The 13th of November shall forever remain unforgettable day for France following the Paris attacks that claimed many innocent lives (Steafel, Mulholland, Sabur, Malnick, Trotman & Harley 2015). As a born and raised Parisian who immigrated to London for my studies, I couldn’t help but feel intrinsically concerned about this massacre. Yet, I was not there to witness it, and I had no means to experience this French tragedy as much as I needed to. For several days after the attacks, I spent a lot of time on my mobile devices watching videos and recordings of the events, live news and all sorts of information on the attacks that could update me better on what had happened. I was not there, but it completely felt like I was after viewing all I could on the attacks. No matter where I found myself, these moving images transported me right back to Paris. I was so absorbed by this that the external world started losing its relevance and importance. This must be what Casetti (2015) calls the ‘construction of an intimate bubble’. From this time on, I started to notice a dual movement in the impact of viewing images on mobile devices. On the one hand, we can be so engaged in what we are watching that it can go as far as completely abstracting ourselves from the tangible reality we live in to insert us in a completely different but still seemingly real reality. In this case, the experience is purely individualized. On the other hand, watching images on mobile devices can paradoxically lead us to notice our entourage and feel our presence at a completely different level. Then, while I was walking from the bus station to the university, I realized that the translation which just happened would have been simply impossible even a decade ago. This led me to think about the significance of our technological shifts, if not progress.
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There are various thoughts, views and opinions with regards to the impact of mobile devices on our experiential relationship to image and place among scholars and schools of thought. One school of thinkers, the so called school of pessimists, argues that there is a decisive shift from moving images on traditional devices such as cinema screens, which has had negative impact on the whole audiovisual experience. Scholars Susan Sontag and Peter Greenaway belong to this school of thought and share an essentialist view on the subject. They both make the claim that the cinema is dying. Sontag (1996) in her article The Decay of Cinema expresses her outrage and blames the decline of cinemas on consumption of TV size images at home, which have replaced the exciting experience and mysteriousness of theatres and video show rooms. Sontag further stresses that movie going has changed and gives the example of how young people no longer arrange their emotional and intellectual lives around what she expresses as an art that is poetic, erotic, and moral, which is a description of cinema. 20 years later, Sontag’s article still remains relevant, but now, instead of cinema being replaced by TVs, it has been replaced by mobile devices. Peter Greenaway, on the other hand, expresses his perception of cinema dying by laying blame on the new technology (2003). Greenaway states there are new audiences who make up not just the television generation, but also the post television generation where laptops have become more persuasive. Thus, according to both Sontag and Greenaway, the proliferation of screens is leading us to disinterest and indifference. Indeed, screens have invaded our lives: in the streets and also in our homes. They are absolutely everywhere, and not a single day goes by without seeing at least a dozen of them everywhere we go. This is especially impossible in our western societies.
In addition, to further expound on how technological change has caused complete negation of the audiovisual experience as a result of its contribution to the development of mobile devices, scholars Marshall McLuhan and Friedrich Kittler offer some useful insight with regards to the material medium through which viewing takes place (Krämer 2006). The two present the argument that the material base of the medium is what determines everything. That is, the way we perceive what we are watching is not the only thing that matters, but also the nature of the medium itself is significant (Krämer 2006). With regards to this line of thought, it is evident that cinema will be reduced to a support and device. If this is the case, then changes in technological complex are more likely to result in change in the nature of the medium. For this reason, those claiming that cinema is dead will be correct.
On the other hand, Mitchell (2008) presents a slightly differing view from the scholars McLuhan and Kittler, placing experience in the central position. He asserts, “what constitutes the defining core of the medium is the way it activates its senses, our reflexitivity, and our practices” (Mitchell 2008). Thus, in this instance, technology and its advancement do not play a causal role. Therefore, in this context it can be said that despite the difference between cinema and mobile devices as means of viewing, both are a particular way of relating with the world through images. Consequently, in this regard, the impact of viewing on a mobile device as opposed to a cinema screen on experiential relationship to the image and place is that it reduces to some extent their sense and realness.
