Digital signage and the publics

Media is everywhere and it consumes our attention, as a result we have grown a custom to ‘selective viewing’, but this concept isn’t new and is known in the academic world as ‘attention economics’, an approach to the management of information, by which human attention is considered a scarce commodity (Beller 2006, p. 301). Psychologist Thomas H. Davenport defines attention as ‘focused mental engagement on a particular item of information’ (Beller 2006, p. 303), and notes that this process is always followed by a decision on how to further act (continue watching, stop watching, buy the product, sign up for the class, donate ect).

The invention of Web 2.0, social media and advances in digital technology has dramatically influenced the way users interact with media, and this has produce not only challenges but new opportunities for marketers. According to my marketing teacher, companies now have to find new ways to get in front of what people are already paying attention to, if only for a moment or long enough to make impact with the viewer; instead of trying to get people to shift their attention towards them.

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it” (Simon quoted in Cronin, p. 268 ).

Gen Y (teens and young adults) is notorious for spend hours consuming these forms of media, with research suggesting 10.5 hours a day alone is spent on social media sites (Beller 2006, p. 307); companies and even churches have realised the power of social media with mega church Hillsong attracting and connecting their millions of global members via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The twitter account for @Hillsong has 542 000 followers and according to Twitaylzer has 23.4 impact, an amazing figure compared to Beyonce who has 13.6 Million followers but only makes 27.2 impact.


While Hillsong’s use of social media is changing the way churches in particular are using media in the 21st century, it is their use of digital screens in public that attracts more discussion; especially the capacity of their large screens to promote new forms of collective experiences/consumption in public settings. Hillsong’s centres become a modern example of what Paul Virilio defined as ‘media buildings’, structures with the primary function of providing information rather than habitation (though members inhabit the building while consuming the information). Another example of 21st century ‘media buildings’ is the well-known New York’s Times Square buildings, which is used by many to capture the fleeting attention of transient spectators, including Hillsong at the start of this year with their #noothername campaign.



This nostalgic screen consumption reflects the times when watching TV through windows of department stores was a rite of passage (McGuire 2010, p. 573), however these days there is a paradigm shift in the role that media technologies play within public spaces; and as a result mobile phones, networked media platforms (laptops, ipads, cellphones) and large screens have become a crucial part of the social experience of 21st century urban life (McGuire 2010, p.569).

Hillsong displays a range of global content and public information on their digital screens located in the foyers of each campus, which acts as a global community notice board about upcoming events but is controlled locally.


“electric sign is the harbinger of media platforms which move so fast that they no longer merely ‘represent’ events, but become part of them, foreshadowing the role of near instantaneous feedback loops in shaping contemporary experience of public space” (McGuire 2010, p. 577)

The screens within the auditorium itself, links wirelessly and distributes live video feeds from campuses all around the world, showing the capacity of the screen to serve as a site that unites the national and global community through the act of watching which “connects the individual to their wider community” (McGuire 2010, p.581). This challenges older forms of belonging which believed that a collective and shared experience is gained primarily through uniting with people from similar cultural backgrounds and with individuals within close geographical proximity. Hillsong’s use of media however just shows how people from diverse geographic locations can connect instantaneously making the world feel smaller than it ever has been, and makes the bonding experience much more profound as the sense of unity is heightened.


It is the cultural effects of this gathering of strangers that produces contradictions and reassessments of cultural conceptions of urban life ; this underlies Richard Sennett’s rationale for modern urban life which sees “social life in the modern city come to include routine negotiation of social interaction with those who remain strangers” (McGuire 2010, p. 561). Hillsong’s creative use of media technologies and strategies are connecting a diversity of individuals and terrains (geographical locations), and create new public domains (church buildings) that connect physical urban spaces and the public sphere through an electronic network.


Beller, J 2006 , Interfaces: Studies in Visual Culture : Cinematic Mode of Production, Attention Economy and the Society of the Spectacle, University Press of New England, Lebanon, NH, USA, pp. 300 – 315

Cronin, A.M 2013, Publics and Publicity: Outdoor Advertising and Urban Space, in Public Space, Media Space, Palgrave, pp.265 – 276

McGuire, S 2010, Rethinking media events: large screens, public space broadcasting and beyond, Sage, pp. 567–582


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