The offline and the online world have seemed to be for a long time dichotomous concepts: what was happening virtually had no correspondent in the urban culture. Therefore critics of the Internet’s potential fear the loss of the sense of physical “sociability” among young generations caused by an increased use of new media channels and less engagement in civic association. So basically the question they address now is: might online communication progressively render offline interaction and the creation of physical urban culture obsolete?
Online Organized Urban Culture
Flash mobs – everybody has heard of them, has seen them online and maybe also experienced them. But what is it about flash mobs and their power of reframing the public space? Flash mobs are a digitally mediated form of socialization: they are born online (on social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter or via SMS) and manifest offline. Participants – who usually don’t know each other, are informed and organized online and then “perform” offline. It is in fact their spontaneous, playful, creative, pointless character and the surprise and confusion effect that reinvent public space and foster urban creativity. The city becomes for 10 minutes or less a theater of social action enhancing emotions, laughs, curiosity, happiness, astonishment among the spectators. It also changes its usual appearance: how often do you get to see such choreography?
Online Spread Urban Culture
Another example of artistic endeavor temporarily changing the architecture of a city and rapidly spreading in the online sphere is the RedBall Project.
Kurt Pershke: “If the RedBall would be just about me, it would be over. I don’t force it to get anywhere. People want it. It’s a natural growth.”
Based on a gaming culture of architecture, the RedBall is a charming and invitational project playing with people’s imagination and the appearance of urban space, allowing a different experience of their city: it makes people connect either online by spreading photos, videos or news about it or just offline through physical interaction and tactile engagement. This time, spontaneity and togetherness manifest online initially: people never know in what city the ball will be, thus supporting the ubiquitous character of the internet and creating a story around the world.
Digital Creation of Urban Culture
Virtual art happens obviously online; but not exclusively online. Driving new technological techniques and experimental productions into the offline, Urbanscreen creates digital scenographic and dramaturgical elements to change the audiovisual appearance of a city. They have developed a project in Vienna for celebrating the 10th anniversary of the MQ that offered the public an extraordinary and interactive audiovisual experience.
Drawing upon these examples, the interaction between online communication and production and the offline physical world is influencing the temporary appearance and sociability of cities. Digital media has become not only an urban designing tool, but also gives coherence to the offline world by bringing people together, offering them new innovative experiences and making them creatively think about their own cities.