Anyone who has visited archive.org has probably seen his name: Rick Prelinger from the renowned Prelinger Archives. For the Economies of the Commons conference, Virtueel Platform invited Prelinger to give a presentation of his work. The Prelinger archives was founded in 1983 and in 2002, the collection of nearly 60.000 ephemeral (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division.
Before starting his presentation, Prelinger notes that many of the remarks in his presentation are ‘self-critical from an American standpoint.’ In Europe, some of the issues addressed have already been dealt with, or are currently being worked on. According to Prelinger ‘history has always been contesting territory and is not a warm and fuzzy place. Historical documents are kitschy and often loaded with meaning.’ Consequently, Prelinger has learned that ‘if you ask historical questions you should not request simple answers. And if you ask who controls history, don’t expect a simple answer either.’ You can start by asking questions such as ‘who were our ancestors?’ and ‘what were people doing at certain events?’ To preserve this, the role of the archiver is an important one: ‘A great deal of history belongs to individual collectors, and countless objects would not have existed if they had not been saved by archivers. The big question is: should traces of history live in private hands?’
Before going into this question, Prelinger first looks at the role of the archiver. There are different ways of collecting and archiving, but why are archives so important? According to Prelinger, ‘historical evidence is fragile’, ‘archives are vague and not based on reality’ and ‘people expect to be able to access archives when they need them (just like a garbage collector).’ In a classic approach towards the archive, they ‘no longer belong to larger organizations; for the large part they are not public institutions. They can make their own rules and they can choose to open their collections.’
Prelinger continues: ‘In some ways it might be revealing to think of archives as gate keepers; they can arbitrate, they can let certain histories pass, they can be institutes of denial as well as remembering. So, a quiet, dusty collection might be able to preserve a particular consciousness.’ Again, should the private gatekeeper be able to control history? Perhaps the recent discovery of a 16mm tape with questionable material of Marylin Monroe is an example of this. The archiver has decided not to publish it, to retain a certain public image of Monroe. However, according to Prelinger, ‘most secrets ultimately get out. Culture that is not secret, that is under copyright, will never escape the archive. There is an emerging promise of access to the past.’ But should the archiver release everything? Prelinger: ‘Sometimes we need to applaud guardianship.’
Digitization and archives
If we fast forward to our current (digital) situation, the role of the archive is undergoing change, and faces resistance. Firstly, Prelinger notes that ‘people aren’t given big money to collect online games now.’ But perhaps to greater challenge, from an American perspective, lies in the digitization of film: ‘Many archivists (in the States) are very disturbed by digitalizing films to broaden access. I speak as an archivist and we as a group are differential to copyright holders. We hear about crackdowns on pirates and think, are we next?’ Consequently, ‘most moving images remain very difficult to access and re-use. And because of the unavailability of archives, people have done many things to get their hands on things they need.’
According to Prelinger, ‘we have taken babysteps.’ But already YouTube functions as the default image of what a moving image archive should be. People get their hands on the things they need through the popular video website. As Prelinger notes: ‘We are having a hard time catching up. How do we make something with the ease of YouTube?’ He continues: ‘Until a few years ago, archival access was going downstream. But that production began to move from institution to individual. The current phenomenon is that people are doing archiving by themselves. People feel entitled to make archives, they find demands that are hard to realize.’ People also remix their personal archives, but people will continue to want the original document.
The goal of the Prelinger Archives remains to ‘collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven’t been collected elsewhere. Included are films produced by and for many hundreds of important US corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions. As a whole, the collection currently contains over 10% of the total production of ephemeral films between 1927 and 1987, and it may be the most complete and varied collection in existence of films from these poorly preserved genres.’
In the age of digitization, the Prelinger Archives was one of the first to use the Creative Commons license. Prelinger notes that this idea of the Creative Commons is still hard to comprehend: ‘How do you give away something and sell it at the same time?’ According to Prelinger, these is a two level system: Free and Fee. At the free level, you can download everything you want; complete films and more. But use is at your own risk and there is no detailed grant of rights. At the fee level, you can get physical materials and written license agreements with your name at the top.
So, at the fee level, there is still no openness of physical materials. Prelinger: ‘We may want to immerse ourselves in digital objects, look at YouTube, or look at a bookpage, but that isn’t really openness yet.’ Continuing: ‘The kind of use that we are trying to encourage, is already happening. People already take things as being free. Our best archives make historical interventions. History as a means of intervening in the present. Archives are cultural producers too, most archives in the United States wait for people to intervene. Archives will live or die by the level that their archives are accessible.’
Still, it is important to regard our own time as being part of a flow. Prelinger: ‘The most disturbing question about “free” is: Is free culture just a fad? Remixing and sharing are deeply cultural practices, going back a thousand years. Will it devolve into a style which comes and goes? I hope we can build a commons that is more than a brand. Users are our allies and the people that can help us get funding. Engagement is up to us!’