The other way of thinking about viewing on mobile devices as compared to traditional means is supported by Casetti on the grounds that it fosters if not completely transcends the experience of the viewer. As Casetti puts it, “cinema has not certainly died” (2015). In his argument, Casetti brings out the view that movie theatres are still growing in number. Furthermore, going to the cinema has become a firmly entrenched habit. What Casetti is implying with his arguments is that people still value viewing theatre and cinema screens as opposed to viewing on mobile devices, and for this reason, the death of cinema is yet to happen. Casetti further goes on to argue that our society is witnessing a radical change in terms of equipment and support in addition to the viewing environment. Despite this, habits seem to persist even in new situations. Within this aspect of Casetti’s argument, it can be concluded that the impact of viewing on a mobile device on experiential relationship to image and place is that of reflexivity, which causes a cognitive act that is rooted in and affects a person’s culture and situation.
Casetti’s argument and his point of view is the optimistic one. Many other authors share this view. For instance, John Belton (2002) argues that the rise of digital technologies is a false revolution. To defend this claim, Belton explains that without outside or technical knowledge, an audience may not be able to know if what they are watching was shot, manipulated, or edited digitally. What this means is that the realness of images shown on mobile devices, which are largely based on digital technology, is questionable, as it is not easy for an average viewer to establish the authenticity of the image. Belton also asserts that the digital revolution is driven by home theatre and home entertainment software and hardware technologies. In this respect, it can now be equated to the use of mobile devices, which currently drives digital technology. The scholar Stephen Prince presents another perspective on the development of digital technology (1996). He claims that new technologies such as digital images allow for perceptual realism, and consequently the sharing of similar characteristics of photographic images. This can be taken to mean that mobile devices, which are based on the new technologies, make the image to appear more real to the viewer when it is presented in a digital form, thus making it more memorable to the viewer.
There is yet another school of thought, whose view is that of anti-essentialist approach, with the authors Berys Gault, David Bordwell and Noel Carrol belonging to it. These authors argue that cinematic experiences still exist, which is an indicator that cinema is still alive and not about to disappear (Casetti 2015). In other words, the sense of continuity is still present. Gault has developed a parallel argument, which claims that the difference between a digital camera and a film camera is in the support on which information is registered, and not in the manner in which reality is captured. For this reason, even a digital image can be thought of as a photographic image. What this means is that there is not much difference between the images on a mobile device, which is based on digital technology, and those in cinemas, thus the experience a viewer gets from both may actually be the same. Bordwell on the other hand argues that films have become files, but fortunately the existence of the film industry, which he describes as enduring, has provided a sense of continuity. Carrol’s argument is that cinema has different faces, many of which may emerge as another medium (Casetti, 2015). In this sense, mobile devices may just be another face of cinema, and not necessarily something that has replaced it.
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To address the impact of viewing on a mobile device on experiential relationship to image and place, it might be useful to turn to a more thematic debate. In this respect, the approach taken to illustrate the impact of viewing on a mobile device on the experiential relationship to image and place is more specific and is focusing more on the characteristics of mobile devices, which has a direct impact on the experience of the viewer. This will again entail using the example of cinema and comparing the experience of viewing on cinema screens to that of viewing on mobile devices. The experience of viewing films and videos has indeed gone through changes (Lowry 2011). To understand this change, a comparison can be made between viewing videos on a large screen in the cinema and viewing on a much smaller screen on mobile devices. On the cinema screen, an individual’s experience encompasses viewing images that are reflected, whereas while viewing on mobile devices, the images appear on a screen that produces light and does not just reflect it (Catellier, Pinson, Ingram & Webster 2012). The impact of this on place is that the cinema is a dark closed location. On the other hand, viewing on a mobile device can take place in open spaces. What this point actually means is that for viewing on a mobile device, one does not necessarily need to be confined in one single place (Lee 2015). Instead, viewers are able to move from place to place depending on how comfortable they feel. Personally I like to view news videos whenever I am on a train or a bus instead of having to seat during the entire journey looking out of the window or staring at the strangers I am travelling with.
