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Scale Effects


What happens when you scale things up? Wall-sized images that have a hundred times more detail than what we are using today; real-time streaming of visuals from the bottom of a sea floor or across the globe that look much sharper than today’s projection in a movie theatre; the ability for a research team around the world to see, discuss, and jointly manipulate such images.

Do scientists start thinking and working a little differently when they have these new abilities? And what happens when these abilities become available to various industries and wider public? And – the question that of course directly interests me – how will these new imaging, visualization, and communication capabilities affect future culture? What are the new cinematic, graphic, and multimedia languages that will take advantage of future imaging infrastructure? In other words, when you have a wall-size display with 35,000 x 12,000 pixel resolution, what do you put on it – besides super-resolved images of a brain, a geological process, and other scientific phenomena?

When we think of technology’s impact on culture, we are used to considering the effects of new technological inventions (including visual technologies). We are not used to thinking about the effects of scaling up already widely used technologies. For instance, generations of art historians have discussed the introduction of a new technique of one-point linear perspective during the Renaissance in western Europe. Similarly, endless volumes have been written about the inventions of photography in the 19th century and how it affected arts, culture, warfare, etc. To take a more recent example, it’s obvious that a whole series of new medical imaging techniques developed over the last two decades in addition to the century old X-ray technique – CAT, MRI, CT, PET, and others – have had a fundamental impact on medical practice. Similarly, the introduction of graphical browsers around 1993 is what allowed the World Wide Web – which at this point had already existed for a few years - to quickly take off.

Article  2005