Crossposted at Virtueel Platform
Some photography used from Kennisland (Creative Commons) www.flickr.com/photos/kl/
The Dutch Architecture institute (NAi) hosted The Mobile City conference on 27-28th of February, 2008. The day provided both a theoretical and practical context to the multitude of topics applicable to the subject of the “mobile city”. Speakers such as Steve Graham, Tim Creswell, Christian Nold and Malcolm McCullough gave their insightful views on locative media applied to the city. The conference was organised by the New Media, Public Sphere and Urban Culture programme of the University of Groningen (Martijn de Waal) and Playful Identities of the Erasmus Univeristy Rotterdam and the University of Utrecht (Michiel de Lange). All collected coverage is available on the Mobile City website. This post is a convergens of my posts on Virtueel Platform and Masters of Media. Picture below by Nicholas Nova.
The rise of mobile, locative media is clearly evident. The conference description couldn’t be more on the spot: ‘The physical, geographical city with its piazza’s, its neighborhoods and highway interchanges is overlaid with the ‘virtual space’ of electronic communication-, information- and observation-networks of GSM, GPS, CCTV, UMTS, WIFI, RFID, ETC. At the same time, the domain of digital space is increasingly becoming physical, an “internet of things”.’ And the questions posed are highly relevant to the city landscape, changing under the influence of locative media: What are useful concepts to talk about the merging of physical and digital spaces? What does it mean for urban culture, citizenship and identities? And what does it mean for the work of urban professionals (architects, designers, planners), media designers, and academics?
First off, where does it come from? As Malcolm McCullough explains: Architects always interacted with use of media. To exemplify this, he mentions an interesting example of Rome. Houses in ancient Rome were all over the place, as if you could simply put your house next to the people you wanted to speak to. In similar ways, neon signs, or in an earlier stage advertisement posters, change the cityscape. McCullough exemplifies this by showing a famous crossing with and without advertisement. It has become an essential part of the city.
Autopsy on Locative Media with Christian Nold
Christian Nold’s talk on Locative Media Autopsy at the 2008 The Mobile City conference dealt primarily with the question what Locative Media really is. Is it just a techno-fetishistic vision of gadget lovers, or should we perhaps take it more seriously to uncover its hidden uses?
Starting off, Nold talks about an interesting vision: ‘Locative Media is perhaps regarded as a strange other space, which goes beyond the top-down image of the Gods.’ Continuing: ‘I’m curious: Are we comfortable representing our cities like that?’ More specifically, what is represented in technofetishistic visualiations of locative media, and what kind of social relations are generated by this technofestishism?
According to Nold old maps sometimes provide much richer representations of what is going on, exemplary of this is a map Nold shows in which nymfs represent forests. So far, locative media has been predominantly about terms that do not encompass any social community building: gather, share, play, visualise and imagine. Perhaps it is useful to complement these terms with: collaborate, archive, educate, challenge, change behaviour and organise. Of which the latter is perhaps the most important one, with regards to for example smart mobs, Nold: ‘People are doing all sorts of stuff with mobile phones, how does this lead to social interaction?
Interesting examples of locative media enabling new forms of social relations are the Oakland Crime Spotting map, which reinterprets public data. “Normal” police crime is broken down in terms of different crimes, at different times. There are however, more complicated ways to go through data and make it publically available and usable. As an effect, cops were surprised to see data visualized in new ways, enabling new interpretations of the data. Nold: ‘If this project takes itself seriously and is an intended community project, it can start to go beyond the point of collecting new data. My question is: ‘How much crime is not being reported? Imagine if that could be represented. In order to do this, the extra step of working long-time within an area must be made.’
More examples include the Register your Fruit Tree” and “Fallen Fruit of Silver Lake” maps, which show ways to collect your fruit. Nold: ‘Through these maps you can start to think about social relationships that are caused by these project, and not just about the food. You might actually start talking to people who live in that house.’ Not a map, but very interesting in this aspect is the documentary “The power of community: how Cuba survived peak oil”. This documentary shows essential connections in the time when the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost 50% of its oil imports. Because of Cuba’s agro-chemical background, many of the countries resources were rendered useless. The effects were that the average Cuban lost 30 pounds in body weight, but also the design of a community bus, which was a truck turned into a bus by adding a carrier.
Nold emphasizes that it is important to take locative media seriously, instead of being just a nice techno-fetishistic gadget. Nold: ‘Taking pictures with mobile phones is getting more serious.’ A next step in design could be designing for responsive communities and getting involved with people. An example of this from Nold’s work is his wellknown BioMapping project, but also his communal noise mapping project. For this project, Nold handed out decibel meters, which allowed the community to challenge “official” government numbers. The data so far was based on total noise levels and not on specific individual experience. Therefore the project also included adjective ratings such for sound such as: ‘silent, exetermely quiet, bassy, painful, exhausting, threatening, abrupt.’ In another project, the Silvertown affect map, the question is asked: How do you build maps that really get that local discussion going?’ Nold concludes: ‘For the BioMapping project, we turned the lie detector into something else. The context is not “are you lying”, but the physical environment. The context is very important, and for me that is where this new area of contextual media and responsive communities is going.’
