Real-Time is one of the most frequent concepts used referring to digital media. Despite it is commonly related to immediate feedback, it is not clear when it happens and what its characteristics are, especially in current digital interfaces.
Although real-time has been written about very extensively in the context of Human Computer Interaction and Computational Systems, there are few studies evaluating the key features of real-time interaction in other domains. This article attempts to address this situation by proposing a new approach to the concept of real-time interaction driving the analysis of this topic into paradigmatic cases studies in new media, video games and digital artworks.
This new analysis reveals several specific facets that allow us to identify new factors in the understanding of this fuzzy concept. Finally, the article proposes a new definition of ‘real-time interaction’ based on the findings in the context of new media practices.
Introduction to real-time interaction: computation and network society
The issue of immediacy and real-time has been dealt mainly by the scientific community under the concept of real-time computing, fundamentally focused on controlling the correct flow of actions and the immediacy of their responses (as of October 7, 2015 in Don Gillies Personal Website, http://www.ece.ubc.ca/~gillies/). And it is difficult to find definitions and studies of interactivity that focus on the concept of real-time in other digital interaction scenarios. This problem has also been detected by other academics and by previous research of the authors, which have identified a lack of reflection on the temporal qualities of digital media: ‘The importance of time in interactive communication needs to be explored in more depth’ (Downes and McMillan, 2000) or
RTI is an ill-defined concept. Whereas real-time hardware architectures, real-time operating systems, real-time generated graphics or real-time media streaming, all convey clear and reasonably univocal meanings, there seems to be no canonical definition for ‘real-time interaction’ and I claim that the term is too often misused. (Jordà, 2008. “On Stage: The Reactable and Other Musical Tangibles Go Real.” International Journal of Arts and Technology)
From its beginnings, computer technology was focused on the immediacy of data management, processing and return, which was known as ‘Real-Time Computing’ (Martin, 1965). It is a concept that first came about in the 1960s related to work on input interfaces (Engelbart, 1962; Sutherland, 1964), as well as artistic research such as the organization Experiments in Art and Technology, led by the artists Robert Whitman and Billy Klüver, which was motivated by experimenting with the possibilities for interaction between people and machines, offered by the first computers (Teager, 1961; Engelbart, 1962).
In this context, immediacy was necessary to avoid the time lapses caused by calculation processes, present at that time, between data entry and system response. Improving this aspect allowed those first interactive experiences to be more fluid, fostering a greater sense of interaction (Kirsh, 1997).
Thus, it was particularly important to work on this aspect in the digital art exhibitions of that time, like 9 Evenings: Theatre & Engineering (Klüver 1966); so the systems could provide the audience with a continuous and fluid response (Utterson, 2012).
After the first attempts to tackle real-time paradigms in the computational domain in terms of responsiveness and delay, and with broad following literature covering time implications in software development and user perception (Seow, 2008), another layer of complexity on real-time understandings was built by the rise of the network society. The question of how we perceive the passing of time in modern societies is closely linked and mediated to our daily experiences and social interactions through digital networks and mobile devices (Durkheim, 2001; Castells, 1996).
The large-scale consolidation of the internet and information and communication technologies in the 1990s completely changed our notion of time, bringing into question the temporal and spatial relationships we have with the media, its content and in consequence, our life experiences. Concepts and theories on time and digital experience such as ‘timeless time’ (Castells, 1996), ‘information flows’ (Virilio, 1995), ‘multiplicity of times’ (Latour, 1997), ‘absolute time’ (Lee and Liebenau, 2000) and references to the fusion of time and space in the network appear together with the view that new technologies forge a society that demands immediate real-time access to information.
To cite this article:
Carles Sora, Sergi Jordà, Lluís Codina (2017): “Chasing real-time interaction in new media: towards a new theoretical approach and definition”, Digital Creativity, Published online: 26 Jul 2017. DOI: 10.1080/14626268.2017.1355323