About Roundness


Have you ever visited a camera obscura like the one in Bristol (or Aberystwyth, below), and stood around it with others, looking at the magical image projected from above?

The panorama Рof  the landscape around the camera obscura Рis circular. This is the first difference from the rectangular screens that pervade our lives.

And we view the image in the round, instead of face-on like we look at a painting in a gallery, a film at the cinema, or a programme on TV. Instead of sitting or standing beside one another, we stand all around a camera obscura, looking down on it. We can see the other people across from us as well as the image itself. We share the image in a social way. We can have a conversation about what we see, and gesture at it, moving our attention between the people and what we are all looking at.

These are the characteristics of round content: round framing, and viewing in the round. Sometimes only one of these applies.

Many variations are possible, both of the viewing device and the content displayed on it.

The device may be a sphere, for example, rather than a flat circle. That is different again as a social viewing experience  Рthere may be something I cannot see behind the sphere but that you can see, standing on the other side of it. I could walk around and see what you see. Unless, of course, what we see is turning, and will come to me soon.

Or there may even be a rectangular frame – perhaps a tablet computer laid on a dinner table and playing a video, but one that we view and discuss from our seats all around it. Even though the content itself is laid out for viewing from one principal direction, we can each turn it around to face us.

Alternatively, the content may be crafted to be viewed simultaneously from all directions around it. Something faces us, wherever we stand.

Or maybe the device is round but it’s for playing music, not viewing content.

We think there is something magical and uniquely social about roundness.

What is roundness to you? Please tell us.


Photo credit: Alan Liu, UCSB