Tim Creswell on Politics of Movement (… and Standing Still)
Tim Creswell talks from within a framework of ‘twenty years of thinking about place and mobility.’ His talk at the The Mobile City 2008 conference therefore is less about new technology, but more about political issues and the role power. For this, he outlines three ideas, being the “dromology”, the “social kinetics” and the “kinetic elite”.
The dromology, as discussed by Paul Virilio, is about the power to stop and put into motion, to incarcerate and accelerate objects and people. Social kinetics, mentioned by Norman Bryson, is a field which would chart the history of socially structured movement. The kinetic elite, by Peter Slotendijk, deals with a more or less insulated gorup of people who are able to move around the world at will. Creswell takes up these ideas to think about particularly the politics of moving, and, arguably even more important, the politics of standing still. (Image below by: bgiles1999)
Mobility is experienced differently by many groups. It can be comfortable or free, it can be done by man or woman, by domestic servan or refugee. Creswell takes the example of the Mexican immigrant that is trying to get into the United States. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the world that respects the rich man, the globetrotter, who uses first class cabins and pullman cars.
Consequently, there are certain aspects of mobility. Creswell: ‘It is not just homogenous, but something that has aspects to it to be defined for analytical purposes.’ He defines six aspects. Firstly there is the motive force: Why does a thing move? Creswell: ‘High up, people can choose destinations according to joys they offer, low down people are thrown out of places they would like to stay in.’ Secondly, there is velocity. How fast does a person or thing move? Paul Virilio in this aspect mentioned that the it is the prime engine for historical development. Creswell: The faster we get, the more our freedoms are threatened.Speed doesnt just mean fastness, but also slowness. slowness can be a privelege.’ Thirdly, there is rhythm. With what rhythm does a person or thing move? Rhythm in public space is discussed by Lefebvre. A vivid example of this is gate analysis, for example by individual finger print analysis. Another interesting example of the ministery of silly walks (a reference to the hilarious Monthy Python scene). The mapping of people’s walks, however has been incorporated with cctv, basically to find out who is walking in a funny way.
The fourth is the route, what route does a person or thing take? Creswell mentions Guattari in this aspect. Route is about the channeling of mobility. About producing order and predictability. Highways, highspeed train lines ignore cities in between and routes are turned into dromological space. Fifth: How does it feel? Creswell: ‘Mobility is experienced such as luxury and pampering, think of the economy and business class which gives you more; toilets, internet, movies, etc.’ In earlier ages, walking was for the poor, the criminal, the young and above all the ignorant. Creswell: ‘It was not untill the 19th century that people started to take walking as an end in itself, beyond the confines of the landscaped garden or gallery.’ The sixth aspect of mobility is friction: How does mobility stop? Is stopping a choice, or is it force? New forms are not about the city walls, but about higlhy valued speeds, global interconnections and CCTV. This is also about racial profiling: Blacks are more prone to be stopped by police. And in post 9-11 UK, a man was shot in the head who did not stop in an underground metro station. Creswell: ‘Friction, therefore, is an important component of mobility studies.’
In between all these aspects is the concept of the vagabond: A person with no established home who drifts from place to place without visible or lawful means or support. Creswell takes this back to the origins of the narrative of resistance: In 1599 a Spanish novellist created the picaresque novel which included stories of the vagabond who contradicts with established norms of the homes. A more recent example of the vagabond, Creswell recalls, is the song Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan. An example, also mentioned in Anthony Dunne’s book Hertzian Tales, is that of the homeless vehicle. Creswell: ‘This is an artistic way of bringing to life what would remain invisible. The heroic figure that lives outside of norms and conventions. It is something that challenges expectations within a society.’
Besides theoretical context, practical projects were also featured in between the keynotes. Presentations included some projects on the forefront of locative media, such as data visualisation, wireless connectivity and social uses for RFID. This is an overview of the projects presented.
Esther Polak – NomadicMILK
Well-known for her work on Amsterdam RealTime, Polak presented her work-in-progress project NomadicMILK, in which she follows Fulani cattle herdsmen and dairy truckers in Nigeria. Through a GPS enabled robot, trails are made visible to the local inhabitants. An important aspect of the project is reflecting on the trails with locals and let them see their daily routes in new ways.
