No screens = “Serenity”

One upside of being down for the count over a long weekend is that there’s no guilt in eating an entire boxed set of TV all at once.

I sat down (well, lied down) to take in Joss Whedon’s aborted cowboy space-opera, Firefly; and was pleasantly surprised.

It’s no wonder it was cancelled – it takes ages to get going, it’s got a huge cast each of whom “have a secret” and some of the best lines are in Mandarin it seems.

One thing that did strike me about a couple of episodes was how very few ‘screens’ feature in Firefly’s vision of the future – and in general how tangible and situated digital technology seems in that universe.

It’s not far from Lucas’ “used-universe” direction for the original Star Wars trilogy, there’s a sense of mundanity about technology, apart from when it’s genuinely overwrought and spectacular: “a hovering chandelier” for example in “Shindig”.

Information retrieval and communication is over something called “the Cortex” – the equivalent of an interplanetary internet – which strikingly, users seem to be able to conjure onto almost any surface.

Here’s a few annotated screengrabs (adapted from an excellent Firefly fansite “Can’t take the sky” ) from a scene in the episode: “The Train Job” where a bad guy is briefing the crew on a heist he wants them to carry out.

trainjob167

trainjob178

trainjob180

What one notices is that doesn’t get in the way of the action, the flow of the interactions between the bad guy and the captain. Also, there is a general improvement in the quality of the space it seems – where there are no obtrusive vertical screens in line-of-sight to sap the attention of those within it.

Of course this is not a user-test! This is acting, and acting science-fiction, and acting science-fiction television where the data and animation on the table are added in post-production – but it makes a compelling illustration of the sort of “interactive table” displays that have been on the rise for the last few years.

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