In a similar manner, the use of the concept of relocation is also a way of assessing the impact of viewing on a mobile device on experiential relationship to place. It is normal to see many people bending over their mobile devices while viewing images in the form of photographs, videos, and films (Abramovich 2015). Many of them explain that when they view images on their mobile devices, they get a sense of transmigration from where they are to where the images are. This is the effect of translocation. It deals with a displacement that is aimed at conquering new sphere that may be physical, existential and even technological. For instance, if a person is viewing images about the beach, they can get engrossed up to the point of feeling as if they were physically there.
To further highlight the concept of relocation and the way it brings about transmigration for people viewing images on their mobile devices, the issue of poor sound will be discussed. Some people argue that their experience of viewing videos and films on mobile devices is interrupted by imperfect sound, which makes the whole experience not enjoyable (Hill 2014). This is not necessarily true, as headphones can be used to overcome the sound imperfection. Furthermore, using headphones on mobile devices can actually help one to experience a more intense involvement with what they are viewing, making the person become fully immersed in the images they are viewing as well as become transported in their minds to the places where these images are. This can be compared to using 3D glasses at the cinema. 3D glasses make the events on the screen appear more realistic as if one was immediately next to the action taking place. To further discredit the claim that one’s experience can be ruined by imperfect sound, it should be stated that if the images and videos being watched capture the person’s attention, any problems with the sound will not matter.
To further account for the impact that viewing on a mobile device has on the experiential relationship to image and place, the power of the viewers to choose how they view these images can be explored. This power of the person to control what they view is discussed by Abramovich, who states that “the use of mobile devices to view films, images, and videos has transferred power to the consumer” (Abramovich 2015). This is further emphasized by Casetti (2011) when he argues that what makes new technologies significant is the fact that there can be an intervention from the viewer with regards to the continuity of moving images. This point can be made clearer by comparing a person’s power to control what they view on mobile devices with reading a book. Readers have the power to control how they read their book. This means that they can control their rhythm of reading and read the book either slowly or fast. They can also choose to read a chapter in a reversed or in a chronological way, read the same chapter once again, or skip to another chapter. Thus, the same experience of reading a book a person gets when viewing videos on their mobile devices (Catellier, Pinson, Ingram & Webster 2012).
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The above argument, which emphasizes the power of the viewer to control the consumption of viewing, may be also applied with regards to the impact that viewing on a mobile device has on viewer’s experiential relationship to place. As mentioned earlier, unlike a movie theatre and cinema, mobile devices provide viewers with the power to choose the place where they can watch from (Plantinga 2009). Moreover, they are able to change their location and move from one place to another while still watching the same video. For instance, technological advancement has brought about video streaming sites like YouTube, and the power of the Internet has also played a part in making this possible. For this reason, many people sometimes find themselves teleported by their mobile devices to the place where the music video has been shot. It is for this reason that one can sometimes see people dancing and singing on the street.
