[iDC] Interactive City: irrelevant mobile entertainment?

John Hopkins jhopkins at commspeed.net
Sun Aug 20 01:47:18 EDT 2006

Hallo iDC'ers -- very nice to finally f2f some of you on Thursday 
evening, and at other points during ISEA.  Many conversations to 
digest, much inspiration to convert to creative output!  THANKS!

>I have visions of techno-hipsters with bluetooth headsets jammed in 
>their ears, capturing 15-second video clips of the urban "condition" 
>on their phones, and txting knowing ; 's to their 
>hipster-doppelganger pals in line behind them on the flaneuric 
>boulevard of derives. But I wasn't there, so I don't know for sure. 
>Maybe I'm just being harsh. [Another lurker delurks.]

not too far off the path, Jeremy...

I was most disturbed by the serious lack of interaction with the 
'real' city.  The conference/trade-show steel&glass core of San Jose 
is a transplanted and embodied ideology that is part of the current 
waves of 'urban renewal' happening in a large number of US cities 
(and many post-Mall towns who had their centers blighted by suburban 
mega-shopping centers) -- a trend that has been running for a couple 
decades with varying degrees of 'success'.  That artificial core is 
surrounded by the remains of community, albeit without a humane 
central core to orbit around.  The locals reduced to service jobs 
life-supporting the artificial core.  What? No grocery store!? good 
evidence of unsustainable urban architecture.  Okay, there was a 
farmer's market one day a week, but that seemed to cater to the 
yuppie set and was not set up to sustain the area in a meaningful 
way...  And the large Vietnamese community (reputedly the largest in 
the US) has prospered -- were any representatives from it invited to 
the RIM conference I wonder?

However, outside, and to some degree, interspersed with this quite 
inhumane architecture (and ideology) is the REAL city.  The hard-core 
chronic street population, the student culture (FWIW), the Latino 
porch chill culture (and the WHOLE LATINO CULTURE as well!!!!), the 
other cultural communities -- all substantially ignored.

With our global agenda, our techno-sophistry, our clean and sleek 
appearances, we blended in seamlessly with the image of Silicon 
Valley, but remained somewhat silly looking conferencees with 
dangling wired and wire-less appendages and apparently flown in from 
some other demographic universe.  incongruous.

Of course, seamless integration isn't ever going to happen anywhere 
and there are always interstitial moments to reach across any social 
barriers.  but why wasn't there a formal interface with the local 
Latino or Vietnamese community?  It was nice to check out the gallery 
just up from the ICA, but that was the only event I ran across, aside 
from the nice vibe of local folks chilling at the Caesar Chavez park 
fountains (and the kids playing in the water with the blue-and-white 
screen devices from that one zero-one project).

but our general demographic of techno-fetishizing places us in/locks 
us into a particular locus in the contemporary urban US landscape.

some personal reflections on the locative aspects -- I went out on 
some initial 'test runs' on several 'official' projects that friends 
had initiated.  in all cases there were significant problems with the 
technology, and between that and walking around with headphones I 
felt very much less connected with the 'pulse of the city' -- 
compared, say, to the evening of gallery hopping which left open 
significant social spaces for unexpected encounters with the Other. 
Now I must say that I do respect efforts people make to take 
contemporary technologies and somehow use them to reclaim social 
ground.  However, there pops-up in my mind often the metaphor of "the 
master's tools.'  and whether the profound significance of that 
metaphor has yet to be explored fully in the context of locative (and 
other social-space art/activist deployments).  Somehow, projects need 
to take into account possible permutations of the technology employed 
that the user might invoke to totally undermine the expected use -- 
and build on that.  I felt that several projects have the air of an 
attempted military-like deployment, an aimed-at rigor, a clean 
execution of a plan, when warm social spaces are replete with error, 
mistake, and humane possibility.

Perhaps these are the lessons of imperfect deployment -- what happens 
in the social space when the expected technological deployment 
doesn't take place.  maybe un-mediated Dialogue?  hmmmm.  I think 
I'll propose a project with a large technological infrastructure 
guaranteed to fail, to breakdown, and in that interstitial space, use 
one of those ubiquitous battery chargers to make tea to facilitate a 
warm space like the CRUMB crew so successfully did...

I've always believed that when a technology inhibits the possibility 
of a direct human connection, that it should be dispensed with 
immediately.  Clinging to a device which actually interrupts some 
kind of more direct direct connection will eventually cause a deeper 
sense of alienation, IMHO...  (the history of camera-based tourism is 
a good example...).  Is there a formula for using the device another 
way to dispel alienation?

okay, a few rapid comments for a Saturday morning...


ps: some earlier critical musings from Riga in 2004, from my written 
notes compiled for a short Baptist rant at RAM 5:locative at RIX-c 

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