JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

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For some, watching mobile videos can be a distraction from reality, an activity to relieve boredom or an escape to avoid social interaction in a public space.[17] [open endnotes in new window] Films require specialized projection equipment and a darkened screening environment. Screening a film is an event, the theatre becomes a social destination whereas mobile video can incorporate this social dimension wherever it is viewed. For the most part, watching a mobile video is a personal activity rather than a group experience such as going to a movie theatre. In this way, individual spectatorship can be seen as more intimate and private, even though the mobile videos may be consumed in public.

Heidi Rae Cooley, in her essay, “It’s All About the Fit: the Hand, the Mobile Screenic Device and Tactile Vision,” argues that mobile viewing introduces a way of seeing that extends beyond sight, one that involves the hand and that becomes tactile. She has identified the term “fit” to describe the relationship between the mobile device and the hand.

“…(F)it enables a more direct and vital mode of experiencing one’s surrounding, which while not directly about televisual space, is in conversation with it” (137).”[18]

The concept of “fit” is influenced by discourses on biomechanics and industrial design and defines the material relationship between the mobile device and the hand, or the moment when the hand and device become one.

“This bonding produces a ‘mystical feel’ that arises out of a ‘combination of a good mechanical marriage and something in the nervous system.’” (139).

This sense of bonding is echoed by Christine Rosen’s research into the relationship between a mobile device and the user:

“you constantly see people taking their little pets out and stoking the scroll wheel, coddling them, basically ‘petting’ them.” (30)[19]

Within the framework of “fit,” Cooley outlines the relationship between the mobile spectator and the screen. She views the mobile screen as one that “encourages an experience of encounter” (143).

“…(T)hat which is being viewed (and perhaps recorded) no longer exists separate from that which is framing it. The object, formerly located on the other side of the frame, converges or fuses with the screen, its physicality becoming the physicality of the screen.” (143)

According to Cooley, “fit” is distracted and sensual. It is active and forms a tactile vision that “results as hands, eyes, screen and surroundings interact and blend in a syncopated fashion.” (145) Cooley’s analysis of mobile spectatorship is supported by observations on the relationship with the hand and mobile device made by James Katz, Mark Aakus and Virpi Oksman as noted by Gerard Goggin in his essay, “The mobile invention of television.”[20]

This tactile viewing on mobile devices connotes an intimacy between the device, user and his/her surroundings. Although Cooley has detailed this form of viewing in her essay, she does not specifically reference moving image content in her analysis and refers to the materiality of the mobile device and the embedded screen, rather than the relationship between video content and tactile viewing. I was unable to locate any analysis that used Cooley’s theories and applied them to mobile videos. However, I am particularly attracted to developing this relationship further through the content of my mobile videos, one that invites introspection and contemplation of the everyday.

Politically my work is grounded in feminist politics, therefore I am interested in possible gendered readings of mobile videos and mobile productions by women. I had hoped to uncover specific feminist writings on mobile videos or find mobile works produced by women, but instead there was a noticeable absence.[21] This absence is also reflected in the dearth of women in key creative roles in Canadian feature films. Women In View, a non-profit organization, recently released their report, which examined 139 films released in 2010 and 2011. Women comprised less than 20% of directors and 21% of screenwriters, and of this low percentage only 2 were First Nations or “racialized” minority women in the role of director and/or screenwriter.[23]

According to Women In View’s second report on Canadian television production, the situation for women in key creative roles is even worse than in the feature film industry. Evaluating 21 live action television series, during the same period found that no “racialized” minority women were employed as directors and no women cinematographers were hired by these series. Of a total of 272 individual episodes, employing 87 directors only 14 were women.[24] These astonishing statistics prompted me to consider the role that technology plays in embedding gender power relations. Men have long been associated with technology that is oriented with industrial machinery and the apparatuses of war, and as Judy Wajcman states in her essay, "Feminist theories of technology,"

“The taken-for-granted association of men and machines is the result of the historical and cultural construction of gender.” (143).[25]

Although feminist science and technology studies scholars, academics in international communications and feminist economists have argued for the importance of domestic or everyday technologies, this work is still considered marginal.[26] Wajcman states:

“A revaluing of cooking, childcare and communications technologies immediately disrupts the cultural stereotype of women as technically incompetent or invisible in technical spheres.” (144)

The stereotype of women as technically incompetent is historically noted by Charles Acland in Curtain, cart and the mobile screen, his history of the development of media in the classroom:

“And while figures of women appear in many of the advertisements for media products as a primary target market of users they also appear as a way to connote ease of use and portability” (164).[27]

Examining how mobile communications are positioned in today’s advertising, it is evident that these stereotypes of women and technology continue to persist in various incarnations. For example, Rogers Communications has produced a series of advertisements that deliberately position women as less intelligent than their smart phones or slower to respond than hi-speed Internet.[28] Rather than position mobile communications as gender neutral, mobile phone manufacturers and advertisers have deliberately highlighted gender differences and reinforced gender inequality through the material design of mobile phones, marketing and social positioning of the communication device.[29] These stereotypical portrayals and the dominant culture of masculinity and technology do not encourage women to engage with innovative technologies; therefore it is no wonder that there is a lack of mobile video content produced by women.

