Aurigi, A.; De Cindio, F. (2008). Augmented Urban Spaces: Articulating the Physical and Electronic City. Burlington: Ashgate. (367 pages).
Places, Situations, and Connections, Katharine S. Willis
Willis begins by noting how the visual experience or presence in space is one way we come to understand our world: “the way of understanding the world so often requires visual presence to authenticate social experience. In so many aspects of our everyday life we tend to ‘believe it when we see it’. Our visual experience of the physical environment we inhabit therefore guides a great deal of how we perceive, remember and act in the world” (9). Willis questions first how visual experiences of presence are created in physical space while also noting how the ubiquity of mobile devices has changed our experience of space. As such, mobile technology has an impact on how we inhabit and act in the world, and imagine or interpret how we can move within a space. As she writes, we create meaning from a space by visualizing it, creating a mental image, that is born from how one moves within the space: mobile devices, then, can have an impact on how we move through space and visualize it. Her task, in this chapter, is to understand how wireless networks can affect spatial settings—spatial settings, thus, have a profound impact on how we make meaning in the world.
But reciprocally, space can “frame human action and interaction in multiple and varied ways. In fact our understanding of space underpins many aspects of how we in turn inhabit and act, and can be interpreted in terms of the corresponding spatial capabilities of individuals” (11). Social interactions and activities are facilitated by the social situations that the physical space invites; however, we also recognize that spaces are profoundly flexible in the kinds of relationships they can facilitate: a space may be inhabited with “many simultaneous and even conflicting social settings” (13).
The double constraints of the physical space and the social setting—“or patterns of behavior that occur in a location” (13)—both influence the way we communicate with one another. Wallis describes it as “two conditions which are fundamentally interlinked and dependent on one another” (13). But further, she also points to how communication technologies—specifically mobile devices—may also influence the patterns of behaviors permitted and made visible in a given space. As she writes, “communication technologies in urban settings further enable multiple social realities to occur in one place, since they can be understood as overriding the boundaries and definitions of situations supported by physical setting” (13). She describes how mobile communication devices enable a users to be simultaneously private and public: “the information flow ignores the material thresholds of walls and doors and extends beyond traditional materially bounded notions of space” (14).
However, because these mobile networks operate (literally) invisibly—as in, we can’t see them—Wallis questions how people, then, visualize and conceive of physical space. As she notices, people are remarkably bad at describing WIFI hotspots, despite patrons frequenting the same hotspots. Users, however, structured their behavior within the space based on how they can make use of the wireless network: participants “saw the technology not in terms of where it could reach to in space and possibilities it offered on its own terms. Instead they perceived the technology as having presence only where they could access it, in the sense that it was usable to them” (22).
Finally, Wallis connects wireless technology—and how we make sense of it/visualize it—to social networks: “wireless technologies are not visible structures in public spaces. The presence of networks in public spaces exists in a manner similar to our concept of a social network. Our notion of social network of friends, relations, and acquaintances exists as a highly developed framework in the mind of an individual, not as a visio-spatial mental image, but instead as a network of possible relations connected through threads of weak and strong ties. Thus we see these technologies as connection points with opportunities for accessing information. A person is thus perceived as being separated from another only by a switch to a network connection, not physical distance in space” (23). As she writes, the boundaries and limits of these connections are not walls or gates, but access and usability.
Framing, Locality and the Body in Augmented Public Space, Patrick Allen
As do many mobile theorists, Allen notes that a defining feature of augmented public spaces is the coexistence of the built environment with “layers of information and media content—the “media layer” (27). The layer of information superimposes the built environment. As a consequence, “rather than connecting the urban environment with its location and surrounding, what these different layers of representation do is connect the space to a continuous city of signs and representations—a set of global messages like the universal language at airport signage or continuity seen in interiors in global hotel chains” (30). In other words, the media layer does not specifically delimit itself to the boundaries of the immediate urban, build environment, but rather it bridges the urban environment with a wider discourse—for Allen, a global, homogenous discourse. This global discourse is what he refers to as non-place since it does not specifically adhere to place-based discourse.
The connection between non-place and place may be a matter of framing. Though not specifically defined, framing “identifies the ways in which expectations are invoked on the basis of the presentation of content” (30). Such non-place—which seems to refer to virtual—discourse operates by representing contextual cues provided by the environment. In other words, framing is a discursive practice where by the virtual, media layer provides a source for meaning for the built environment: the new context provides and invites particular kinds of meaning and behavior in the built environment. Particular cues—such as the intertextuality of messages and genre—invite ways in which the text, coupled with the built environment, should be interpreted.
Allen’s more compelling claims come from framing and its relation to the body. As he writes, “the body itself acts as an interface both on a sensory level in terms of its reception of information from the environment and in terms of receiving information from many technological artifacts, from personal stereos to mobile phones, all of which can be argued augment the body in some way” (36). The body, along these lines, functions at the crux of consumption, thus the information is, in a way, tailored, constrained, shaped, and framed by the capabilities of the body. The body is a framer of information: “framing and the framing of information ultimately becomes a question of the body and its location is space” (36). Navigation, for instance, is a key component of the body’s role in framing information since “navigation is predicated on the assumption that the body exists, or is always located, within space” (37).
Mobile Networks, Urban Places and Emotional Spaces, Heesang Lee
Lee contends that the network society—“a new kind of society emerging through the development of information and communication technologies” (41)—has been explained at a macro-level: “global space of lows mediated by global cities” (41). Lee, on the other hand, looks more closely at the micro-network society: “fabricated and facilitated by mundane technologies such as mobile phones and people’s practices in their everyday lives” (41). The use of the mobile device should be understood in the context of how its used in everyday life.
