Death of the Screen?

In 1995, Sherry Turkle published Life on the Screen, addressing some of the aspects of human interaction through computers. It has been two decades and screens now run the world. The BBC reported recently that the average Briton spends more time looking at a screen than they do sleeping. With all that said, it just might be that the era of the screen is nearing an end.

Miniaturization has been the trend for many years, as digital technology shrinks down and down towards the nanoscale. In the last few years we’ve seen this in the high street with smaller mobile phones and hand-held video consoles appearing on the market.

I can remember how uncomfortable it seemed as a child to watch a TV programme on one of those little old televisions that people used to have in their kitchens or even in their cars. Yet now so many of us are glued to our small phones’ screens not only looking for our contacts’ phone numbers but visiting websites, taking, viewing and sharing photos, watching videos, reading the news, ad nauseum.

In recent years some phones like Samsung and the iPhone have bucked the trend in offering ever bigger screens in order to enhance the visibility of the applications.

Some of the latest models such as the Samsung Galaxy S6 and Apple iPhone 6 are rather slim but have increased their screen size by up to three times those of their earlier models.

The big screen itself – the cinema – has also erupted in size, with huge screens now available designed to enhance the viewers’ experience. Size is not the only thing that has changed, with louder and more surround sound, the 3D experience is getting more and more popular and some cinemas now even offering a 4D experience with jumping and vibrating seats trying to imitate the motion of the film.

Perhaps in part, this is all an effort to combat audiences lost to easy streaming of movies online and to dedicated film channels over digital television. Perhaps it is rather an unease over the medium itself. Cinema will be subject to changes in the nature of technology, arguably faster than the industry itself can innovate. The screen itself may be on the way out.

Here is where augmented reality and virtual reality step in. Augmented reality with its potential to combine visual and physical objects, the real and the virtual juxtaposed in one environment, also stands to significantly transform both our relationship to cinema and to screens as such.

When information can be projected or otherwise overlaid on physical reality, why would we need screens? An interesting example is the Cicret project which aims to create a bracelet projecting a touchscreen onto a person’s arm with all the facilities offered by a phone screen available at the touch of a finger.

Look out for my next article, Stepping Through the Screen for a look at how virtual reality is set to transform cinema and the film industry, given time. When you can step inside the action and view it from any angle, you can truly be said to have transcended the screen.


Turkle, S. (1995) Life on the Screen: Identity on the Age of the Internet, New York: Touchstone.

Yuichi, O. and Hideyuki, T. (2014) Mixed Reality: Merging Real and Virtual Worlds, Springer, ISBN:3642875149 9783642875144

Image via dezignor / Shutterstock.

Lorena Nessi, PhD, MA

Lorena Nessi PhD is an award winning journalist, researcher, and cultural sociologist. Her Bachelor's was in International Relations, Master’s degree in Globalization, Identity and Technology, and PhD in Communication, Sociology and Digital Cultures. She received the Avina scholarship for investigative journalism while working for the BBC. Her fields of interest include digital cultures, sociology, social media, technology and capitalism.
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