James Stewart – Branded Meeting Places
Stewart works at the School of Art Culture and Environment, Edinburgh UK. He presented the “Branded Meeting Places” project, which deals with ‘ubiquitous technologies and the design of places for meaningful human encounter’. Naturally, ‘people are drawn to places that have particular meanings as loci of human encounter. Communications technologies are implicated in this move into the variegated brandscape.’ The Branded Meeting Places team gathers evidence for the assertions about the rise of branded meeting places.
Laurence Claeys & Marc Godon – Smarttouch
What influence does touch have in designing new technologies and moreover, what are the possibilities of touch as an interface? An interesting project and presentation, with a very relevant title: “Let the Homo Ludens conquer the city”.
Thomas Engel – NavBall
For those that attended Picnic ’07, and more specifically Waag Society’s “Come Out And Play” event, NavBall might sound familiar. A soccer-type game that uses GPS technology and mobile media and turns the city into a playground.
Jeroen van Schaik – Urbanism on Track
The Delft University of Technology presented its Urbanism on Track event, which was held January 7th 2007. While urban design and planning focuses strongly on actor-oriented and user-oriented design and planning approaches, technologies that give insight into the behavior of actors and users are rapidly evolving. Especially the use of tracking technologies – of which GPS (Global Positioning System) is best known – is booming in urban research. An important aspect of this is the relation between spatial and time issues. Tracking technologies can offer these possibilities to urban design. A book will be available in May 2008.
Martin Rieser – Mobile Audience
Martin Rieser of De Montfort University talks about the Mobile Audience. This project is about engaging people in new spaces, tales of the uncanny around the city and the “ghostly”; events that are happening simultaneously around the city. The Electric Pavillion website has an innovative database of city maps, poems and more created using mobile technologies.
CityLive is, partly, about turning Hasselt en Leuven into a wireless city. Besides being an innovative project, an interesting challenge was mentioned: Incompatibility, which is essential in having users interact with the city on a large scale.
V2, Institute for Unstable Media, presented a project by Karen Lancel called the StalkShow. Stalkshow deals with threat of unsafety and isolation. It invites the audience to provide this threat with a personal face and space; to show both its horror and its beauty. A backpack with laptop/touchscreen is carried through public spaces. Being surrounded by the audience you are invited to touch the touchscreen and to navigate through an archive of texts about threat of unsafety and isolation.
Willem Velthoven – Social RFID
Willem Velthoven presented the interesting outcomes of RFID workshops at Picnic ’07. Most importantly, it shows that useful and interesting applications can be created by using rather simple technologies. Think of a tea-cup that Googles your name and displays it as you put in your RFID tag (iTea), or the ability to print a type of business cards which requires both people to meet up at an event (and get a free drink if you go to the bar with them).
Ronald Lenz – Waag Society (Mobile Learning Game Kit)
Lenz presented project of the Waag that incorporate locative media and eduction. Examples of these are Frequency 1550, a city game using locative media that lets school children explore Amsterdam in new ways. The Mobile Learning Game Kit enables teacher themselves to moderate sessions for their schools.
The drone. An unmanned aircraft, flying over enemy territory by itself. Secretly photographing enemy targets. Session moderator Mike Harding vividly explains to the audience at De Balie, during Sonic Acts XII, the properties of the drone, which is, in the first place, this information based weapon system. The drone now has numerous references in modern culture, of which drone music is one.
Harding pours out a hard to find drone of the midshipman fish, courtesy of BBC, which finds its source in the animal kingdom. It is what Harding calls a ‘true drone from the animal kingdom’. It is a continuous sound that doesn’t change much, but Harding is ‘not content with that definition. A sound can change radically but still retain drone qualities. There are no temporal limits on a drone, how short can a drone be? A starting point for a drone could perhaps be, that it is longer than your natural breath.’But drones are not just that. The role of the drone can also be to ‘underpin, or underscore, a composition an an essential part of the orchestra’. A drone can also be a part of a musical instrument in itself, as is evident in Leif Elggren’s Royal Organ.
Definitions of drone music are still fluid, a member of the audience for example pointed that throat singers can not be forgotten in the discourse. But what is drone music according to its musicians? Carl Michael von Hausswolff says: ‘It is silent and beautiful, it can make you stop skiing in the middle of a forest and in that moment you achieve a certain kind of rest. A state that you would like to be in for a long time. You lose a lot of the separation that can stand between yourself as human being and nature. There are no cars rushing by and its a personal dialogue. if you want to use it as a tool for practical living: It helps me understand the processes of life and being alive’.
Von Hausswollf also mentions a connection with Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: ‘There is no start, no end. A kind of eternity. You become aware of a flood in your life. It is really stimulating and perhaps a positive way of trying to… well… live’. According to Von Hausswollf, this even applies to a live performance situation, where faders tend to remind you of time. Harding responds by asking if it is perhaps a kind of metastate. Von Hausswollf: ‘If you look at a concept such as transcendental meditation. Perhaps I could do it too, but I’m too western… And I’m too f*cked up to be able to list myself. I try to find other methods to achieve this kind of calm, or… whatever’.