He begins by noting how such mobile devices blur and re-arrange boundaries of space. For instance, the line between public and private spaces—where once was distinct by the physical walls in a built environment—is not much more complex: “whether people exists in public and private spaces is not determined by whether the people are physically in public spaces or private spaces, but dependent on whether their mobile phones are on or off” (42). Lee points to the different logics of absent presence and present absence as a way to understand this emergent blurry distinction. On one end, absent presence refers to “the erosion of face-to-face community, a coherent and centered sense of self, moral bearings, depth of relationship, and the uprooting of meaning from material context” (43). In other words, the user is “absent” in their “presence” in material context. On the other end, present absence refers to the restructuring of the sense of belonging to place and such restructuring having an emotional impact on our sense of belonging: The sense of belonging to a single place “is translated into the sense of belonging to many places or an unlimited space, people come to suffer from a sense of uncertainty, insecurity, and confusion” (43). Simply put, the user’s sense of presence—or belonging—is absent and anxiety-producing.
He also, similar to Allen, connects mobile devices to the body: “bodies themselves become nodes and the (individual or collective) temporal and spatial coordinates of everyday life come to be fluid and floating…Human bodies become not only biological entities but also electronic nodes combined with mobile phones acting as not only technological objects but also prosthetic parts of their bodies” (44). “The mobile phone makes it possible for the body to be extensible and divisible into off-line and on-line spaces or into co-present and tele-present spaces. As a result, the body can be located at different points, and difference spaces can be located at the same point in the same time” (45).
However, despite the mobile device’s capability to the disbursement of the body—or accelerate and facilitates people’s mobility—the mobile phone is “highly bound to their local places” (48). Lee looks specifically at use of mobile devices of young Korean men and women, and notes that whereas some forms of digital technology support a ‘weak link’ model of network society, Lee has found, on the other hand, that mobile networks support “strong links” at a smaller spatial scale: “the localized socio-spatial scale of mobile networks represent ‘network enclosure’ with relatively dense networks, and indicates that they are associated with a strong sense of place” (50). In other words, the mobile device ha tended to be used locally and thus facilitate a closer bond of everyday life.
The mobile device enables “always-accessible” networks—extending the time in which we can spend with others, and “immediately-accessible” networks—reducing time we spend in accessing others. Such logics of accessibility, enabled by mobile devices, have facilitated the “indeterminate city”: territories are fluid and constantly in flux. “As such, time-space coordinates according to which mobile users move, meet each other and get together in urban space always remains uncertain, changeable, fluid, and floating” (53). But these logics of accessibility offer us another way to understand presence: namely, mobile networks are social networks, facilitating, thus, a connected presence or present absence.
However, Lee points out further that mobile devices can also be a means of control: “this is because the mobile phone can be a tool for remote controls with unpredictable and interruptive networks, for example, in the social networks between employers and employees and between boyfriends and girlfriends (Sussex Technology Group 2012) and between parents and their children (Green 2002, 288-9)” (55). “As such while the mobile device can be seen as a means of mobility and freedom, it can also be viewed as a means of control and surveillance” (55). Lee points to examples where boyfriends deleted text messages from other women for fear of their girlfriends getting jealous. Or a girlfriend finding out her boyfriend had been cheating on her through text messages. “after all, human bodies linked to mobile phones have ambivalent desires: to be connected to mobile networks as social networks on the one hand, and disconnected from mobile networks as control networks on the other hand. The point signifies that mobile phones produce emotional spaces in the everyday lives and lived space of their users” (56). This is not unlike Foucault’s (1977) space of power (closed, disconnected, and centralized spaces) or more exactly Deleuze’s (1997) space of control (open, connected, and decentralized spaces).
Towards Spatial Protocol: The Topologies of the Pervasive Surveillance Society, David Murakami Wood
“A society of pervasive computing is a pervasive surveillance society because it must ‘give instantaneous access to any “thing,” including tools, books, and people, transforming them into surveillable things’” (Arraya 1995, 233 qtd in Wood 93). The key aspect of this new surveillance is “a mode of ordering…the embedding of a particular politics within sociotechnical systems of sorting and categorization that re-inscribe those categories back on society in increasingly less socially negotiable ways” (93). In other words, ICT systems become a new means of ordering the social networks of people and such ordering re-inscribes itself onto society in ways that appear less socially negotiable. The pervasiveness and ubiquity of the new surveillance society contributes to the invisibility of these digital technologies’ role in producing “whole sets of hidden geographies at scales which are not at once more minute but more dispersed, and need to be exposed” (94). These hidden geographies’ exposure may involve the discovery of new rules or protocols by which a pervasive surveillance society operates. Spatial protocols refer to “these…highly restrictive and controlling rules embedded within the materiality of urban space, which produce all kinds of new libratory and repressive possibilities” (94).
Much of Wood’s concern with surveillance can be further explored with Foucault: specifically, Foucault offers us a way to think about how the modern subject is produced: “a kind of productive ordering was necessary; the classification and arrangement of all kinds of properties and entities to maximize their usefulness: (94). Deleuze continues to discuss “societies of control”: “whereas discipline is analogical and moulding, control is digital and modulating. The control diagram is the ‘code’, the numerical language that makes access to information. Instead of dealing with the mass/individual dualism, individuals have become ‘dividuals’, and masses ‘banks’ of data. These dividuals exist both as the physical body of the modern subject and as multiple subjects in databases (‘data subjects’) which are now often considered more important in terms of social identity than bodily selves” (95).