World Wide Web In Your Pocket [May 21-25, 2012]
by Alisa Perren — University of Texas at Austin
May 20, 2012 – 13:32
Monday, May 21, 2012 - Scott W. Ruston (Arizona State University) presents: Fantasies of Mobile Media’s Utopic Ideal: Connectivity in ESPN & CENTEL Commercials
Tuesday, May 22, 2012 - Jeremy Carter (Illinois State University) presents: Romancing the Connection: The Allure of Democracy Through Social Media
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - Megan Mullen (University of Wisconsin-Parkside) presents: “They’re Coming…” Innovation and the Diffusion of iPads in Higher Education
Thursday, May 24, 2012 - Jeremy Sarachan (St. John Fisher College) presents: Augmented Reality and the Loss of the Exploratory Impulse
Friday, May 25, 2012 - Mark Tebeau (Cleveland State University) presents: Curating the City
Theme week organized by Kris Cannon.
A tool I use as a means of analyzing mobile media and distinguishing mobile from other media and cultural forms is the concept of affordances. Here I explore connectivity as it is imagined through two mobile phone service advertisements.
The ESPN “Sports Heaven” commercial implies, based on the man’s near constant gaze affixed to his mobile phone while surround by sports activities, that his phone has transformed the urban street-scape into a vast sports-scape. He is deeply and thoroughly connected to his sports universe through his ESPN phone. The commercial’s title and voice over narration, positions this kind of connectivity, this connection to vast amounts of sports data, as a utopic ideal.
The CENTEL commercial (circa 1989), ostensibly the first US television commercial advertising personal cellular phone service, presents a very different, yet also utopic, imagination of what mobile connectivity offers. Throughout the husband/father character’s journey from the city to the idyllic world of the countryside (complete with pleasure boats and picturesque sunsets), the mobile phone facilitates the family’s rendezvous. The wife/mother character guides the man towards her domain (directions at fork in the road); she shares his experience of the unexpected delay (sheep crossing); and he finally summons her upon arrival at the dock. In this vision, connectivity is more social and family-oriented, not to mention laden with connotations of wealth and leisure.
In their visualizations of an ideal, each commercial differs in its gendering of this notion of connectivity. In the CENTEL commercial, the telephone bridges the city/work domain of the man and the remote/leisure/family domain of the woman, a pattern common in cinema since the rescue melodramas of Griffith and Porter. “Sports Heaven”, though, offers only two female athletes and one bikini-clad boxing ring girl amid a vast array of male athletes. This not only perpetuates a common and gendered representation of sports in the United States, but also simultaneously genders this vision of connectivity as male. In the former, it’s a social connectivity (frequently understood as female); it’s family cohesion (and leisure) facilitated by mobile technology. In the latter, it’s about data and connection to a particular cultural milieu—decidedly not about people. We have a people-to-people connectivity and a people-to-data connectivity, but both are positioned as a fantasy ideal, bringing to mind reports of increased loneliness in our age of hyper-connectivity. (Oh, yeah, and both CENTEL Cellular and ESPN Mobile are now defunct.)
We are just over a year removed from the revolutions of the Arab Spring. Our media spent a lot of their time during those revolutions covering how social networks were allowing citizen activists to spread the word about what had been done to them. For those of us who watched the revolutions unfold on our computers and televisions, the allure of the stories trumpeting the revolutionary power of social media largely came from our desire for a sense of justice in the world. The all-seeing connected eye of the web promised to uncover the suffering of the voiceless oppressed, and the stories about uprisings in the Middle East struck hopeful tones about this new power individual citizens had to illuminate the world.
Langdon Winner, in critiquing the proponents of the “computer revolution” of the 1980’s, wrote that “Computer romanticism is merely the latest version of the nineteenth and twentieth century faith…one that has always expected to generate freedom, democracy, and justice through sheer material abundance.” If Winner was right in his critique of faith in the democractic power of the connected personal computer that was so vogue in the 1980’s, can his criticisms be fairly applied to our new love, connectivity romanticism? In many ways, our new romance is a faster, more vocal version of the love of democratic computing that began thirty years ago. We still fall into the belief that there is, in Winner’s words, “an automatic, positive link between knowledge and power, especially power in a social or political sense.”
Does focusing on the channels through which injustice is revealed actually push aside a more useful dialogue about the roots of the injustices which provoke and sustain a revolution? Perhaps one could argue that stories age very quickly in a news world built on hourly updates, and the social media “angle” is simply one way of prolonging the life of a story that would otherwise fade from our memories too quickly. Such an argument still assumes that there is significant value in having an awareness of what’s happening in the world, however vague. We can’t measure the democratic power of a few individuals with deep knowledge of a conflict against a multitude of people with a vague but constant awareness of an injustice, but I doubt that there can ever be such a thing as a shallow revolution.
I’m part of a campus iPad pilot. Proposing a good pedagogical use for the technology wasn’t difficult. What has been difficult is being a good steward of my new gadget; pilots are meant for guiding decisions about more widespread adoption, after all.
Today’s traditional-aged college students are “digital natives”— comfortable with languages, behaviors, and aptitudes inherent to social media. They value technological mobility, and consider digital multitasking part of their DNA. We’ve gotten word that we must adapt in order to reach these students—as well as those who follow them (today’s young children). Video footage of babies using iPads seems to suggest what these students will be like—not to mention breed anxiety for college administrators. The iPad has become iconic in these discourses.
