering reality (R) a la “The Blob” — or a cloud of monstrous “Lost”-like smoke.
Not much in my wardrobe protects against that. AR specs are about to start blowing the digitality right into my eyes. Perhaps someday we’ll see backlash campaigns against secondhand virtuality, or anti-Glass glasses that block visual transmissions from all screens in one’s environment.
I found out that I’ve got eye cancer
Too many television waves …
— Blues Traveler
I'm THOMAS CONNER, communication researcher and culture journalist.