in Research

The Four Practices? Challenges for an Archaeology of the Screen: Individual Response

In the opening paragraph, Huhtamo states that “the overwhelming presence of screens in contemporary life was not accompanied by any systematic knowledge about their identities”. This sentiment, I feel, is quite true of people in our current society as most people, myself included, do not really see the significance behind screens as a media identity. Rather, we merely see screens as a medium which we use to view other forms of media (videos, games, text, etc.) and nothing more.

Huhtamo explores the historical and cultural significance behind screens by identifying 4 existing media practices (Touch, Mobile, Peep and Screen), and relating them back to screen practice. Today, the lines between these 4 practices are extremely blurred and arguably non-existed due to advanced technologies which provide us with screens and devices that satiate multiple senses and cross between the 4 media practices. However, as Huhtamo states, the 4 practices are not hard constructs that define and divide media practices but rather “give shape to traditions that have authentic historical currency”. Hence, I decided to look back into my childhood during the time before smart devices and widespread internet connections, and look into how the 4 practices are relevant in categorising devices that I used to own and play with, as well as other devices which we use today.


One of the earliest screen-based toys which I owned was the Tamagotchi. I feel that children’s toys are a very good example of early touch media, as many of them would want to include a tactile/interactive element to appeal to children. The Tamagotchi is a very simple example of a toy which has a touch-based element (the buttons) which plays a huge role in being able to interact with the device and make full use of its functionalities.

Nowadays with most phones and tablet being touch-screen with maybe only 1 central button, using buttons to control a device is a thing of the past and I imagine that for people born in this day and age, they might not even be able to fathom that in the past most devices including mobile phones were controlled through button keypads! Which brings me to my next point!


Huhtamo uses the term”mobile practices” to refer to screens/devices which we must move around in order to view, and those which we use while being mobile and moving around, rather than referring to merely mobile phone based devices. For the former kind of screens, I wasn’t able to think of anything like it from my childhood, however it did remind me of what we see a lot of these days with large-scale installation artworks (such as in iLight & Night to Light).


As for the second kind of device, the mobile phones of my childhood, I feel, truly exemplify what it means to be a mobile device. Nowadays while it is true that our smartphones are portable devices that we can carry around with us, it is a device that we would use at any time (not just while we are out and about but also when we’re just chilling at home) because it has everything we need in it. The mobile phones of the past were truly a device that you would use to make calls and send texts only while you were out. Because there was no internet connection and mobile plans were expensive, people generally preferred to make calls from their home landline instead.

As I got older, mobile phones started to have more and more functionalities such as games, music and cameras. The mobile phone pictured in the photo above was one of my favourites, I remember that my mum had it when I was a kid and it was heavily marketed and advertised as being the first mobile phone with a colour screen or something like that! My favourite part about it was that it had a game where you could choose a virtual pet and take care of it. I would always beg my mum to let me have her phone while we were in the car so I could play that game and I remember always being frustrated that my virtual pet would run away because I couldn’t take care of it while my mum was away at work HAHA


To be honest, Peep Media kind of confused me at first because I felt like I wasn’t able to relate it to any devices that I had encountered in my life. After watching the above video by Professor Huhtamo, I came to the conclusion that the devices under “peep media” are generally quite 0utdated and not really things that we would encounter in recent decades.

However, going home over the weekend, I noticed one thing in my home which is sort of like a “reverse” peep device, which is a digital camera peephole viewer which many houses have these days. Instead of the traditional peephole where the person inside has to look into the hole in order to see who is standing outside, the person inside now views the outside of the door via a camera which is embedded into the peephole in the door. I was actually having an interesting conversation about this with my brother, where he mentioned that this is one of the items which we have input technology into where it doesn’t really need it since it works pretty much the same way as a traditional peephole (allowing the person inside to see outside). Which is something that I agree with and I feel we need to think about these days, with “smart homes” and the popularity of IoT devices. How many of these devices actually need to be “smart”, and does adding technology to everything necessarily make it better?


In the reading, Huhtamo does not allude much to screen practice. From my understanding, by screen practice he is referring to screens in general in its most basic form and how it relates to history and society. As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, it is undeniable that screens do have a lot of historical significance and they do have a role to play in society, not just the content that is displayed on them.

One example of how screens can be a part of everyday life can be seen right within our own NTU campus, namely the Media Art Nexus. While some people might think it is just a large screen showing random videos, it is something which transforms the entire corridor into an arts viewing space. Rather than being just a passageway for people to walk through, the entire mood and atmosphere in the corridor has changed because of the screen and when entering the corridor it is like entering a whole different room altogether. Because the aim of the Media Art Nexus is not commercial gain but rather to give a platform for students/artists to display their works, it is one of the few public screens I have seen which aims to display art and not just advertisements or marketing materials.

Because of its location, there are definitely many people who walk past MAN on a daily basis but they might not realise how much more interesting and meaningful screens like MAN make their daily lives.

To conclude, before this reading, I myself did not see how screens are a significant tool in society, and how they are the result of many historical media practices which we might not even recognise as screens as we know them. Screens are more than just a platform for viewing, but rather they have the power to shape how the media is viewed and regulate the audience’s interaction with the media. With current popular technologies like projection mapping, almost anything can be turned into a screen and it will be exciting to see how this plays out in the future, to find out and to experiment for myself as an artist on how the idea of a screen can be further developed and changed as technology advances,