The Space and The Mobile Individual

J.W. Mitchell’s essay, “Post-Sedentary Space”, discusses the profound influence the emergence of 802.11 wireless networks have in today’s world. With the creation of these networks in the early 2000’s, Mitchell believed it was “a new field of functional possibility [that] superimposed itself on public space” (87). Ten or so years later, these wireless networks are still in public and semipublic space. Mitchell lists cafés, bars, lobbies, waiting rooms, and airport lounges as the first places these networks were established in and the list could expand today as places like restaurants, libraries, and public parks (such as Bryant Park in Manhattan) have wireless access. It is increasingly easier to access wireless networks and connect to the Internet; technology is also increasing the strength of these networks.

Wireless networks decrease the focus on confined, wired spaces but increase the ability for an individual to expand their space by moving into new ones, or fields of presence, as Mitchell puts it. One can take their devices, such as iPods, laptops, cell phones, or tablets, and find networks to connect to, making them much more mobile. This eliminates their private space, in a sense, and makes certain public spaces meeting places, places of interaction, or places of work. Wireless networks mobilize individuals and encourages them to move from one point to another. Spaces may become fixed but the individual shifts into different spaces. For example, why write an essay at home when you can sip a latté, get your caffeine fix, and write it in a café? Since information is increasingly easier to access, people can move freely from one place to another as their needs and wants require. The information stays the same, but where one accesses it may differ every time.

Mitchell closes his essay and says it best about the mobile wireless era, “we can use our portable communication devices to construct meeting points and gathering places on the fly — places that may only…play such roles for fleeting moments” (88).

Mind Games

Most of us have heard of people playing “mind games” before, if not experienced this in the giver or recipients shoes.  Dictionary.com classifies mind games as “psychological manipulation or strategy, used especially to gain advantage or to intimidate”.  In class this week we learned about games and how they differ from work and play.  The main difference between a game and work was the notion of fun (coinciding with games), as well as a set of rules differing a game from play.  Applying this on a strictly physical level is attainable, but I would like to delve into a more theoretical topic.  Would mind games fit the provided explanation of a game, or is it in its own entirety altogether?

If playing mind games is to gain advantage and use strategy to attain this, there would most likely be an intellectual stimulation, which can be seen as one component of a game.  It falls into the category of competitive as you are trying to “pull one over” on somebody else (trying not to get caught while gaining the upper hand), and there being rules so to speak (manipulation strategies, not taking it too far, etc.), which are all examples of aspects that divide a game from work or play.  And it is also fun to some degree for the speaker, though the notion of intellectual stimulation is a much more likely trigger to stay playing such a game.

Lastly, in playing mind games you end up entering the “magic circle”.  This idea was created by Johan Huizinga, and speaks of entering a different cognitive reality, basically a total immersion that ends up with you so lost in the game that you have forgotten what is actually going on around you (dog whining for food, or more severe the smell of smoke from a fire due to forgetting you had something in the oven).  I would argue that when playing mind games, you are almost completely immersing yourself in another reality, even more than you would with a more visual medium.  You are thinking differently, and often the exhileration you feel from the cleverness of your ploy can end up going too far, as you have forgotten about the most important thing of all: Humanity.

The Cell Phone and the Destruction of Privacy

Ever since the cell phone has started to become more and more involved in people’s day to day life, the privacy barrier which usually comes along with being on the phone has completely vanished. Historically, when having personal conversations, people have been confined to face to face conversations, or at most phone conversations from the seclusion of their own home. Now, with the existence of cell phones, people are taking their personal lives with them wherever they go.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times where I have been in a public place, say a bus, and people on their cell phones have been having extremely personal conversations. This ranges from people yelling their lungs out angrily at the person at the other end of the phone to weeping loudly over extremely personal issues with whoever is on the phone. This is a prime example of how the new technology (cell phones) takes parts of our lives which are usually contained to small, determined places and removes all boundaries associated with them.

Dear Photograph: A Genre of Locative Media

Chang and Goodman introduced to us the idea of locative media. They defined this concept as “the representation and experience of place through digital interfaces” (110). After reading this essay, and further discussing it’s concepts in class, I interpreted locative media as a way in which users/audiences and players alike create, attach or tag experiences to specific locations. From this, I was immediately reminded of a website called “Dear Photograph”. Created in May 2011 by a Conestoga College student, the premise of this website is based on the act of users taking a picture of a picture from the past in the present. However, the exact location and physical attributes of both the old and the new photo are merged seamlessly into one fluid experience. The user then uploads this new photo onto the website, thus engaging audience members in social commentary and communal reflection.

For example: http://dearphotograph.com/post/8233346121 – As you can see here, the user has revisited the location of the old photograph years later and has captured it with a new photograph that incorporates the exact geographic location. Each “Dear Photograph” is the same in the sense that it reveals something about the user’s personal experience with the location whilst indirectly commenting on the physical state of the location. (For a better example of what I mean here see: http://dearphotograph.com/post/10079307469 – this photograph boasts over 46,000 user comments/replies.)