Yet I am hopeful that in the next few years we could see a shift in mobile videos produced by women. According to a Pew Research study titled “Teens & Online Video” from 2012, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of girls who say they shoot and share videos online.

“In 2006, online boys were nearly twice as likely as online girls to report uploading video they had taken, with 19% of boys and 10% of girls reporting the activity.”[30]

In 2012, there are nearly equal shares of boys (28%) and girls (26%) engaged in online video uploading and sharing. In a related Pew Internet survey titled “Photos and Videos as Social Currency Online,”[31] there seems to be a correlation between creating and online sharing of videos and social media activities. Of the 1005 adults (ages 18+) surveyed, 56% of Internet users have either created and or shared videos with nearly equal shares of men and women. Although the statistics of men and women who use Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are roughly equal, women seem to dominate Pinterest (women 19% and men 5%) and Tumblr (women 7% and men 4%).

Online video sharing or creation is not solely a product of mobile video production. It speaks more to the potential distribution of all video works. Traditionally produced videos and films can be disseminated both online and on mobile devices thereby accessing an audience in locations other than the movie theatre or home. Most mobile video works, due to the technical limitations (resolution, aspect ratio, etc.) are usually either viewed on mobile devices or online and may be accessed through social media platforms or video-sharing sites such as YouTube or Vimeo or embedded into websites and personal blogs.

Since mobile video phones are ubiquitous and many people record videos for their private use or share unedited clips online, there is a tendency to treat this medium as an amateur or a non-professional format. In this regard there becomes a “mass amateurization” as termed by Clay Shirky in his essay, “Everyone is a media outlet.”[32] Although the essay mainly focuses on print journalism, much of what has been written can be applied to the flow of video. Like journalists, videographers are seen as professionals attached to broadcast networks. They too are seen as gatekeepers since the recording equipment required to maintain broadcast standards is so costly. However with the lowering of broadcast standards, the rise of high quality consumer cameras and the increase of a wider image-gathering public, the definition of the professional videographer has shifted. To blur the distinction between professional and amateur further, now professional photographers and artists are utilizing mobile devices in their work.[33]

Simultaneous to this “mass amateurization,” traditional television broadcasters, mobile service providers and feature film companies are all grappling with the economic viability of mobile video content. There are two main practices of mobile video content: the production of videos made specifically for the mobile device and the re-packaging of existing content for mobile distribution. The former practice requires an economic investment on behalf of the production company or service provider and at this point, in North America, there is no definitive pricing method that makes these mobile productions economically viable.

The latter practice usually involves either “unbundling” or “redaction” as termed by Dawson.[34] “Unbundling” describes the practice of segmenting traditional television shows into short packets that can be consumed on mobile devices. “Redaction” refers to “the act of creating new material out of existing content” (242). An example of this would be the creation of entertainment-focused segments that combine footage from TV, film, electronic press kits (EPK), archival interviews etc. to create new programs. Film companies have used mobile video as a publicity platform creating mobile content such as trailers or short interviews to create interest in their theatrical productions.

For the artist working in the field of mobile video, this shift to “mass amateurization” has mixed results. On the one hand more artists have access to inexpensive equipment and distribution venues outside traditional art institutions have expanded. On the other hand, with the expansion of different viewing platforms, it becomes more difficult to contextualize one’s artwork both inside and outside traditional institutions such as galleries or commercial theatrical spaces.

The exhibition of mobile video artwork within institutional frameworks is challenging and requires different display technologies other than visual artwork. Audience reception is predicated on technologies supplied by the institution (ie: handheld devices) or individual viewers owning the devices themselves. Furthermore, different networks or ways of distributing digital video files need to be employed that may be out of the realm of art curators or installers. Outside this institutional context, an artist could choose to distribute their artwork through established online platforms such as YouTube or Vimeo. However, it is easy to become lost in a sea of video entertainment.[35]

The medium of mobile video is still in its infancy. The transition to the small mobile screen requires a re-thinking of the traditional forms of moving image production, distribution and exhibition. Technically there are specific concerns in regards to hardware, software, broadband infrastructure, and content licensing that apply to this medium.

Aesthetically, the creation of mobile content requires another set of parameters that are different from large screen productions. A diverse flow of distribution needs to be more fully explored: one that considers the profit-driven desires of traditional television and film producers and one that encourages artistic exploration and innovation, although these are not mutually exclusive. The consumption habits of the mobile viewer and the relationship between the device and the viewer have expanded our conceptions of media engagement. This new frontier of mobile video has wondrous potential: it is cost-effective and easily accessible through the ubiquity of mobile devices capable of video playback. As a feminist mobile video producer, it is my idealistic hope that it can also become a platform to address gender inequities and stereotypes.

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