Welcome the touch doc

It was actually released in mid 2010, but is yet to find many stablemates for its category of documentary. A touch doc is one that is designed for use on a device with a touchscreen - usually a tablet such as an iPad. There’s something about a touch screen that feels even more interactive than a webdoc on a computer - physically touching the pictures or icons with your finger to swipe or select seems just a tad more involved somehow, even if it’s not substantively different from clicking with a mouse.

‘Rape in Congo’ takes the user to the city of Goma in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Even though the war in the region is officially over, rape statistics have been rising in recent years to the point where it has almost become “the norm” for women to have experienced rape, according to Oxfam. And in 2010, the UN designated the north-east region of the country ‘the rape capital of the world’. (Perhaps Todd Akin could reassure the young girl in the doc who now has a one-year-old child as a result of being raped that her rape mustn’t have been ‘legitimate’?).

The touch doc as a form is perhaps described as somewhere between an interactive documentary and a magazine article. ‘Multimedia presentation’ would cover it if it didn’t sound quite so dry and reminiscent of the good ol’ CD-ROM (remember them?). This particular one incorporates still images, soundscapes, audio interviews, video, text and a map. Its heavy leaning on text and the way it swipes in linear fashion through pages from left to right give it more than a little flavour of a magazine article. But the audio testimonies from women really enhance the story, as do elements of video. On one page of still image and text, clicking the speaker icon unleashes a serenade from a Goma church choir to accompany your reading.

The tablet certainly allows a different way of engaging with a doco. Large amounts of text are easier to incorporate than in a traditional screen doco as the screen is closer and the user can take their own sweet time to read it. Webdocs on a computer can obviously incorporate text too but on a tablet the whole process much more closely mimics the reading of a magazine. I think this also encourages viewing in a more relaxed manner - for me, a tablet means relaxing on the couch, while using my laptop signifies I’m ‘at work’ - a fairly fundamental difference in state of mind.

So welcome to the new form of documentary - next iterations I’m sure will include touch docs that move away from the magazine form and involve even more user interaction and non-linearity.

I found ‘Rape in Congo’ thanks to Submarine Channel publishing a list of their top five iPad docs. I’ve blogged about Condition One here before, but I hadn’t come across any of the others and am looking forward to checking them out, probably while relaxed on my couch.

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