Digital Nerd

Thursday, July 21, 2005

"Makes sense when the sun's out."

Interesting stuff from Morph!

This week Things Magazine pointed to an award-winning billboard. For much of the day, the sign is merely a blank expanse, with a short note humbly inscribed at the bottom, next to a bottle of liquor: "Makes sense when the sun's out." As the day waxes on, shadows cast by the billboard's carefully placed aluminum pegs slowly form an image of a woman sunbathing.

When our lifescapes become completely saturated with noise, silence shouts loudest.

The billboard reminded me of a photoillustration project undertaken by Matt Siber last year. He removed all the text from a series of photos, leaving an arresting series of wordless signs and storefronts. On the related MetaFilter thread, one commenter points out, "Interesting how the adverts seem so much more obvious and overwhelming without text: I suppose your brain just gets used to filtering them out."

Remember when one little company made a dramatic entrance in a cluttered field by placing an empty box in a big, blank space? Time to revisit that concept.

Every now and then, a company makes a television commercial with no sound, only images. I generally space out during commercials, reading magazines, talking on the phone, but my attention span always involuntarily flips back to the TV when these commercials appear.

Of course, if every company started taking out blank billboards and silent TV spots, it would no longer be remarkable. (Probably very helpful to our sense of order and quiet, but not remarkable.) Our attention spans would wander right away again. But in an environment where brands and trademarks and slogans and stuff are proliferating, is that currently the greatest danger?

I think only part of the power of these examples is the contrast they provide to their noisy surroundings. Another huge part of it is that when you leave a blank space, when you leave something unsaid or unshown, you invite me to project something of my own into that space.

When you leave me with a cryptic phrase -- "Makes sense when the sun's out" -- and nothing else, you urge me to spin my own narratives around that phrase. When you give me an empty box surrounded by white, you encourage me to imagine ways to fill that box.

You demand my interaction. Our exchange depends less on what you have to offer, and more on what I care to offer.

For media, especially in the age of the read/write Web, that interplay is vital, and becoming increasingly so.


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