[iDC] academics and laptops

Simon Biggs simon at littlepig.org.uk
Sun Jul 9 12:54:53 EDT 2006

On 09.07.06 17:01, Kevin Hamilton wrote:

> Emails from Mark and Trebor refer to the phone or PDA surpassing the
> laptop as a means of accessing web and email exchange.
I haven't been following this thread so my comments here might be both off
topic and inappropriate. Nevertheless...

I have not given too much thought to mobile media as a context I wish to
engage with for network based artworks. I think this is due to my perception
that mobile media, such as cell phones, have so little facility for both the
written word and the visual. The screens are simply too small. However, it
is true that it is possible to reach a potentially larger and more diverse
demographic audience than works distributed on the computer.

I think back to the early 1990's when I first started to get involved in
network based art. I had already been working for over a decade with
computer based installations, animation and CD-ROM, but my first involvement
with networked artforms was as a curator (other than some experiments I was
involved with using slow scan video and fax in the early 1980's). I looked
closely at the various network protocols and formats available at that time
and did not find them compelling enough to make something with...not until
1993. My attitude then was not dissimilar to my attitude now to mobile
media. The technology did not offer the richness or bandwidth I preferred to
work with. I was however interested in the work some artists were doing, as
well as the first stirrings of what was to become a cultural phenomena.
Engaging as a curator seemed a safe way to put my toes in the water.

When I did finally make a work for the net what I focused on was making it
as low-band as possible. This seemed not only a reasonable approach that
would lead to something that would technically work within the constraints
at that time but also an artistic necessity. As with most projects, when you
start out you set yourself limits to work within. Setting oneself a
technical limit (eg: this work must run in realtime over 9600 baud) is
therefore quite straight forward. I liked the idea of working with runtime
text and generative media as they would offer both a low-band option but
also a richness deriving from the continually changing and never repeating
nature of generative work.

Now one's attention shifts to mobile media. It is low-band in the sense that
the screen for viewing the work is small and the physical interface both
limited and uncomfortable. I personally find texting frustrating and
stressful and only ever use it to send very short messages. I am also
frustrated by mobile phones as they are small and slippery and I am always
dropping them (and thus needing a new one). Aside from that they have a
habit of ringing at the wrong moment. However, mobile phones do have
significant bandwidth when it comes to the data acquisition speeds they are
capable of and most recent models also include other functions that expand
the possibilies (cameras, MP3 players, etc) and propose the technology as
essentially convergent. So, it would seem that there is a real option here
for "richness" of expression and experience. It is just a matter of finding
the nuanced angle which will allow you to see what you might do with it. The
real question is how to make the limitations of the technology into its

Given the history of the phone somehow I think at the heart of this will
have to be the human voice. It will be this element, the data format the
phone was first developed to transmit, around which the other elements will
coalesce. Why do I suggest this? That is what the phone does best.

> What does a discourse of the thumbs look like? Is a laptop the spatial
> equivalent of a collegiate campus, providing cloistered space for more
> protracted and privileged discussions?
Thus the question might not concern what a discourse of the thumbs looks
like (it will look like something made by somebody who is all thumbs - an
English saying which implies somebody has no skill at something) but rather
how discursive artworks can be developed around the human voice and the
mobile phone, aided by the other media the modern phone also usually



Simon Biggs

simon at littlepig.org.uk

Professor of Digital Art, Sheffield Hallam University

s.biggs at shu.ac.uk

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