Mejia, Walking in the City

Mejia, R. (2012). ‘Walking in the City’ in an age of Mobile Technologies. In R. A. Lind (Ed.), Race / Gender / Class/ Media 3.0: Considering Diversity across Audiences, Content, and Producers (pp. 113-118). Boston, MA: Pearson. (5 pages)

Like other researchers interested in mobile technologies—or mobile information and communication technologies, mICTs)—Mejia notes that any information and communication technologies “configure a particular relation to the everyday” (113). Mejia, in particular, is concerned with how the user mistakes “the structure of someone else’s [experience] for our own’ (Monovich 61 qtd in Mejia 113) As more of our communications take place via ICTs, we find that what was once thought to be supplemental communication device becomes the primary point of engagement. To the extent that this is true, then at least a portion of our communication is structured by an (online) environment in which we cannot be represent; we can only engage with an interface, which then communicates with others on our behalf” (113). Similar to Plato’s cave allegory (as posited by Gumpert and Drucker), Mejia is concerned with how our experiences of self in environment is constrained and structured by structural forces that exist within the digital environment and operate invisibly to our attention.

TO demonstrate this process, he begins by noting the way that movement is a means of arranging a social reality, insofar as choosing to walk down one path as opposed to another adds both a content and a form to that choice which would not have existed otherwise” (113). But movement is managed by the physical masses or objects that occupy places: “the management of movement is not a neutral phenomenon” (114). He discusses the idea of strategies and tactics to understand the way movement is used to construct meaningful place. As he writes, strategies refers to the means of ensuring “the continuation of a particular mode of spatial arrangement…by either incentive or threat compel individuals within a place to behave in a particular fashion” (114). Strategies allow for the stability of place; however, space refers to the capabilities of movement that could exist within a location. In other words, spaces refer to the potentiality for behaviors and movements that exceed the strategies of movement employed to stabilize and define place. As such, tactics do not create place, but rather “work to exploit existing spatial structures in order to create contingent, livable spaces” (114). In other words, strategies may involve the creation of city streets that direct particular kinds of movements (pathways here, roadways here, stopping, going, etc); however, people may employ certain tactics that reach beyond these strategies to create a more accessible, livable space: people may walk behind alleyways or private property to get to their locations quicker.

Mejia draws a line, then, to the mobile means of navigating space, specifically through the digitization of self through avatar. For Mejia, avatars are created “for the sole purpose of facilitating online social engagements. …they are utilized to move through space rather than merely mark one’s prior presence [such as signatures]” (115). Mejia outlines the various consequences of electing to produce such an avatar. While the avatar allows users to navigate multiple spaces of activity; it, nonetheless, operates on a particular strategy of movement through space much like physical space. The user becomes programmable: “mICTS convert the user into numerical code for the sake of representing the user in virtual space; and since this space is programmable, so too is the user’s movement transformed according to the logic of the mathematical code” (116). The individuals conversion into avatars for the sake of making movement programmable is referred to mobile systemization.

Such mobile systemizations—the automation of social presence—flattens identities which is particularly relevant to people of color. The avatar “comes to stand in for and speak on behalf of the user…presence becomes automated because upon creation of a virtual self, the avatar is invested with the authority to operate form the user, as if it were the user” (116). However, as such, the physical body is left behind: “the body that is left behind is reduced in its authority to speak legitimately from its lived experience.” In other words, the body carries with it an inherited history, tradition, and worldview; however, this is lost in the automation and digitization of the body/self. As a consequence, “when all identity is merely that of aesthetic choice,” the choice of avatar shell, “then the answer to experiences of racism, classism, or sexism is to just ‘be something else’” (117). Put simply, the focus of aesthetic—the strategy of mobile systemization—“is to purify space by separating desirable subjects form undesirable ones” (117).

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