Joachim Nordwall tends to touch upon the other side of the drone music spectrum. Nordwall: ‘How do you make drone? The drone is an illusion of safety for mankind, I like to recreate a certain feeling I had when growing up. The only fun thing of growing up for me was: cheap drugs and some place me and my friend could experiment with analogue synthesizers. There was this mix of drugs and analogue drones. In my work I have realized that I wanted to recreate that room where we grew up. Yesterday (during the Paradiso performance, ed.), I wanted to fill the room with the sound. A drone is convenient to fill up the room, and filling up the room creates a kind of safety. And moreover, that specific room where life was in front of me’.
During live shows, according to Nordwall, a ‘loud volume is important and the physical aspect of the drone is very interesting. To physically feel a change can be more interesting than the mental change. You get a feeling in the stomach. You can feel some parts of the body that sometimes do not exist’. Nordwall mentions Sunn as an example of a band that is enormously loud: ‘It has an effect that will get stuck in your bones for days after’.
In the discussion afterwards, volume levels at live performances sparked an interesting discussion. Is the artist responsible for exposing people to that kind of volume? Undoubtedly, there are physical consequences of sound. However, these consequences are largely unknown to the artist. The Pitch Police says: RESPECT THE HERTZ!
Erkki Huhtamo’s recent work deals with media archeology, an emerging approach he, according to his website, ‘has pioneered (together with others, like Siegfried Zielinski) since the early 1990′s’. At this edition of Sonic Acts, Huhtamo, together with the audience, revisited the concept of the Diorama. The keynote proved to be a valuable trip down memory lane with Huhtamo showing many examples and elaborating on their cultural context.
The Diorama was invented by Jacques Louis Mande Daguerre and Charles Marie Bouton and consisted of fast paintings, which were ‘slightly larger than an iMac screen’. Moreover, paintings were made in such a way that parts were translucent. In the early days, these diorama’s had to be visited and therefore it became a new element of urban landscape. Huhtamo mentions the Paris Diorama in this regard.
But why would the diorama be interesting for us, now, Huhtamo asks himself. Bruce Sterling mentioned the concept of “dead media”, Huhtamo however does not believe media is capable of dying: ‘I believe that it is more a transformation and adaptation. My research deals with understanding the materiality, discursive manifestations and how these layers coexist in culture, as the culture changes and evolves’. One of Huhtamo’s big inspirations to venture into the realm of media archeology, is the fact that artists sometimes seem to be aware of the traditions, go back to these ideas and draw inspiration from them.
In its purely mechanical form, The Diorama is a large viewing machine, an actorless optical illusion theatre, comprised of two main features, being firstly giant translucent and transforming paintings and secondly a mechnically rotating auditorium. Culturally the Diorama provided the world with a new word, a neologism, that many of these new spectacles had. The Diorama is no different, combining “dio” (transparent/through) and “rama” (view). Because it is actorless, Huhtamo sees a valuable connection between the rise of CGI possibilities and the Diorama: ‘Actors are more in the scenery’.
Continuing on the linguistics of the Diorama, Huhtamo mentions Balzac, who picked up a linguistic pattern from the hair salons and the cafes of Paris. Balzac provided his own list of “ramas”, including health-o-rama, frozenrama, soupe-au-rama and the goriorama. Images shown by Huhtamo of various Diorama’s and Daguerre’s paintings are available at R. D. Wood’s MIDLEY essays on the History of early Photography. An interesting development is the portable diorama, like the “desktop” version of the computer, the ‘huge and gigantic’ is eventually brought to the desktop.
Now, Huhtamo continues, ‘we are in the beginning of this dioramic transformation I’m trying to sketch’. Most important for this transformation is that ‘reality is not conceived as given, but as a construct. Reality as a product of new spectacles such as the diorama, panorama, wax museums, paris morgue, etc. This is the culture from which the diorama appears. In turn, Diorama’s themselves start to appear in painting’.
New Spaces and Urban Mobility
The Diorama in an urban context is ‘not like a home, but also not like the city screen outside. It is a place for the flaneur and movement in new spectacles’. Huhtamo mentions various examples of these flaneur-like places, such as the cosmorama. All share that they are about a mobile mode of spectatorship. Huhtamo: ‘The only way of viewing the panorama is to keep on walking / moving. Being physically in motion was taken over by cinema, however, the motion becomes virtual.
