I contributed three columns to Flow over the past few months. Flow signs up writers for three at a time, so these could be written as a set focused on a particular theme. I didn't write them that way on purpose, but looking back I do see a common thread.
The first, published in November, is When Television Marries Computer. This draws from research I have been doing on the connection between early video games, early home computers, and TV. It concludes that the convergence of television and digital technology has always been seen as a way of improving TV, drawing on the enduring status of television as bad object.
The second, published in February, is Immersive Media: Whose Fantasy? This is a report from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which I attended for the first time in January as part of the IRTS Industry/Faculty Seminar. I was struck at the trade show by the ubiquity of "immersive" talk and wanted to poke around at it. I see this as a way of the media and electronics industries both to sell the idea that their products will win over consumers.
And the final column, just published last week, is The Celebrity Sex Tape: Where Porn Meets Reality TV. This is an analysis of a form of media I've had in mind to write something about since the third season of The Hills, when Lauren's good reputation is threatened by a dirty sex tape rumor. I used the opportunity of contributing to Flow to express these thoughts, particularly the idea that celebrity culture appeals to straight men too and how that works.
The theme I think these rather different brief essays have in common is fantasy. In all three, I think we learn something important about media forms and technologies by thinking about whose fantasies they aim to fulfill, and what these fantasies are really about. This interest is also central to the argument of Video Revolutions and my work in progress on early games. Fantasies of the sort discussed in my Flow columns ultimately concern relations of power, whether between media industries and consumers or between conceptions of social identity.
One further thought while I'm blogging about these columns. The guidelines Flow gives writers includes a word limit of 1500, which sometimes feels arbitrary and frustrating. On the internet there is no scarce resource of paper or ink. But at the end of this cycle I find myself grateful for that artificial constraint, which can focus your writing. It's a productive exercise to see what can be done with a short form, and what is better left out.