What happens to human interaction when it’s all done through a screen?

by Kitty Drake in April 2020
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Art & design

NXS’s ‘Virtual Virtigo’ issue couldn’t have come out at a better time. One of the central questions underpinning the issue — what happens to human interaction when it’s all done through a screen? — is more horribly relevant than ever, now that it’s illegal to socialise with anyone outside your household in the flesh. “With the shift of stable reference points such as direct eye contact”, the editors write in the opening letter, “…we can no longer intuit if our personal interactions are genuine”.

What’s real — and how we can keep something of our “true” selves intact when we are constantly communicating via digital avatars — is an obsession of this issue. One of the most inventive pieces is about a spider-shaped “bio visor”, specially commissioned by NXS, that protects its user’s privacy online by obscuring the facial features. In the essays that follow, one idea recurs: we need to reconnect with the physical world, and away from the virtual. One contributor, the musician Bea1991, quotes her mother on this: “If my mind is so seduced and distracted by the screen, then my body is merely a taxi for my head to travel on.”


One design quirk is that text gets smaller on the page as you read it (typographic vertigo), which may make delicate readers like myself feel a bit sick. The idea behind NXS is that each contributor responds to a preceding submission, so text and images mushroom out of one another, picking up where the other left off. Sometimes the connections are difficult to follow. Many pieces are so wildly experimental and meta, they make you long for the simplicity of a nice long twitter scroll. At one point, for example, Bea1991 starts referring to an earlier draft of her own essay as “she”.

The design of this magazine mesmerises, though; nothing about NXS is predictable, and the high points — like a collage of naked female trolls — are funny and charming. There’s a pleasure in slipping in and out of the Virtual Vertigo issue, letting its strangeness wash over you, without worrying about trying to trace one narrative thread.


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