60-Second Digital Projects Push the Possibilities of Mobile Interactivity

Very Very Short is a series from the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and ARTE of 10 web-based interactive projects.

GIF from Bias by Nicolas S. Roy, Rebecca West, and Catherine D’Amours (courtesy the developers)

From sailing a paper boat across your smartphone screen, to assessing your biases, the free digital projects from Very Very Short push the possibilities of mobile interaction. The 10 web-based projects were made by an international group of creators chosen from an open call put out by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and ARTE, in collaboration with the IDFA DocLab.

The series launched on November 30, 2017, with a new project released each Thursday, and the final editions added this month. The initiative followed NFB and ARTE’s 2014 Interactive Haiku, which involved 12 brief works of interactive art. I’m always curious to check out new apps and games, but don’t often have the time to engage with long experiences. Each of the Very Very Short projects is just 60 seconds (although several can be experienced for longer), so they’re perfect for a quick distraction while waiting for the train or fleeing the crushing demands of reality.

However, they’re not passive, as each was selected to explore some aspect of mobility. Revolve by Bram Loogman and Joaquin Wall challenges users to spin as many times as they can within 60 seconds, as a 360-degree video of exuberantly costumed dancers swirl around you (I got dizzy very fast and only ranked as a “novice” spinner), while FlipFly by Lucile Cossou, Gabriel Dalmasso, and Rémy Bonté-Duval employs the physical movement of your mobile phone to guide a toy airplane. For The Paper Sail by Cosmografik & Gaeel, I folded a tiny paper ship and used the small piece of paper to voyage on a dreamy virtual sea.

Despite bringing your phone to bed being an almost universally acknowledged bad idea, a couple of the Very Very Short projects are about sleep. In Sleep Together by Laura Juo-Hsin Chen, you can join a VR group in which a calming voice guides you through sleep rituals such as deep breathing, and you can interact with other users by looking them in their digital eyes (if you use the app at, say, noon on a Tuesday like this writer, you are likely to be alone). Stir by Rebecca Lieberman and Julia Irwin offers a personalized wake-up message based on your Facebook or Twitter feed. You can also sign up to be a rouser and create these messages for strangers. (The one I received to “just make everything possible today for yourself” was indeed a positive way to start the day.)

Viral Advisor by Dries Depoorter and David Surprenant likewise offers a utility, here anticipating the virality of a shared photograph. You can upload one from your library, or take a new shot, and it suggests hashtags to make it popular. I first submitted what I thought was a pretty cool photograph of an abandoned greenhouse — suggested hashtags included #steel and #empty — yet its bleak nature got a viral score of 1%. Then I tried a selfie from my summer trip to Jordan, generating much more positive hashtags like #travel and #scenic, and thus the more promising 47% prediction of going viral. Also anticipating reactions is Bias by Nicolas S. Roy, Rebecca West, and Catherine D’Amours, which contains a bias test of social attitudes through word association. For instance, rapidly assigning professional and career words, and family words, to men or women, measures engrained sexism.

There are a few documentary projects which have deeper, and I felt more rewarding, levels of engagement. Carrier Pigeon by Folklore visualizes what happens when you send a text massage, make a phone call, or post a photo on Facebook. A jittery collage of imagery maps the supporting technical infrastructure, a reminder of all the towers and underground tunnels that support this seemingly non-physical network. Where Is Home? by Ifeatu Nnaobi uses the grid-style of Instagram to relate the developer’s journey through Nigeria, Liberia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to find different meanings of home. Nnaobi herself moved often as a child, including from Nigeria to the UK, and she reflects on the understanding of home through short videos taken on the road.

Finally, A Temporary Contact by Sara Kolster and Nirit Peled has audiovisual messages which you receive in real-time over 30 hours on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. They follow a young woman named Amanda as she takes a bus to visit her brother in an upstate New York prison. From the long wait for a late bus on 34th Street in Manhattan, to the 15 hours travel through rural New York, the experience takes viewers on this lengthy ride that is a regular part of life for people whose loved ones are in prisons with no public transportation access. Like all the Very Very Short projects, A Temporary Contact harnesses existing online interactions and transforms them into platforms for storytelling.

The Very Very Short collection of web-based interactive projects is available online from NFB and ARTE with IDFA DocLab. 

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