Week Six – Mobility


Volker, Clara. “Mobile Media and Space.” In Goggin, Gerard and Larissa Hjorth, Eds. Mobile Media 2007. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2007, 135-142.

 Ito, Mizuko. “Mobile Phones, Japanese Youth, and the Replacement of Social Contact.” In Ling, Rich and Pederson, Per, Eds. Mobile Communications: Re-negotiation of the Social Sphere. London: Springer – Verlag, 2005, 131-148.

 According to Volker ‘Space’ can no longer be merely divided into the digital and physical as new technologies, such as the mobile phone or ipod, often bridge the two realms. Semapedia is one example of the way in which technology can provide interaction between the virtual and physical worlds. The project allows users to create “cellphone-readable physical hyperlinks” (or barcodes) placed at a physical location which provide access to information on a Wikipedia page. According to the Semapedia website, “Our goal is to connect the virtual and physical world by bringing the right information from the internet to the relevant place in physical space”. Socialight is the second example Volker employs to demonstrate how “…virtual connections between subjects and other subjects or objects are being mapped, transferred into digital virtuality, and reintroduced as virtual spaces into physical reality”. Socialight allows users to create digital messages or ‘Sticky Shadows’ which can be attached to a physical object. Other users are then able to track down and receive the comments/messages attached to this object.

 Both of these examples reminded me of a performance piece by Blast Theory called ‘Can You See Me Now?’ (2001) which also aims to bridge the boundaries between the physical and virtual world.

 Can You See Me Now? is a game that happens simultaneously online and on the streets. Players from anywhere in the world can play online in a virtual city against members of Blast Theory. Tracked by satellites, Blast Theory’s runners appear online next to your player on a map of the city. On the streets, handheld computers showing the positions of online players guide the runners in tracking you down.

With up to 20 people playing online at a time, players can exchange tactics and send messages to Blast Theory. An audio stream from Blast Theory’s walkie talkies allowed you to eavesdrop on your pursuers: getting lost, cold and out of breath on the streets of the city.

Can You See Me Now? draws upon the near ubiquity of handheld electronic devices in many developed countries…As the previously discrete zones of private and public space (the home, the office etc.) have become blurred, it has become commonplace to hear intimate conversations on the bus, in the park, in the workplace. And these conversations are altered by the audience that accompanies them: we are conscious of being overheard and our private conversations become three way: the speaker, the listener and the inadvertent audience.

Can You See Me Now? takes the fabric of the city and makes our location within it central to the game play. The piece uses the overlay of a real city and a virtual city to explore ideas of absence and presence. By sharing the same ‘space’, the players online and runners on the street enter into a relationship that is adversarial, playful and, ultimately, filled with pathos.

With the advent of virtual spaces and, more recently, hybrid spaces in which virtual and real worlds are overlapping, the emotional tenor of these worlds has become an important question. In what ways can we talk about intimacy in the electronic realm?


 Semapedia, Socialight and even the game ‘Can You See Me Now?’ each demonstrate ways in which virtual space has become “…increasingly embedded into real space. Due to their wirelessness and transportability, digital informational spaces are no longer restricted to fixed places and cable networks…” At the same time, I agree with Volker’s suggestion that new digital media “…do not threaten ‘reality’…they augment real space and thus cause displacements in the conception of space developed under the influence of cabled digital media”.

 I found Ito’s study on mobile phone usage by Japanese youth provided a fascinating insight into Japanese culture as well as a clear example of how a mobile phone technology has been domesticated by a specific social group. Ito discusses how power relations of different kinds of space are enabled by mobile communication. Furthermore, she argues that although the mobile phone “can indeed enable communication that crosses prior social boundaries…this does not necessarily mean that the device erodes the integrity of existing places or social identities”. Instead, the mobile fulfils a social need. It is expensive to have a home phone in Japan and small houses make socialising amongst groups of young people virtually impossible. The mobile phone, therefore, can be seen as a “way of overcoming the spatial boundaries of the home, for teens to talk with each other late at night and to shut out their parents and siblings”. In addition, mobile phone usage does not “challenge or reshape the power geometries of the home”. Instead, Ito suggests that it has become a “…tool for circumventing the normative structures of the home with minimal disruption to its internal logic”. I found this article, really useful when considering notions of space and the ways in which an individual might incorporate a specific technology into their daily routine.


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