The audience is virtually moving with the scenes seen in the cinema’. Huhtamo sees a return to physical movement in the advent of portable devices. Interesting in the mixture of Diorama and movement is also the the idea of the “trottoir roulant”, the moving walkway, which was presented as a novelty in that time at the Paris world fair.It turned Paris into panoramic scene, the platform is enough to define the surroundings and change the identity of the surroundings
The Diorama even shaped its own popstar. Albert Smith travelled around with the moving diorama. His “hit” was ‘The Ascent of Mont Blanc’ which was shown an astonishing 2000 times. Objects used to create a reality effect include dogs and a Swiss chalet. In later years, various people played with the idea of the diorama. Examples of these include the 1939 Futurama by General Motors, which exhibited GM’s utopian vision of the world with streamlined buildings and, of course, as Huhtamo mentions, GM cars. In the futurama, the audience is traveling through the show. It is not static, like the diorama by Daguerre. The Diorama has been revisited.
To start things of, you can probably think of at least one satellite navigation system (sat nav) mishap. Either from your own experience, a friend’s anecdote, or from an article in the “comedy” section of your favourite newspaper. Some stories, however, are far from pleasant for the user or the environment. I wrote this post for the The Mobile City blog. It is related to my New Media MA thesis at the University of Amsterdam, for which I did a case study on “Sat Nav mishaps”, a term derived from Anthony Dunne’s reference to Mobile Mishaps in the 90s. I’ll write a more elaborate post on this subject later, as I’m still in the process of finishing the final version. I’ve also removed the draft version, which was on here for a few days as an example for the Mobile City conference. In a larger scope, the goal of the case study is to research how communication between local and global space in satellite navigation system use can be understood and, more specifically, how communication can be enabled. As we shall see, there are not just consequences for the user of the system, but also for local space and territory. The following stories show just the tip of the iceberg of Sat Nav Mishaps appearing around the globe, in repetitive fashion.
Car wrecked on railroad crossing
Paula Ceely’s story, a 20 year old student from Redditch in England, had her car wrecked after she followed her navigation system onto a railway track. Fortunately, Ceely escaped injury in the incident, otherwise the consequence of sat nav use would have been very grim. ‘I put my complete trust in the sat nav, there were no signs at all and it wasn’t lit up to warn of an oncoming train,’ Ceely told British broadcaster BBC. An article in local Welsh newspaper The Western Telegraph sparked a heated debate by locals as to whether the crossing should be made safer for drivers unfamiliar with the local. However, Paula is not unique, a similar story surfaced in the United States.
What makes Paula Ceely’s story most interesting, is that it exemplifies a locally initiated call to adjust a hazardous situation caused by sat nav. And because the mishap repeats itself, as mentioned by the locals, it tends to change existing meaning of neighbourhoods. This is not just a single case: Dutch and Belgian municipalities have filed complaints about increases in traffic moving through their residential areas.
Netherlands and Belgium: Villages file complaint against Sat Nav use
In September 2006, villages around Dutch municipality Delfzijl filed a complaint about truck drivers, mostly new to the region, using their navigation systems and causing dangerous speeding situations. On the trajectory from Nieuweschans to Delfzijl, drivers can skip fourty kilometers if they choose the shortest route algorithm. The downside is that on large parts of the trajectory the speed limit is only thirty or fifty kilometres per hour. Local Theo Nijland from the village of Woldendorp says: ‘most truck drivers usually drive eighty kilometres an hour and started to hit the breaks just before a turn’.
In Belgium, traffic flow through a number of villages has increased after implemention of navigation systems in traffic. In February 2007, Belgian minister of mobility Pascal Smet, in response to a complaint from the municipality of Sint-Gillis, asked nineteen municipalities around Brussels to map all conflict zones dealing with an increase in traffic due to GPS navigation. Before Sint-Gillis two other municipalities, Mortsel en Leuven, already complained about the traffic increase. Especially near schools and village centres traffic should be decreased. Similar stories have surfaced in the United Kingdom, specifically in Micklefield and Barrow Gurney.
From database error to damaging houses
The new routes not only cause a nuisance, in some cases, trucks or cars driving through villages are responsible for physically damaging the local. Villagers in English Carmarthenshire say they fear restoration work is being damaged by drivers using satellite navigation. Local residents mentioned that trucks and lorries were smashing into buildings ‘that have already had thousands of pounds spent on them’. Belgian village Meulebeke is experiencing similar damages. Because of sat nav use, heavy lorries are (illegally) driving through the center of the village. Houses have been damaged because the trucks are unable to make the turns.
On a larger scale, English rail road company Network Rail blames drivers ‘following satellite navigation (satnav) instructions down narrow roads for a surge in damage to bridges and crossings.’ According to research done by the company, trucks have caused £15m-worth of damage in the past year ‘by striking low or narrow bridges after being directed under them by their in-cab systems.’
Seeking Solutions: Ignore your Sat Nav signs
Because of these mishaps, new ways are being sought the local to communicate with the user. A local space is being challenged, or tagged, by new meaning of global satellite navigation system use; the consequences of satellite navigation system use are similar all around the globe, as is evident in above stories. However, there seems to be an inability to communicate, or incompatibility, between spaces. The following solutions exemplify this. Firstly, there are calls for GIS database change by (local) politicians, for example in The Netherlands and the village of Barrow Gurney in the United Kingdom.
