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The ambition of the WiFi.Bedoiun project
What I found most interesting about Julian Bleecker’s “WiFi.Bedouin” is that the motivation for the project stems from the idea that mobile networks are in fact immobile. When we use our cell phones and laptops that are connected to wireless Internet and serve as means of communication, we tend to think mobility in relation to the actual physical technological device that we carry. We assume that we are living in a world of mobile networks, when in fact, mobile networks are also confined to physical geographic locations. For instance, when we are driving from one state to another, we can experience a region where our cell phones do not receive any network. Additionally, when we carry our laptops to a library, we hope that we have wireless Internet. I think this project helps us formulate interesting questions, such as whether the advent of technology allows us to have mobile Internet platform as Bleecker asks. The WiFi.Bedouin project also challenges us to (re)think the intersection of virtual and physical space, proximity and locality, which are pertinent issues when we think about mobile network and communications.
- Min Han, University of Southern California, 12.07.2005
What struck me as the key point of “WiFi. Bedouin” is the relationship between a virtual space as a type of physical space. As Min pointed out, we are immobile with our use of mobile technology, limited by our geographical location. This physical space Julian Bleeker focuses on is reliant on a public space as well, creating a physical community using a virtual landscape. Living in Los Angeles, as is the case with most urban and WiFi areas, it is extremely apparent that a public space is actually a commercial space. It seems logical that this project could lead to a commercial use very similar to billboards. Imagine sitting in a café and your Internet connection is interrupted with an advertisement for a pumpkin spice latte. More interesting would be to set up rogue commercials, advertising for competing products in your competitor’s space. It may seem to infuriate the user, but at the same time it brings up assumptions about what the public space means to a WiFi user. If the physical boundaries of the virtual world exist as a public community, than the private space of your computer has a commercial possibility. Rather than mere popups, we can see how much the buffet special is because we are sitting around the corner from it. Virtual space could lead to geographically specific advertising. Although depressing, I have to consider questions about public and commercial space when thinking about geographically created WiFi communities. What happens when out WiFi use is interrupted with things we may not want to see?
- Carly Marino, Los Angeles, 12.08.2005
While the ambition of the WiFi.Bedoiun project certainly solicits the creation of multifarious spontaneous communities of geographically determined users or navigators, the utility of such a territorially-prioritized network seems to be of most benefit when reinforcing the sedimentation of a more physical, yet equally imagined community, for instance that of the university campus. The concept of the virtual cum physical community that WiFi.Bedoiun posits will emerge through the use of the Bedioun network seems to imagine the potential for physical human interaction as one of its eventual and most attractive products – wherein the lonely park loiterer may successfully engage complete strangers in pick-up games of Frisbee at the Great Meadow in Central Park, and so forth. This notion is altruistic, in that it assumes that the use of the Bedoiun will somehow transcend all of the normal social phobias that would inhibit the Frisbee player from approaching a random stranger in the first place. The virtual community is so enmeshed in the ability to conceal or modify one’s own identity, that the transposition of a virtual encounter into the physical realm must be based on some common factor that proscribes a communal identity beyond the basic territorial parameters of the Bedoiun network that the WiFi Hot Spot has generated. For this reason, I find that the Bedoiun network will be of greatest advantage to those communities that already posses a physical dimension, as well as the awareness of a communal identity. Although I don’t have research statistics to prove this claim, it has been my overwhelming personal experience to notice that the impetus and desire to seek out new virtual social relationships through internet-based networks such as MySpace and Friendster are eclipsed by the networking impulses available through the far more community-specific network Facebook.com, that restricts its primary network to specific university and high school communities. If the Bedoiun project is indeed committed to the ultimate physical social interaction engendered by proximity and mobility, then it should begin its experimental focus on what services it could offer to an imagined if still territorially enclosed community, such as a university campus. The virtual component that encourages spontaneous social interaction would be of porous and mutual benefit when coupled with a physical communal component that is defined by an identity that transcends mere geographical location. As opposed to the stranger in the park, users would have access to student organizations that are dedicated to Ultimate Frisbee and that are less alien to them given their common university identity, alongside more academic (and perhaps more unrealistic?) uses, such as the formation of spontaneous study groups, the free exchange of research materials, and available information about classes, professors and course materials.
- Alessandro Ago, University of Southern California, 12.08.2005