The above discussion has so far to a large extent explained the connection between mobile devices and experiential relationship to image and place. The final point of discussion takes into consideration an individual’s posture and dispositions, which will allow a more contingent and subjective answer to the question under discussion. First of all, it is imperative to take into consideration people’s interactions with each other, which is an important component when trying to grasp the experiential relationship to image as well as place. In this respect, people’s interaction in a cinema setting is usually limited. This limitation concerns the degree of freedom to share with one’s companion what they are seeing on the screen at the risk of being thrown out of the cinema for being noisy (Gómez 2009). On the other hand, viewing on a mobile device offers a form of freedom that allows one to interact with their companions. The only limitation is that unlike cinema screens, the screen of the mobile device is smaller. Nonetheless, the extent of interaction is gretater when viewing on mobile devices. This however has much to do with location, since mobile devices provide the freedom of watching anywhere. The degree of interaction is thus elevated by the fact that one can view videos or films with their companions freely without the risk of disturbing others, as in the case of cinemas. The question that may arise here is how does this relate to experiential relationship to image? The answer to this is the following: when viewing on a mobile device with others, viewers are able to pose and discuss interesting aspects of what they are watching. This goes a long way in making the image become more comprehensive and real, something that is not possible in a cinema kind of viewing (Boulos, Wheeler, Tavares & Jones 2011).
Individual posture and disposition determines to some extent the impact that viewing on a mobile device has on experiential relationship to image and place. This can be explained by once again bringing in the concept of viewing a film in a cinema. In a cinema one can only watch a movie in one posture alone, and that is while sitting. It is not possible to lie down or stand up, as the setting does not allow this. In addition, these kinds of posture may be disruptive to other cinema goers (Perez 2011). On the other hand, when viewing on a mobile device, an individual can adapt to whatever posture they are comfortable with. The impact of this is it that it brings the viewer closer to the images and places they are viewing on their devices. In most instances, they start feeling like they are part of what is taking place on the screen.
To add to the above discussion on posture and disposition and how both are connected to the impact that viewing on a mobile device has on experiential relationship to image and place, Casetti (2011) provides more arguments. In particular, he presents three ‘bubbles’ according to the posture and the disposition that a viewer may adopt (Casetti 2011). These bubbles create a degree of isolation which draws the viewer from the present reality into the world on the screen. In a way, this can be perceived as the concept of relocation discussed above. The first bubble, according to Casetti, appears in the moments of strong investment or intimacy. In this case, the concept of mental isolation by the viewer becomes relevant. When one watches films on traditional devices like theatre screens, the viewer has to make a personal effort. On the other hand, when this happens on mobile devices, the experience becomes more personal and intimate, given that the viewer’s screen is in their hands. The down side is that in this bubble, the experience is not long lasting, as it lasts for a limited period of time. The second bubble is the moment in between, which can better be referred to as being multifocalized. In this bubble, one’s experience is ambivalent. An individual’s experience is that of present/absent. From time to time, it is possible to notice the world outside; thus, one does not fully live the experience of watching the film. The third barrier is tactile relationship, which can better be referred to as epidermal. In this case, the person viewing on a mobile device has an inattentive gaze, whereby they are not in the real sense focusing on their screens. The reality is what they are viewing on their screens appears in a blurry manner due to this lack of focus.
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The above discussion has in many ways revealed the impact that viewing on mobile devices has on experiential relationship to image and place. The discussion revolved around three main lines of argument. The first line focused on the diametrically opposed views regarding the status of cinema. One school of thinkers, the so-called pessimists, states that viewing films on mobile devices instead of cinema screens completely negates the visual experience. Scholars who belong to this school have presented arguments that prove the death of cinema, blaming this death on new technology that provides alternative methods for viewing. Other authors focus on the nature of the medium used for viewing, concluding that cinema has been reduced to a small portable device, thus agreeing that cinema has indeed become dead. On the contrary, the opposing view states that cinemas are not dead, but have rather taken another form of a digital device. The second line of argument has placed emphasis on a more thematic debate that has been more specific in illustrating the impact that viewing on mobile devices has on the experiential relationship to image and place. One of such impacts is that it brings about transmigration of the mind of the viewer, whereby their minds are transported to the places they are watching on their devices. In this respect, a bubble is created around the viewer that shuts out the rest of the world. Finally, the third area of discussion focused on the viewer’s posture and disposition and how these influence the way of viewing on mobile devices. In this aspect, it was revealed that adopting a certain posture helps the viewer to establish a deeper connection with what is taking place on the screen.