With most colleges facing severe budgetary constraints, it’s common to treat students as fickle customers, even while racking our brains trying to maintain quality and integrity. “What if we became an iPad campus?” administrators ask. “Would we appear ‘forward-looking’ to prospective students?”
My students surprised me by expressing disapproval at the possibility of our institution becoming an iPad campus. Then, instead of citing cost as their main reason for objecting, they cited distractions. A couple even said that they were already wasting time checking social media during class and don’t need another device to encourage this.
Were they fearful of the innovation process itself—even though they’re part of it? McLuhan would have told them to stop looking in the rear-view mirror! I turn not to him on this, though, as much as to Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations— a chapter of which, ironically, had been the assigned reading on the same day that I wound up attending a presentation on iPads in higher education, offered by Apple sales reps. Reflecting on the processes of “re-invention” that follow adoption, I thought: if we could move past the pilot stage, my students might be on the cutting edge in shaping education’s future.
Yet I do worry a bit about campus-wide iPad adoption. While building its repertoire of innovative products, Apple has grown as a competition-averse corporate giant, the iPad a cash cow. iPad apps won’t run on other platforms. Some promising apps require a Mac computer for content creation. And Microsoft software still isn’t fully compatible with iPad. Clearly, becoming an iPad campus implies more than just putting a high-functioning tablet in every student’s hands.
Augmented reality mobile apps continue to emerge as the ‘next big thing.’ The promise of the Articulated Naturality Web (ANW), as presented by QderoPateo Communications, is to add in-depth data to the physical world. This video focuses on marketing, describing the process of renting office space or finding a hotel room. Like much of the web, it’s not surprising to see such new technologies find a niche in the marketplace.
Of greater significance is the newfound ability to visualize the mundane: 3-D weather forecasts (with disturbingly large precipitation) or the virtual floor plan of any building. These utilitarian uses call into question whether this added data is necessary. In the race to add more features to devices, ANW may be the point where more becomes less. Whereas simpler augmented reality apps have us looking upward to identify constellations, newer offerings compel us to reconsider our immediate surroundings.
Manuel Castells’ concept of the ‘space of flows’ describes the ability for technology to instantly bring people and ideas together without the constraints of physical space. ANW threatens the opposite. Locations that are in proximity (across the street or across the hall) are mentally placed at a distance, either by holding up a cell phone to one’s face or by wearing a less outwardly intrusive device such as technologically-enhanced glasses or even contact lenses that can overlap augmented reality graphics over the real world. The addition of location-based and time-based information (Where am I? What will this look like later?), while useful, threatens to diminish our experiences.
A world may be in your pocket, but at the cost of less engagement with the physical. If social media is accused of limiting face-to-face contact, ANW could diminish exploration of space. An inevitable (and hard to resist) use of this technology will be as an alternative to the tourist map. Where the old-fashioned approach merely provides landmarks, ANW will provide comprehensive information. No more will people explore but instead will arrive where they intend; the liberation and discovery found in those moments of being lost in a new place will disappear, replaced by efficiency and always knowing where you’re going before you get there. If the excitement of living comes from the exploration of uncharted territory, then having a detailed map of every room leaves no door left unopened. Does augmented reality help us escape from the screen, just to reposition reality out of reach?
Explore Cleveland Historical (download for iOS or Android). Imagine discovering the city serendipitously, thru geo-location, street-visible QR codes, or thematic tours. Imagine joining K16 students & community partners in formal and informal learning, thru developing digital stories. Or, imagine extending to other interpretive contexts, like our partners in Baltimore, New Orleans, & Spokane.
Pew Internet argues that mobile represents a paradigmatic shift. Nearly 50% of Americans have smartphones; Ericsson claims that 80% of people will access the Interent w/mobile devices by 2015. Surely, mobile will transform schools, museums, libraries, universities, communities, and culture. But, we rarely ask how interpretive or teaching practices should change in light of mobile, fetishizing the technology. The Center for Public History + Digital Humanities explores remaking public humanities interpretive practice in light of the mobile revolution, building on our a decade of work exploring memory, landscape, thru public & digital projects.
The city has been our laboratory because place matters. Recovering place re-makes civic society; it creates sustainable economies, environments, and communities. In erasing boundaries between landscape & interpretation, mobile provides new ways of imagining place; it allows us to create dynamic performative public art—a dance between memory, space, and artifact. Its ubiquity creates the possibility for a pervasive interpretive environment, hearkening toward the Internet of Things.
As digital blurs the lines between theory, technologies, & praxis, curation has emerged as a bridge. We Curate the City in collaboration with the community, rebuilding a sense of place and community. We embed a model of interpretive public humanities in the tools we build and use, which also extends these practices to other places. Our Mobile Historical Project has yielded a tool, Curatescape, and mobile theme for Omeka.
We ask more questions than we answer. Join us in posing questions and suggesting directions.
- How can mobile storytelling reinscribe the particularity of a place, but also transcend it?
- How can mobile become part of a network of meaning w/in a physical storytelling environment?
- How can “tours” provide meaning making in a dynamic, non-linear technological and spatial context?
- What technological features might enhance our efforts? How can we more deeply “augment” reality?
- How do we balance the interpretive frames of public humanities w/academic scholarship or artistic dislocation?
Sun, 20 May 2012 18:32:52 +0000