iPod Battles

Recently, I attended an iPod battle1. Could this be considered an augmented and or hybrid space? We shall soon see. If we examine Lev Manovich’s essay on augmented spaces, we are treated to a more humanistic view on these hotly contested spaces. Throughout his article, augmentation is re-conceptualized as an idea and “cultural and aesthetic practice” rather than as technology. I would tend to agree with Mr. Manovich since my limited existence and experience with hybridity has caused me to associate it with imagination just as much as technology and the ways in which people re-appropriate technologies to use them in ways which could never have been imagined by the producers of said technologies.

In the essay How to Recognize the Future When it Lands on You, Howard Rheingold speaks of the “… informal nexus of the techno-adept, fashion-saturated, identity-constructing, mobile-texting culure.” The essay is largely about how young people are using these new technologies to not only enhance their spaces and even “time and space” in the particle physics sense2 itself - where you can be with five different friends at once without leaving your house - but it also focuses a lot on the creative aspects of hybrid spaces. An important word in the above quote would be identity-constructing.

During the witnessed and performed in iPod battle, I could not help but notice the cybernegotiated public flocking behavior of texting post adolescents alerting and or possibly warning their friends of the quality of the proceedings. They have been called thumb tribes by Rheingold in the same essay. The iPod use was also something that peeked my interested because of the way they were being used.

The unexpected success of texting, spoken about by Rheingold, can be likened to this recent development in iPod culture. The iPod battle, like the public personal music device dance party, is an example of a social hybrid space if one is to subject oneself to Lev Manovich’s description in his essay, The Poetics of Augmented Space. He concentrates on the experience had by the human subject and, without actually saying it directly in the article, he is concerned with the creative aspects of the use of these technologies to heighten ones surroundings. He concentrates on choice and on the imagination - for when one is using a personal device to heighten ones environment, is one not at least somewhat recalling an old star trek episode, or some sort of children’s tv show in the deep recesses of one’s mind? In the case of iPods battles we are playing the role of cultural capital pioneer. The hybridity of the environment is aided by a device, however it only becomes apparent and real in the imaginations of the participants. When Manovich states …

"If previously we thought of an architect, a fresco painter, or a display designer working to combine architecture and images, or architecture and text, or to incorporate different symbolic systems into one spatial construction, we can now say that all of them were working on the problem of augmented space - the problem, that is, of how to overlay physical space with layers of data. therefore, in order to imagine what can be done culturally with augmented spaces, we may begin by combing cultural history for useful precedents."

… he is clearly interested in the imagination and in the importance of the subject’s interpretation.

My favorite Dérive Dudes could be considered an example of early hybrid space use. They used a similar technology, the map - for isn’t that all we are doing with our PDAs but mapping time and space through personal experience (such as friendship, dining, shopping, etc). They hybridized space by using their imaginations. By choosing to see something else. They used maps in unconventional ways just as the thumb tribes and ghetto ipod users use their technologies differently - and this is all in an attempt, wether they realize it or not, to change the meaning of a space. This is done so to hybridize it or to augment it - whichever you prefer.

I will explain further by quoting the text:

“… communication is always accompanied by noise, and therefore a received signal always has some noise mixed in. In practical terms, this means that any information delivered to or extracted from augmented space always occupies some position on the continuous dimension whose poles form a perfect signal and complete noise. In a typical situation, we are usually somewhere in between: our cell phone conversation is accompanied by some background noise; a surveillance system delivers blurry or low-res images, which need to be interpreted, i.e. a decision needs to be made by somebody about the nature of work to describe all electronic communication …3

So to clarify we could say that users of PDAs, or maps such as the situationists have the commonality of being filters of noise. The PDA, the eye, the ear, etc have the possibility of aiding us in selecting what we wish to see and what we wish not to interpret to create our own hybrid realities, or spaces. An extreme example of this is the Bot hunting mobile phone games in Stockholm. An less obvious example could be “hanging out” virtually with several groups of friends at once without actually being with them. Children’s play, follow the leader, the dérive, Janet Cardiff’s audio walks, and finally iPod battles all have something in common and that is that they use imagination as the principal means of creating hybrid spaces even though some require the use of some technologies.

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I Fought the iPod War and the iPod War Won!
Last Friday evening I had the great honor of witnessing the finale series of “iPod Wars” put on by members of the Aesthetics Department. Much like the concept of Air Guitar I was initially skeptical of how such a concept would work in actuality but somehow it worked out brilliantly and it was rather entertaining. The creators of the evening, along with the iPod-playing participants were able to take a device meant for personal use and open it up to create mass entertainment that caused people to interact with each other in real time and space. Witnessing what transpired that night helped me to further investigate the concept of technology and space.

From first entry into the room where the event took place there was an immediate recognition of the appropriation of space. From Henri Lefebvre’s analysis the prevailing capitalist construct of this space can be identified and perhaps is worthy of appropriation and change. The room, normally constructed as a perceived space known as a classroom with a conceived “representational practice” where learning takes place and is a “representations space” that inhabits teachers and students, now looks like the inside of a café or club. The room was dark but lining the walls were colored lights and in the corner across from the door was a table with a laptop and a mixing board. Two walls of the room had small tables and chairs in which people sat in groups around them chit-chatting, drinking and sending a random text message here and there. When the iPod battle began and the mood went from laid-back lounge and erupted into a harmonious explosion of music, causing people to interact and react physically to the music – that is they would dance and cheer when they liked a song or stand around or leave the dance floor when they didn’t. During these moments I believe the room had transformed into what Lefebvre called a “logico-epistemological space, the space of social practice” he explains that it is “the space occupied by sensory phenomena, including products of the imagination such as projects and projections, symbols and utopias” (pg. 12). In this capacity various senses, if not all – yes even taste – were engaged at once thru various aides but it was the iPod that was the true catalyst for bringing all the senses together to create a social space. The iPod has been marketed as an ideal product of imagination that perhaps some would argue symbolizes a form of utopia or aspirational way of life.

What makes this situation an interesting candidate for analysis is the fact that this seemingly “abstract space” has been appropriated, which resulted in the distortion and reclaiming of a normally capitalistic conceived and constructed space and infused it with new sensations to create a new “lived” space. However, the mechanism for enabling the new space is a device that perhaps is also seen as a symbol of commercialism within the capitalistic structure. This confirms the many contradictions and paradoxes within social space perception and construction in Lefebvre’s view.

Zoba Ezeh

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