Media Perspective: Screens are all the rage ... but just how engaging are they?

Hello everyone. I hope you had a good break. Christmas is a marvellous time, isn't it? A time for joy, a time for the children, a time for screens.

That's the thing that struck me the most: it's become this huge screen-fest, a time for mucking about with displays. We gather round the telly, we make special trips to the cinema, we all get new phones and text each other madly and, in a testament to Nintendo's mad genius, we increasingly spend Christmas video gaming as a social activity.

It's a sign of the mainstreaming of games that four generations of our family got some sort of video-gaming gift this year. But none of this makes life any easier for us communication folk, it just means that suddenly we've got all sorts of different screens to worry about. Remember when mobiles used to get talked about as "the fourth screen"? That's a quaint idea now, when we should really be thinking about dozens of screen formats.

You may have noticed, for instance, that laptop sales overtook desktop sales for the first time in the third quarter of 2008. And we all know that consuming media on your laptop is very different to the big PC on your desk. What should we be optimising for? And a large percentage of those laptop sales are those new little "netbook" things. Smaller screens than the average - should you be thinking about that and what about the television experience?

Loads of people are texting while watching telly, or browsing the web on their new touch-screen phones; what should you be doing for them? And that's just in the house.

Because the really scary screen proliferation seems to be on the street. Everywhere you turn, a poster site has turned into a screen. Moving, flashing more or less rapidly and displaying all sorts of innovative error messages. And we really haven't got to grips with these, have we?

Some appear to be showing TV commercials without the soundtrack. Some are just awkwardly animated posters. All of them demand serious art-directory thought: how do you shoot effective moving-image stuff in a portrait format? Where do you put the logo on a moving poster? Does it stay there the whole time? How long are people going to watch? How much narrative can you get away with?

We'd better sort this out soon, because these things are incredibly intrusive in the visual environment; our evolutionary heritage almost forces us to look at something moving, and if we don't make the experience rewarding then these new screens will soon be pegged as just more urban spam. But we should also think of the upside, what fun we could have with these things - I'm rather looking forward to this.

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