Secondly, and perhaps most interesting, is the appearing of new signs that constitute a level of acceptance into existing, dominant traffic protocol. Dutch village Roermond has put up signs to ask sat nav users to turn off their systems and follow an official detour (omleiding).
Exton, an English village, also put up a sign asking drivers to ignore their system. As local Brian Thorpe-Tracey mentions: ‘About two years ago we noticed a real increase in drivers using the lane. Vehicles are getting stuck and having to reverse back up, damaging the wall and fence. There’s even a piece of metal embedded 12ft up in a tree which looks like it’s come off a lorry.’
In a Welsh village, the first official British road signs to warn drivers about the dangers of trusting their sat nav. Especially foreign truck drivers navigating the region with their sat navs found themselves driving unsuitable roads.
Satellite navigation systems, the most widely used GPS enabled application in consumer society today, are causing interesting mishaps and perhaps even more interesting responses by local space and traffic protocol. However, solutions, such as traffic signs and calls for database change, do not enable any dialogue between global user and local inhabitant, battling over territory’s meaning. Therefore, the interesting question remaining is: how can real-time dialogue between local and user, using global technology, be established? If the sat nav algorithm would be able to take into account emotion, for example drawing its information from an Emotion Map, a vibrant dialogue might just emerge. Sat nav algorithms, the automated decision making process of navigation, is taking on existing traffic protocol. But even Sat navs are arguing what route is the best.
Participatory Culture at Video Vortex: Cutthroat Capitalism, Foodmarket Piracy and Asian Perspectives
Do you think Participatory Culture is all about friendly cooperation? Fans flocking to Star Wars conventions or squad based play in the latest MMORPG? The Participatory Culture session at the international Video Vortex conference in Amsterdam, proved that practices such as “cutthroat capitalism” also belong in this category. And how can, from an Asian instead of a Eurocentric perspective, the changing concept of authorship be understood when everyone can build new meaning upon an original work? This session provided practical examples as well as theoretical context. The Masters of Media of the University of Amsterdam were once again present to cover the whole event. Full reports, including this one are available from the Masters of Media blog.
Tilman Baumgärtel: Cutthroat Capitalism in South East Asia
First presenter Tilman Baumgärtel, currently teaching at the College of Mass Communication of the University of the Philippines in Manila, discussed piracy and intellectual property in South East Asia. Having organised the Asian Edition conference, which deals exactly with this subject, Baumgärtel can be regarded as an expert on these ‘social economics of piracy’. Surprisingly, however, these questions do not involve Internet and P2P data communication. Baumgärtel explains: ‘Asian piracy is still largely based on disk because there aren’t a lot of fast internet connections and modems’.
To give the audience an impression of the context, Baumgärtel shows a trailer of Malaysian film Ciplak (translation: Fraud). This independent film deals with the subject of piracy and it is one of the few comedies that is accessable to audiences in the region, also because indie films usually deal with ‘more serious subjects’. In the production process of Ciplak, creativity was necessary because of the low budget. For example, everyone worked on the movie free of charge, a camera was bought that came with 10 free mini-DV tapes and IKEA lamps were used for lighting.
Malaysian piracy started in the 1980s with the advent of VHS pirating and continued in the 1990s with VCD pirating. Baumgärtel: ‘Piracy started as a counter-movement against poor distribution. In Europe you can find almost anything, in Asian countries, however, films are hard to find.’ Only Hollywood films, or films starring Jackie Chan, make it through to cinemas and the legal distribution circuit. Baumgärtel: ‘This changed with VHS and BetaMax piracy. Some of the film makers feel that they are so indepted to the pirates, that this group is already thinking about contacting pirates so they can use their distribution channels. Internet is not a factor in this yet because of low speeds’.
These distribution channels are inventive and constitute a grassroots movement. In order to provide consumers with product, fishermen are smuggling masterdisks in the belly of tunafish. Global piracy is a consequential response to global economy, Baumgärtel: ‘The recent process of privatization has taken its part in facilitating piracy’. And continuining: ‘This is globalization from below. It is not about legal organisations, but illegal outfits. This movement represents globalized business and takes advantage of infrastructures. It is the counter image of legal illicit globalization we are seeing right now’. A term Baumgärtel mentioned in response to questions afterwards, perhaps exemplifies this movement most vividly. This is about ‘Cutthroat Capitalism’.
Ana Peraica: Food markets and copyright infringement
In her presentation, Ana Peraica, freelance curator and theorist mostly engaged with video and new media, gives an analysis of the growin archive of illegal material with a focus on Croatia. Why this region? Peraica: ‘Croatia is a really interesting region, because piracy is not really regarded as a crime’. She continues: ‘The problem of copyright was introduced to Croatia in 1991, before that it was still silent online. Today you can find illegal copies, for example, on the food market’.
