- Mobile Performance
- Electric Speed
- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
2. Enacted Space
'The modern city exists as a haze of software instructions. Nearly every urban practice is mediated by code.' (Amin and Thrift 2002, 125)
Two years prior to "Living City," author and urban activist Jane Jacobs published her influential book The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Jacobs 1961). In one extended passage, she describes the cycle of daily (and nightly) activity transpiring on Hudson Street, located in her neighborhood on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. This narrative of a sidewalk "ballet," as she calls it, takes the form of a list of casual events, encounters, and interactions between neighbors, workers, and passers-by:
'Mr Halpert unlocking the laundry's handcart from its mooring to a cellar door, Joe Cornacchia's son-in-law stacking out the empty crates from the delicatessen, the barber bringing out his sidewalk folding chair... Simultaneously, numbers of women in housedresses have emerged and as they crisscross with one another they pause for quick conversations that sound with either laughter or joint indignation, never, it seems, anything between... Longshoremen who are not working that day gather at the White Horse or the Ideal or the International for beer and conversation... As darkness thickens... the ballet goes on under lights, eddying back and forth but intensifying at the bright spotlight pools of Joe's sidewalk pizza dispensary, the bars, the delicatessen, the restaurant and the drug store.' (Jacobs 1961, 52–53)
If Archigram viewed the city as an environment that conditions our emotions, today, the "feel" of the street is defined less and less by what we can see with the naked eye (Hill 2008). Taking a cue from Jacobs, Dan Hill describes the informational ballet transpiring on a typical street today in terms of what we cannot see:
'We can’t see how the street is immersed in a twitching, pulsing cloud of data... This is a new kind of data, collective and individual, aggregated and discrete, open and closed, constantly logging impossibly detailed patterns of behaviour. The behaviour of the street.
Such data emerges from the feet of three friends, grimly jogging past, whose Nike+ shoes track the frequency and duration of every step, comparing against pre-set targets for each individual runner. This is cross-referenced with playlist data emerging from their three iPods. Similar performance data is being captured in the engine control systems of a stationary BMW waiting at a traffic light, beaming information back to the BMW service centre associated with the car’s owner.
The traffic light system itself is capturing and collating data about traffic and pedestrian flow, based on real-time patterns surrounding the light, and conveying the state of congestion in the neighbourhood to the traffic planning authority for that region, which alters the lights’ behaviour accordingly...'
In an adjacent newsagent’s, the stock control system updates as a newspaper is purchased, with data about consumption emerging from the EFTPOS system used to purchase the paper, triggering transactions in the customer’s bank account records.
Data emerges from the seven simultaneous phone conversations (with one call via Skype and six cellular phones) amongst the group of people waiting at the pedestrian crossing nearest the newsagent.'
To understand the implications of this folding of people, street, and data onto each other requires thinking about space in non-visual ways, where formal geometry and material articulation become less relevant than the topologies of networked information systems and their intersection with the socio-spatial practices of daily life. Martin Dodge and Rob Kitchen have suggested that these kinds of "code/space" need to be understood ontogenetically, that is, as something continually brought into being through specific practices that alter the conditions under which the space itself is (re)produced. Building on the work of Adrian MacKenzie (2002; 2003), they differentiate between technicity (the productive power of technology to make things happen) and its realization through transduction (the constant making anew of a domain in reiterative and transformative practices) (Dodge and Kitchen 2003). These assemblages of code, people, and space, thus, are brought into being through specific techno-social performances or enactments within the course of daily life.
3. The Mobile Device as Territory Machine
'Imagine Hegel, Marx and McLuhan encountering the keitai [mobile phone] of the twenty-first century. Georg Hegel is astonished at seeing the spirit of the era dwelling persistently in our palms. Karl Marx complains that it is an alienating fetish object. Marshall McLuhan, his eyes sparkling, chimes in that it will turn the whole world into a village—no, a house. But in the next moment, he comes upon a realization that appalls him. "But wait!," he exclaims. "My wife and children will have the equivalent of a private room with a twenty-four-hour doorway to the outside world, fully equipped with a TV, a bed, and even a bathroom. Where would my place be in such a house?"' (Fujimoto 2006)
Today, a new approach to the old problem of "programming" space arises with contemporary everyday practices involving mobile devices and wireless information systems. In Japan, for example, the mobile phone has been described by Kenichi Fujimoto as a personal "territory machine," capable of transforming any space—a subway train seat, a grocery store aisle, a street corner—into one's own room and personal paradise. Born out of the so-called girl's pager revolution of the 1990s, the mobile phone became a key weapon in a young Japanese girl's arsenal for waging gender warfare against older "raspy and thick-voiced" oyaji, intent on peeping at young female bodies from behind a newspaper. Armed with her keitai, speaking freely in a high-pitched voice, "wearing loose socks and munching snacks," these kogyaru "couldn’t care less if a subhuman oyaji peeked at their underwear or eavesdropped on their conversations" (Fujimoto 2006, 98). These techno-social practices remade space in the Japanese city in new ways, transforming the paternalistic communities of city streets and subway cars into private territories for women and children.
In the West, spatial practices involving the iPod are, perhaps, more familiar. Michael Bull (2000) has studied how people use these devices to mitigate the contingencies of daily life. On one level, the iPod enables one to personalize the experience of the contemporary city with one's own music collection. When you are on the bus, at lunch in the park, or shopping in the deli, the city becomes a film for which you compose the soundtrack. The iPod also provides gradients of privacy in public places, affording the listener certain exceptions to conventions for social interaction within the public domain. Donning a pair of earbuds grants the wearer a certain amount of social license, enabling one to move through the city without necessarily getting too involved and, to some extent, absolving one from responsibility to respond to what is happening around one. Some people use earbuds to deflect unwanted attention, finding it easier to avoid responding because they look already occupied. Faced with two people on the sidewalk, we will likely ask the one without earbuds for directions to the nearest subway entrance. In the same way, removing one’s earbuds when talking to someone pays the speaker a compliment. So, in effect, the iPod becomes a tool for organizing space, time, and the boundaries around the body in public space.
What is significant here is that as these mobile devices become ubiquitous in urban environments (and in many places they already are), the technicity of architecture as the primary technology of space making is challenged by the spatial transductions these devices afford. Regardless of the formal geometries and material arrangements of a space as defined by architecture, and irrespective of the normative activities or uses encoded (or elicited) by its program, these devices and the ways in which we use them have, in fact, become as important as, if not more important than, architecture in shaping our experience of urban space.