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Re-making space with cellphones July 12, 2007

Posted by François in appropriation, baroque, boost, space.

Brett Stalbaum, who had brought Boost’s cheap GPS-enabled internet-connected phones to my attention, has been using them in two of his classes at UC San Diego this past quarter. The result is “antinormalizer”, a project in which his students used the phones to re-make public spaces around campus. As Brett explains in the video, cell phones are increasingly scripting our behavior in public spaces, so why not use them to “change the script of already programmed spaces”? The result is a fascinating baroque layering of unexpected behaviors onto existing space.

“Antinormalizer is a project of VIS 141B (Advanced Computer Programming in the Arts) and CAT 124 (Sixth College Practicum) at the University of California San Diego, Spring 2007. In it, a location aware mobile phone application helps students do things that are antinormal. And, it is also all of the antinormal performance that happened as a result.”


agon/antagon: appropriation as theater July 10, 2007

Posted by François in agonistic, cannibalism, iPhone.

This past weekend, 300 hackers gathered in San Francisco for iPhoneDevCamp. The camp was a first collective attempt to unlock the iPhone’s mysteries, prompted by Apple’s reluctance to publish details about its inner workings. The LA Times covered the event as if it were a military battle. The article describes how the DevCampers carefully prepared for combat, wearing “stickers classifying themselves as developers, hardware testers, designers or web coders.” It quoted organizers who said the event was “about killer participation”, “not just to create the killer app.”

On the surface, iPhoneDevCamp had all the hallmarks of antagonistic cannibalism. Apple resisted the assault by refusing to help or provide any basic information about its product. Hackers strategically deployed themselves to “bend the iPhone to their will” and “make it do things Apple might prefer it didn’t.”

But following Paul Duguid’s insights, we might choose an alternative reading. The displayed hostility may simply be appropriation theater, agonistic rather than antagonistic. Indeed on closer examination, the DevCamp battle looks a lot like a love fest. The hackers clearly relish the challenge laid out for them by their idol, and Apple must love the attention (if only because it presumably made at least $150,000 selling $500 iPhones to 300 hackers.) The result, one suspects, will be more iPhones sold to happier hackers.

Meanwhile, the show certainly is entertaining as we watch Apple playing hard-to-get, enjoying every cannibalistic nibble from its suitors.

Radical Cannibals July 3, 2007

Posted by François in cannibalism.

As we sort through appropriation practices, a key distinction is the degree to which users come into conflict with suppliers when they re-make technology. At the harmonious end of that spectrum we find baroquization, where users re-make artifacts along a supplier-provided personalization script. By contrast, cannibalization occupies the other extreme. Tech cannibals intentionally confront suppliers by re-making technology into something that goes against the interests of those suppliers. Just as with antropofagia, creation then emerges from destruction – literal or symbolic. This week’s news brings two examples of phone destruction, each creative in its own way.

The first story brings a welcome tale of technological failure: This week’s “attempted London car bombings were meant to be detonated by calls to mobile phones in the two vehicles, but failed for technical reasons.” Re-making mobile phones into bomb detonators is nothing new, and constitutes perhaps the most radical illustration of technology cannibalism. The practice is antagonistic at every level – artifact, practice, and politics. The objective is -literally- to destroy the phone, the practice is hostile to the intentions and business plans of providers, and, most importantly, the resulting explosion appropriates technology toward aggressive political goals.

The second news item reports on several iPhone dissections, some more meticulous than others. Here, the stated purpose is to discover what is inside and understand what makes this new device tick. The next cannibalistic challenge will be to crack the software. As the Reuters story points out: “Opening the iPhone was the easy part. For many, the real prize is hacking the phone to get it to do things Apple never intended, such as run on networks other than that of AT&T Inc., the exclusive U.S. service provider. Some programmers also want to find a way to run their own programs directly on the phone’s operating system rather than being limited to programs run through the Web browser.”

(click on pictures for credits and additional information)