Over on LiveScience we learn that a new company has started using “a mixture of soap-based foams and lighter-than-air gases such as helium” to create “floating ads and messages” in the sky.
Unfortunately dubbed Flogos, these floating logos can be made – or printed, really – every 15 seconds by “re-purposed snow machines,” thus “flooding the air with foamy peace signs or whatever shape a client desires. Renting the machine for a day starts out at a cost of about $2,500.”
I should start blogging with it.
The sky texts aren’t particularly large, however. They’re only “about two feet long and nearly a foot wide” – but they “generally last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour, depending on conditions in the atmosphere.”
“They will fly for miles,” their inventor adds – because they are “durable,” capable of flying as high as 20,000 feet without breaking up. Gaseous typography.
It won’t just be meteorologists watching the skies, in other words, but graphic designers. Adjusting leading, kerning the clouds, ragging atmospheres.
And what about abstract typography – printing random cloud-shapes on a massive scale? Future paranoias appear in the diagnostic handbooks of tomorrow’s most expensive psychiatrists. Patients stumble in, demanding to know if those clouds are really signs… And, if so, who put them there, what they say – and what about that one…
Flying through these atmospheric print-outs, meanwhile, is “like going through a cloud” – and thus, apparently, safe. Just a minor bit of literary turbulence as you pass through a challenging paragraph.
But this ability to print aerial images also hints at what could be called the immersive sky-cinema of tomorrow: you get into the cockpit of a small airplane and you fly through artificial clouds – clouds that have been printed to look like a sequence of animated cells. You proceed to fly through this cloud-by-cloud narrative, perhaps even reading word bubbles and thought balloons – subtitles – or you play a carefully synched soundtrack on your iPod. Soon, you can leave commentary in the air with your own re-purposed snow machine. Metacommentary. Footnotes.
Or perhaps music written in the sky + a local radio station playing that song = SkyKaraoke
In any case, I originally saw this bit of news on MetaFilter – where we also find a link to an article published in the New York Times back in 1892. Here it is as a PDF and as a JPG.
Apparently documenting the very birth of skywriting – that “interesting experiment” of typesetting the sky – the article relates what it describes as the “curious effect” of seeing letters and signs mid-air. Clouds of steam become a new textual presence in space.
In any case, there is an obvious (and, frankly, rather uninteresting) reaction to all this – i.e. please save us from yet another form of corporate advertising, we don’t need logos in the sky – but there are also artistic, and even literary, implications here that go beyond mere outrage.
2) If graphic design suddenly becomes atmospherically relevant, so to speak, will we someday read an issue of PRINT or an essay on Design Observer about well-rounded cloud forms – how, perhaps, the skies above Amsterdam are beautifully sans serif, whilst the skies of Rome are well-paragraphed but poorly spaced…? Then you play an April Fool’s joke: you send a design critic to some city where they don’t print the clouds at all – but you ask him or her to critique their newest font… Six pages of embarrassing sky criticism ensue.
3) If typography also bears information, of course, then perhaps tomorrow’s literature will be skybound, no longer bound in books. Penguin’s UK-based We Tell Stories initiative abandons the internet entirely to print stories in the skies above Bloomsbury or Liverpool or even Hay-on-Wye. Much was made years and years ago about William Gibson’s self-erasing book Agrippa (A Book of the Dead), but why not repeat that performance with a book printed only once, in the air, off a dock on the east coast of England? It disperses across the Channel in a haze of typography – a particularly robust paragraph or two flying as far as Paris, where still intelligible letters float past the bedroom window of a 13 year-old hopeful game designer… who gets an idea.
5) For the rest of human history, no one trusts the clouds. No one knows for sure if they are natural. Everything appears to be printed. Like those infamous numbers stations – radio broadcasts of uncertain origin which appear to be involved with international espionage – strange cloud forms seen over factories in Berlin are studied for their possible meanings. Cloud cryptography. An aerial Enigma machine. New political departments – combining handwriting analysis, graphic design, linguistics, meteorology, advanced statistics, and spycraft – are formed by governments all over the world. 24-hour surveillance of the skies ensues.