Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Public Wi-Fi

[Note: I started this blog post at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport while waiting for my flight to Accra--I'm working on thesis in Tema through January--but lost battery power before I could post it. How appropriate.]

Having finally connected to free wi-fi at Schiphol airport I remembered what someone (Aron Chang?) said recently (during thesis workshop--a group of us doing theses at Harvard GSD, who meet to present our research-in-progress and to discuss ideas): "digital is physical too!" in reference to the physical infrastructure required to support digital environments (routers, servers, etc.) Saskia Sassen and Robert Latham wrote a related introduction to their edited volume Digital Formations in which they highlight that digitally networked technologies create new social formations. Reading texts like this I have wondered throughout the semester: what are the implications for architects? Since space is both physical and digital, how do we design for interrelating both forms of space?

Seeing in-transit travelers appropriating all kinds of Schiphol's nooks and crannies to work and play and communicate on laptops made me think first of a blogger in New Zealand who posted a really interesting piece on Wi-fi structures and people shapes...noting that
urban industry - in the widest sense of the word - in the knowledge economy is often invisible, at least immediately and in situ. Whereas urban industry would once have produced thick plumes of smoke or deafening sheets of sound, today's information-rich environments - like the State Library of Queensland, or a contemporary office - are places of still, quiet production, with few sensory side-effects. We see people everywhere, faces lit by their open laptops, yet no evidence of their production. They could be using Facebook, Photoshop, Excel or Processing.

(S/he also has another cool post on The street as platform.)

Its true that the information industry is AT TIMES invisible. However, all this obsession with mobility--"you can work ANYWHERE!"--is not true. Physical constraints determine the boundaries of anywhere...like my own search for a US-to-European adapter, a working outlet at Schiphol that was not already powering someone's electronic device, and which also was within range of a free wireless hub...

Now, today in Tema... after several days of attempting to call the internet company Zipnet's landline (dead), cell phone bank (no answer), they responded to email within hours...drove to my house and installed radio-based (? that's what they said) internet. RE: Thesis...Given that Tema was created as an industrial city, the new realities of the information industry (my obsession with information distribution and knowledge production) may involve architecture (i.e. "design") especially strongly at the level of infrastructure...


melissa.nl.guerrero said...

interesting. i've been wanting to learn more about e-waste - another phsyical manifestation of this "invisible" industry. also think of all the names that go into making information, for example an animation. the credits are huge for animation features. you have one person just doing hair or clothes or skin. they all have to be housed somewhere. and there has to be a digital flow manager. and more and more companies have in-house servers with in-house digital media librarians to keep the library straight. maybe this is all tangential, but intersting, i think.

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