On a more personal note I came across this example on a recent trip to Split, Croatia. Boulevards were crowded with stands selling illegal copies of the newest computer games and Hollywood films. Once installed, games were often older versions of the same franchise and films turned out to be bad recordings of cinema screens. Peraica: ‘I would like to show some examples in my presentation today, but the problem is that this would be illegal here. There is no agency that hunts down piracy in Croatia, they simply don’t bother about objections of copyright’.
Continuing, Peraica asks herself the question: ‘Is everyone who possesses a video camera and publically exposes video, automatically a video artist?’ Both an interesting and strange case, exemplifying duality in this question, is that of Croatian popstar Severina. She recorded a pornographic video of herself that got published online without her consent, she claimed copyright and stated that is was video art. Severina’s lawyer also stated that home video pornography is video art. The court’s response was that it was nothing innovative and therefore not video art. Severina lost this case, but at the same time she saw her popularity rising. The lawyer also put forth that it was invading privacy, the court responded by stating that she recorded it herself.
‘What is still video art?’ Peraica continues. Does it have to be innovative and perhaps even elitist? Peraica: ‘Popular culture is recycling elite culture, but is it still art?’ In her final words, Peraica concludes that is hard, if not impossible, to define art as something downloaded from YouTube versus institutionalized art.
Dominick Chen: Redefining Authorship from an Asian perspective
In his presentation Dominick Chen, who leads Creative Commons Japan and is JSPS Fellow Researcher at the University of Tokyo and NTT InterCommunication Center, aims to propose a redefinition of authorship itself: ‘How can we gain understanding of data generation and distribution in the light of systems?’ And more specifically, how to go through this Eurocentric idea of individual authorship, or commons? Chen aims to redefine the ‘commons’ from an Asian point of view. Especially with regards to the chain of creativity, where Asian culture differs greatly from its European counterpart.
Chen starts with an example of piracy and participatory culture in India: ‘When you buy a DVD in India, through a Chinese hack, you can get three stories: English, Chinese and Indian. Because translation of subtitles is really bad, you get three different stories based on one film’. Another example of a big Japanese market where you can secondary work of comics, anime and novels, Chen: ‘ There are about 50.000 participants who are selling product themselves, they gather to buy eachothers works that have been derived from original works.
The result is ‘fifty million Yen of economical effect in just three days’. Contributing to an original artwork, going from monologue to dialogue, is an essential part of Japanese culture. Chen: ‘Creativity is considered as reflective to the original author, contributors don’t care about being part of the chain of creativity’. This is exemplified in the fact that on Japanese Wikipedia, 80% of users are acting anonymous. This is the exact opposite of Wikipedia use in the United States. Chen: ‘This chain of creativity, based on anonymity mous is very characteristic of Japanese culture.
Looking back, Chen remembers 2007 firstly as the year of the fight between users and existing shareholders of the broadcasting industry. Secondly, 2007 saw the birth of the metadataplatform, which Chen calls ‘a critical point in classical User Generated Content’. Envisioning 2008, Chen firstly sees an explosion of open contents and, secondly, the rise of the ubiquitous platform of data and creation, such as the iPhone and the Nintendo DS. A third essential vision for 2008 is the recursive stratification – indefinite division into subgroups- of web API with the appearing of “API’s of API’s”. Fourth, Chen predicts a ‘war over openness, which platform can be more open than the other one?’
As an example of Japanese culture and the chain of creativity mentioned earlier, Chen shows Japanese videosharing service Nico Nico Douga. By analyzing this video service, Chen wants to clarify what creativity is in this whole situation. He concludes that comments are ‘becoming constituents of the original work, affecting both authorship and spectatorship. It is a shift from dialogue to symlogue, because narrative control is shared and over time content is nurtured, fermentative’. As examples of symlogue, he mentions M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands, where both hands share narrative control and are also fermentative of nature. On Nico Nico Douga, a movement has emerged that uses original material and builds upon it by using, for example, the VOCALOID sound plugin.
Chen emphasizes that he doesn not want to focuss on the horizontal effects, or the chain of creativity, but he asks himself the question of ‘how to open this up on a vertical level?’ For a recent exhibition, Chen cooperated with a well-known Japanese author, who wrote a new book on the spot. New chapters could be downloaded through the Internet. Chen: ‘Normally it is considered embarassing to show how a writer writes. By showing this process, a new relationship between reader and author is created’. Chen also shows a recording of twenty-four hours of editting on a single Wikipedia page. This ‘opening up of revision’, is what Chen regards as the next step in opening up the ‘commons’. It exemplifies the ‘open ecology of digital contents’ and ‘fermentative ecology’ that Chen mentions in his final words.
All photography, copyright Anne Helmond