“Out of Touch”: The Internet Isn’t Your Valentine

Christine Wilks’ e-poem  “Out of Touch” (OOT)  begins with the raising and lowering of a typographical font that mimics the appearance keys from a keyboard. Maybe it was my slow internet, but the first time I viewed Wilks’ work the keys lowered and raised so slowly I began to think I too needed to join in typing my own keyboard to get things moving. I believed this so much so that I ignored the flash format and typed along on my keyboard for at least a minute or two before realizing that my individual interaction with the work wasn’t doing much at all to progress forward- to get OOT started I only needed to click on the keys spelling out ‘touch’. Although, the more I think about it, my initial beginning into Wilks’ decidedly non interactive work is perhaps the best way I could’ve gotten started.

Once OOT is opened, you’re immersed in a black and white textual space with the sounds of close keyboard typing to accompany the fading in and out of lonely texts- trying to reach out asking asks:

‘what’s happening?’

‘I write between your lines’

‘I’ve no more to give’

 ‘touch screen me’

Soon the work’s choice of sound expand to include the sounds of pens and pencils writing on paper, as well as soft indistinguishable text-to-speech voices. To these added sounds, faces begin to form with the text that had originally faded in and out on the black background. These visages Brain Stefans points out in his curation of OOT, is eerily similar to The Scream, or work by Christian Boltanski. The faces seem to converse as the text around them continues to swirl, but it’s not long after this that the sounds, and the faces fade away leaving text to continue to rise and fall on the screen by itself.

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OOT, showcased by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for the Third Hand Plays series, interestingly chooses to avoid interactivity, and I think that this choice enhances the work immensely. My initial response to OOT’s opening serves to indicate that I (and other viewers too) have a relationship with online media. I wanted to type to it, for it to respond and react to my choices- but OOT (unlike other media) didn’t care. It only needed one click on the word ‘touch’  and then needed nothing more from me. Despite my desire and ability to input my own text- to possibly write back to the lonely snippets that rose and faded on my screen, nothing I could do would make a difference. It was indifferent to my feelings, and desire to connect.

Following OOT for SFMOMA, Wilks also developed her initial ideas further into two additional pieces, both of which function with some limited interactivity. Although both follow up pieces are strong- the original OOT I think still wins out for me in the end. The lack of connection and interaction between me and OOT almost felt like a breakup of sorts between me and the internet, and that breakup was harsh. I was dumbfounded that my typing back went unheard, and almost didn’t know what to do with myself as I had to sit passively and watch the text on the screen without any input from me. 

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