On a Scroll Through the Cloud
Keywords: Digital Culture, Internet, Cloud, Computer Game, Audiovisuals, VR.
On A Scroll Through The Cloud is an audiovisual interactive artwork suitable for virtual reality or computer game installation inspired by the user experience of infinite scroll and its addicting effect within digital media interaction.
Cloud computing, the dominant business model and infrastructure of information technologies on the internet, is here presented in a dysfunctional 3D environment developed in Unity game engine. The environment, suffused with clouds, displays different visual elements of the internet, of digital media and its materiality without any quests to pursue. It visualizes the surfaces of the internet’s technical structures and its communication protocols combined with popular imaginaries. The user has the freedom to navigate the space and to get lost in the clouds confronted with glitches from a software bug that reduce the environment to abstract visuals. This break in immersion defies user expectation and creates a space for possible reflection.
The internet has become a fundamental part of our everyday lives, providing instant communication and social interaction, participation in online communities and new formats for business models. It is everywhere but seems to be nowhere; immaterial and abstract somewhere over the clouds. The marketisation of “digital culture [is] pitched as an immaterial sphere of information where ideas become coded into zeroes and ones, independent of material substrate, transportable on the vague and indeterminate channel of ‘the Internet’” (Parikka 2013). Its signals and data transmission as packets are dependent on its communication protocols and material infrastructures, such as computer servers, routers, data centres, ethernet and underwater fibre-optic cables. Likewise, the internet is shaped by economy, politics, corporate monopolies, internet providers, and its users. It has become a service based commodity stored in the cloud, with databases processed by hidden algorithms.
The internet intersects with everyday life in many invisible ways, such as the processes that run in the background of apps and web pages to track patterns and predict user behaviour for targeted advertisement and data collection, “to control production and consumption in a market” (Andersen & Pold 2015, 273). User behaviour is conditioned by its interface design, the “thin machinery mediating and remediating computation” (Berry 2015, 51). For example, the infinite scroll in social media platforms traps users in endless streams of information, which can cause anxiety, fatigue and boredom.
This computer game raises questions regarding the internet and cultures around it by addressing issues of data transmission, privacy and mass surveillance in this current post-digital condition. The player may encounter clusters of 3D models of data centres such as the Google Data Center, or the NSA Data Center in Utah, a complex for mass surveillance with the capacity to spy on digital communication around the world. What lies behind the Cloud? Where does the Cloud materialize? Who is the player and who is being played? These are the main questions guiding this metaphorical visualization of the complex system of networked computers and smart devices, where users have “no chance to see through the technical and networked complexity” (Andersen & Pold 2015, 274). Instead of finding answers, the player gets trapped in the cracks and fissures of this open world.
This artwork was funded by national funds through the FCT – Foundation for Science and Technology, I.P., in the context of the project SFRH/BD/143713/2019.
- Andersen, Christian & Pold, Søren. 2015. “Aesthetics of the Banal - ‘New Aesthetics’ in an Era of Diverts Digital Revolutions.” In Postdigital Aesthetics: Art, Computation and Design, David M. Berry and Michael Dieter (eds.), pp. 271-288. Hampshire, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Berry, David M. 2015. “The Postdigital Constellation”. In Postdigital Aesthetics: Art, Computation And Design, David M. Berry & Michael Dieter (Eds.), pp. 44–57. Hampshire, New York: Palgrave Macmillan UK.
- Parikka, Jussi. 2013. “The Geology of Media”. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/the-geology-of-media/280523/, date accessed 3 May 2020.
Join the conversation
xCoAx 2020: @pedraferreiro “On A Scroll Through The Cloud”. The imagined atmosphere of the Cloud and the material bodies that compose cloud computing and the internet become the environment of a computer game. https://t.co/1ZfCfLm8b9 #xCoAx2020 pic.twitter.com/R3vm1uBubN— xcoax.org (@xcoaxorg) July 8, 2020