14The Cultural Work of Public Interactives

Anne Balsamo

In this chapter I discuss the characteristics of public interactives as a category of digital media that has become an increasingly familiar part of urban environments. I reflect on the historical antecedents of this emergent media form as a context for discussing the interrelated nature of art and design in the creation of interactive media experiences. For all the variety of public interactives now available, my interest here is to develop a critical framework for assessing the cultural work of this media form. I offer a list of significant genres of public interactives to begin developing a set of terms for making sense of the cultural importance of these digital experiences.

Defining Public Interactives

Public interactives are technological devices that serve as the stage for digitally mediated communication with audiences in communal spaces such as museums, theme parks, trade shows, outdoor entertainment plazas, and urban streets. I use the term “public interactives” to name the broad category of mediated experiences that are now on offer in communal and public spaces. In order to unpack the cultural implications of the increasing proliferation of these technologically mediated experiences, I will begin by defining them according to three cultural dimensions:

  • as an art form that evokes new experiences and perceptions through experiments with scale, mobility, built space, and modes of human engagement in public spaces; ...

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