I believe that “Dear Photograph” is among the many new genres of locative media that Chang and Goodman discuss on page 114 under Enacting Place. Although “Dear Photograph” does not use GPS technology or down-to-the-number co-ordinates as a basis for participation it is still embedding a geographic location into an online experience (Chang and Goodman, 110). This online experience also illustrates the authors’ idea of how we are unable to evade “responsibility to describe the location beyond physical coordinates” (Change and Goodman, 110). New forums on Facebook and multiple feeds on Twitter are bursting with commentary about “Dear Photograph”. Chang and Goodman are proven correct in the sense that, thanks to digital media, it is impossible to solely classify a location-based on its physical co-ordinates. This can be seen throughout the many personal stories on Dearphotograph.com, and in the way that the website (which is less than one year old) has already been ranked 1st as the Best Website of the year for 2011 by CBS and 7th by Time Magazine.

Dear photograph is truly a perfect example of how the physical and the digital world have become more entwined (Chang and Goodman, 110).

iPods, mp3 players, and thier affect of the world around us

Years ago, if you wanted to listen to your music you wouldn’t grab your iPod or even a walkman, you would have to turn on a radio or go to wherever you had set up your music system. Throughout university residences people would be blasting their music on their boom-boxes, much to the annoyance of their neighbours. Back then, music was more openly shared between people, after all, they didn’t have much choice. Today, almost everyone has either an iPod or an mp3 player, which means that no one can blast their music anymore. Today, music is a more private matter, and isn’t as openly shared as it used to be. iPods and mp3 players have likewise altered the “space” around us that is more heard rather than seen. Who hasn’t ever turned up their iPod so loud that they couldn’t hear what was going on around them, or just listened to their music and try to lose themselves in it? These music players create personal spaces for everyone who uses them, severing them off from the real world around them if they choose. Because iPods and mp3’s are so small, and no one else can hear what you are listening to, they can also encourage us to use them when we really shouldn’t, like in class for example. They make it easy to drown out the reality around us, and seclude us in our own little bubbles of music. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that devices like iPods and mp3’s have altered the way we engage with the space around us, and have also helped to cut us off from the real world.

Altering the Spatial Experience

While studying the relationship between digital media and spatial relations, the class looked at the concept of Geocaching as a locative game. But if we take a step back to what technology Geocaching relies on, we can really explore how technology changes our view of spatial reality. The Global Positioning System (GPS) has only become available to the general public in the twenty-first century, yet it has altered how many people interact with the space around them.

The GPS is a remediation of the map. Maps limited people to having access to grids of information. There was no one Map that could show the entire globe in detail. The GPS holds information about the entire world, and it is easily carried with you. It takes advantage of the fields that Mitchell describes in his essay “Post-Sedentary Space.”

However, with the introduction of the GPS, people became less reliant on close relations for information and began searching for information from far sources. It is very interesting to see this change. Men and women who were once able to use a simple paper road map to travel in any country from anywhere now depend on the voice of the GPS to tell them LEFT or RIGHT, so that they can mindlessly maneuver the vehicle. It is also quite funny to see how the voice in the GPS is often labelled as a personal aspect. But the voice is the same for everyone and it does not hold the same level of intimacy as being told the directions from a real person.

(This clip is a commercial that shows the lack of personalization and lack of spatial sense due to reliability on the GPS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9RefWuq6tE)

In class, we also discussed how wireless technology could be starting to control us rather than us controlling them, especially due to the automatization of many technological features. In terms of the GPS, a person has less control over which path he or she is going to take to their destination because the GPS will make that choice for them. Additionally, the GPS will often make the “economic” choice by guiding you to the toll routes, unless requested to do otherwise.

To conclude, the GPS shows how technology can be used to alter the space around you. It has made the familiar spaces unfamiliar and driving is no longer an activity that requires you to think and plan ahead. Like much of wireless technology, it has created a disconnect between the person and the spatial experience.

The Invasion of the Cell Phone

In W. J. Mitchell’s essay, “Post-Sedentary Space,” the fundamental question that is discussed is whether or not wireless connection and portable access devices are redefining our community and shared spaces, or disrupting them entirely. This is an issue that reoccurs in the additional readings of this week and is therefore worth further exploration. I would argue that in the bigger picture constant technological connection has benefited our society because it has made distances smaller, and indeed permitted different parties to connect to one another with ease. However, in considering the smaller picture, such as perhaps in a classroom or among a group of friends, I have found that it has ironically fostered a level of disconnect.

In his essay, Mitchell refers to how mobile phones have overwhelmed us, meaning, everyone has one. The advantages of cell phones are that they allow you to communicate with your contacts and connect to the Internet in a variety of ways. However these points are also the problem with cell phones, depending on how you argue it. I am arguing that cell phones have hindered public space. Speaking as a Blackberry user, I am often distracted by my cell phone and recognize that it can be a troubling addition to a classroom. In large classroom environments it is easy for a student to text, BBM, and simply just not pay attention – disconnected from their actual physical environment, their teachers, and their classmates. The same can be said when looking at a group of teenagers. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat around with my friends and watched as each of us perused our cell phones instead of engaging in conversation with one another. It is deeply unsettling to realize how just one portable access device can interfere with our ability to connect to our spaces, as well as with other people.

This is a link to a video clip of Jerry Seinfeld on Conan O’Brien. He is comically emphasizing my point on how mobile devices upset our physical interactions, therefore increasing the gaps in our community. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NKXmClTnFI&feature=related