now walls can talk
Mene mene teqel ufarsin,
was written on Belshazzar’s walls.
With this strange message would begin
our modern age, with cybercalls
inscribed not just on the screens
of our computers and cellphones,
but on our walls, where cyberscenes
replace ones that were built with stones.
Big Brother everywhere we go
will tell us what he thinks we ought
to buy, and what we ought to know.
He’ll show the things we haven’t bought,
andl face us on the wall demanding
we buy the things we didn’t buy.
These walls will give us understanding
of how we ought to live and die,
explaining also how to vote,
what property to buy and what
deodorant to use, and note
the movie stars who’re really hot.
In Belshazzar’s feast God used
a wall in order to commu-
nicate, so we should be enthused
to learn from walls precisely whom
we ought to like and whom we shouldn’t.
That way we may all doom,
as Belshazzar mostsadly couldn’t.
Inspired by an article by Christopher Hawthorne in the LA Times, January 24,2010 (“See the cityscape get screened out”) :
Digital screens now line the walls of nearly every airport terminal, restaurant, convenience store, bar and waiting room in America. They have popped up in gas stations, taxis, schools and even on public buses. They wrap the exterior of L.A. Live and other major commercial complexes. And increasingly they rest in our palms, in the form of the iPhones, BlackBerrys and other smart phones that many of us rely on, like Dante following Virgil, as we walk or ride through the city. The appearance of all these screens is not some harbinger of cultural decline. It doesn't signal the end of architecture or even, necessarily, a cheapening of it. What it does mean is that more and more we find ourselves estranged from the physical, bricks-and-mortar life of buildings - and that we look at the cityscape not just with divided but with fully fractured attention. Even a pedigreed piece of architecture by a famous designer is no longer simply an object that we confront directly or consider whole: It is often something either hidden behind digital walls or half-glimpsed in the background as we direct our main attention to the flickering object in our hands or laps.Most of these screens, of course, are deployed without the aid of an architect. Long after the design process for an office building, casino or shopping mall is finished, some manager or other non-designer typically steps in and decides to hang flat-screen monitors in seemingly every corner. But the effect is fundamentally architectural: The digital screen is arguably the most powerful form of decorative ornament ever invented - a kind of super-ornament. A screen playing along a wall with the sound going - or an iPhone showing Lakers highlights - produces a vortex capable of sucking up nearly all our attention, making the rest of a room's design invisible or irrelevant….
As screens begin to cover more buildings, the city will become capable of effortlessly updating its architectural content. In the most extreme scenario, a sort of Marshall McLuhan-meets-'Blade Runner' fever dream, the skyline may begin, like television, to broadcast a continuous, all-encompassing present. Every building will be a contemporary building, carrying an up-to-date visual message, which means that no building will be a historical building. Digital screens seem likely over time to render the architectural past fainter and fainter - and maybe even lead the city to forget itself. That prospect remains a long way off. But it suggests that it is not just architects who ought to be paying attention as the screen continues to change the way we interact with buildings. It is also preservationists, novelists, developers, politicians and planners - anybody with an interest in understanding the forces shaping architecture in the digital age.
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