Sign in or register
for additional privileges

Database | Narrative | Archive

Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

You appear to be using an older verion of Internet Explorer. For the best experience please upgrade your IE version or switch to a another web browser.

Distributed Attention

Imaged images – by which presenting many images simultaneously within a single optical act, calls for a visual self engaged in a mode of parallel rather than serial seeing. The result is a form of visual polyphony with sampled images as voices whose influence extends across contemporary design aesthetics as well as informatic imagery…linked narratives can be run and interpreted simultaneously.
           – Brian Rotman
The spatial juxtaposition of media – text, links, image, video and audio – creates semantic edges, or demarcations, that encourage a user to perform with an interface, to generate questions, and follow paths of inquiry. The cultural shift from photographic mimesis to spatial montage, a shift that Manovich equates in his art and writing with the ascendency of database logic, introduces new ways of conceiving relational aspects of space, time and subjectivities. As soon as two distinct images appear together on a screen, mimetic realism is broken. The surface of engagement may have a kind of semiotic mimesis – the elements may be juxtaposed in a culturally meaningful or referential way – but the illusion of presence is lost. In spatial montage, the screen becomes an interface to a relational set of images and texts. Like gestalt in interface design, spatial montage works on the mind's desire for closure. The patterns in an interface – iconic and indexical signs, graphic devices – call on the user's global processing or distributed attention in order to make meaning.

In classical film narratives, mise en scène works to synchronize with plot development. Costume, set details, lighting or weather might mirror or reinforce the psychology of characters, for example. The Hollywood three-point lighting system outlines and separates the protagonists from the background and other secondary characters. But the distribution of visual details, even in a classical narrative film, always threatens to distract from the more “important” and hierarchical details of plot. Image has a power to spill over any kind contained meaning. 

In non-classical and nonmimetic forms of cinema, the tension between image and narrative meaning is exploited in order to destabilize the viewer's "understanding" of the visual field. Mise en scène can alter and disrupt plot hierarchies and mimetic realism by exaggerating pictorial space, by introducing simultaneous narratives that compete for attention or by evoking subjectivity through a collage of narrative space.

Similarly, interface design, page layout or mise en page, can be either a collage of disparate, competing elements or a delineated hierarchy. Interface design, like production design in movies, is an art to primarily guide attention as it flows through and around multiple elements on a screen. Gestalt design principles, such as contrast, proportion, proximity, isolation and repetition create hierarchies of importance in layout.  But an interface that disrupts such clear orderings, forces a user to work at interpretation, to engage in a dynamic seeing and to speculate about narrative meaning.
Comment on this page

Discussion of "Distributed Attention"

Add your voice to this discussion.

Checking your signed in status ...

Previous page on path Plotting the Database, page 4 of 8 Next page on path