Summary

  • One of the few sources I’ve found seriously engaging virtual and mediated scents.

Notes

  • “The human-computer interface has incorporated non-textual elements for a long time. . . . Of course, the noticeably missing sensory channels are taste and smell, and the apparent absurdity of producing smell through desktop computers has been met with both excitement and opprobrium by pundits and commentators” (359). The major figure of smelling computers is DigiScent’s iSmell device, which was hyped up in Wired in 1999 and then never appeared (359).
  • History of smell as media, mostly focused on film: 1903, rose scent during a newsreel of the Pasadena Rose Bowl game (359); two olfactory cinematic technologies appeared in the 1960s, Smell-O-Vision and Aromarama (360). Challenges included: synchronizing odor to image; managing odor dispersal so as not to overwhelm or confuse audiences; actually achieving fidelity to the smells in question. Unsurprisingly, it was a technical flop.
  • These technologies were revisted in pastiche cinema, from Waters’ Polyester (1981) to Rugrats Go Wild! (2003) (360–1).
  • DigiScent and TriSenx as companies attempting to break into the smell-computer space, w/ even less success than the kinds of touch peripherals that Parisi writes about (361–62). The overwhelming impression is of entrepreneurs attempting to domesticate scent into another advertising or profit/productivity vector.
  • Paterson links smell to ambient media (cf Roquet); attempts to develop a “learned synesthesia” (362).

  • Smell connotes gimmickry (here cf Ngai’s “Theory of the Gimmick”); smell parodies of emerging technologies underscore crass commercialization and negative “gimmickry” to tech development, esp. in the 1990s and early 2000s (363).
  • Anxieties around odor and control: “Bad smells are feared as invasions into one’s personal space and, even more so, their persistence reveals the lack of control one has over the environment. . . . In a carefully managed affective life, smell may evoke pleasant reveries . . . but smells may also intrude into one’s psychic life and released unwanted memories, or possibly disturb individuals in other unpleasant ways” (364).

  • Section on retail psychology, which seems the most dated part of the essay. But do note how iSmell et al. are best thought of as intrusions of the retail experience into the home through the computer, that key medium of commerce (365).

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