File spoon-archives/postanarchism.archive/postanarchism_2004/postanarchism.0403, message 89

Date: Fri, 19 Mar 2004 15:56:01 -0800 (PST)
Subject: [postanarchism] Tuters: "Theorizing the Radical Potential of Location-Aware Mobiles"

Theorizing the Radical Potential of Location-Aware

Marc Tuters
The Geographiti Project
September 2002 

Utopia is the frameless film, the wall-less

Mikhail Iampolski [10] 


While the WTO protests in Seattle are now commonly
sited as having marked the symbolic beginning of a new
radicalism, they also signified the emergence a
neo-tribal collectivism brought about by mobile
connectivity. At the protests, the police moved on the
demonstrators as a phalanx, their strategy
synchronized through a central dispatcher. The
protesters, however were able to scatter at one
moment, and come together the next, by using their
cell phones to communicate their movements to one
another, demonstrating a collective behaviour that has
been compared to that of birds flocking [17]. 


With mobile telephony having been adopted at an
unprecedented rate, we are only just beginning to
consider its potential impacts on patterns of social
space. In what follows I considers some of the
potential promises and implicit dangers of networked
mobility by focussing on what has been hyped as the
technology"s killer app.: location-awareness. This
article attempts to turn theory into practice, by
discussing the design of a potential forum for this
"tech-nomadic" collectivism modeled on graffiti and
based on the creative use of positioning information
in the context of public Wi-Fi networks. The
Geographiti project discussed below, is an open-access
system for location-aware mobile networking that
allows its users to post and receive geo-coded
"virtual graffiti" to architectonic space. 


With the development of communications technologies we
have witnessed the progressive de-localization of
information.- Where people once required a definitive
"here" to receive information, communication advances
have allowed for greater amounts of distance between
the sender and the receiver, to the point where, with
the Internet for example, information, in terms of
access, has no real location at all (or, all locations
at once). In location-aware computing however, data is
associated with distinct physical locations on the
geo-sphere, and accessed by mobile users based on
their relative position in relation to that
information. With accurate methods for positioning of
a wireless device, new mobile interfaces can
effectively "co-register" spatial data with real
space, thereby creating what Virilio refers to as
"stereo-reality" [22]. A particularly resonant example
of this can be found in the "pervasive gaming"
phenomenon. With AR Quake, for example, a level of the
popular online video game has been scaled, aligned and
co-registered with GPS (the Global Positioning System)
so as to be, navigable in geographic space with a
translucent head-mounted display[1] [15]. In order to
determine a user"s position technologies of
surveillance are central to this form of information
visualization, I therefore propose grounding my
theoretical analysis of location-based technology in
Paul Virilio"s radical critique of "hypermodernism"
and subsequently focussing on the potential for the
technology as a tool for individual creative
expression and community building with reference to
social constructivist theories of urban space. 


One cannot understand the development of information
tech, without understanding the evolution of military

Paul Virilio [23] 


Though lauded as a post-modern philosopher of science
and technology, at his core, Paul Virilio is a
peculiar sort of military historian whose theories
paradoxically hinge on the city as the site of
struggle between military control and anarchic
liberation. In Virilio"s military origins of the city,
urban space is controlled by military cartographers,
whose lines of sight have determined the extent of
mapable, and thus, controllable territory. The further
the cartographer"s view of the territory/city
extended, the more time it allowed to defend the city,
and the further in turn the city grew outwards; making
the city a temporal event related to control of the
territory. Thus the Atlantic Wall of bunkers that the
Germans built to defend fortress Europe in World War
II, in Virilio"s theory, transformed Europe into a
continent wide city [16]. Following this line, the
entire planet has become a generalized urban security
zone, surveillanced by military satellites such as
GPS, with which one"s exact location can be determined
from anywhere on the planet by triangulating the time
of arrival of satellite transmissions.[2] "Sovereignty
no longer resides in the territory, but in the control
of the territory" [21], and, as William Bogard notes,
in the generation of its simulation which distracts
attention from the underlying disciplinary regimes of
power in space [4].[3] 


"there is no need to fear or hope, but only to look
for new weapons. 

-Giles Deleuze [7] 


While, in an increasingly mediated society, military
derived technologies of surveillance and simulation
attempt to control people, there remains a
destabilizing force at the heart of Virilio"s city.
While cartographers organize space by attempting to
control its flows, the city essentially emerged at the
intersection of the flows when nomads settled down in
walled cities giving-up some of their freedom in
exchange for protection (thus urban space is a
defensible space of "habitable stasis" [18]). The
anarchic Virilio believes that the city"s streets
retain a connection to the nomadic territorial order
and continue to introduce nomadic vectors which cannot
be controlled and out of which all the meaningful
movements in history have emerged. 


Inspired by Virilio"s early work [7] Deleuze and
Guattari developed the concept of nomadology as a way
of constructing space that grows out of a territorial
connection with place [6]. As an example, they present
the itinerant labourers who built the great cathedrals
of Medieval Europe. These "freemasons", whose guilds
have always remained outside of "the State",
constructed space from the rock itself, in contrast to
the conceptual space of the architects according to
whose plans the monuments were built. Similarly, for
Henri Lefebvre, all social movements produce their own
integral fluid spaces, while architects and urban
planners, as handmaids of "the State", produce
"representations of space" that encode hierarchical
power dynamics into the built environment, where they
become naturalized and erased from view [11]. These
"representations of space" marginalize and fracture
the social body so that the head can no longer see the
feet (Lefebvre), severing meaningful connections with
place (Deleuze and Guattarri), and ultimately, through
an abstract spectacle of circulation, they exert
perceptual control on the atomized individual
generating a cultural nihilism which manifests itself
as a will to speed (Virilio). Yet, while the State"s
dominator culture attempts to channel the flows of the
nomad, it tends to be sedentary and static while
nomads are mobile and emergent (for which Deleuze and
Guattarri use the metonym of the rhizome; a decentred,
heterogeneous collective assemblage [6]). Exemplified
in the aforementioned case of the Seattle protesters,
we can thus conceive of a contemporary nomadic space
extending from the space of the body through to a free
society in which people become architects of their own
space, time and being.[4] 


"The graffitists themselves come from the territorial
order. They territotialize decoded urban spaces – a
particular street, wall or district comes to life
through them, becoming a collective territory again. 

Baudrillard [2] 


As a tool to facilitate the emergence of nomadic
social spaces the Geographiti project has created an
open access location-aware communications system based
on the metaphor of graffiti. Etymologically derived
from the Roman practice of scratching political
messages onto public walls (graffito), graffiti has a
long political history, though out many cultures, as a
radical tactic for free expression. Yet, despite
graffiti having flourished globally into arguably the
art of "the streets" over the past 30 years, it
invariably remains perceived by as an invasion of
public space. From the Baudrillard quote above,
graffiti is clearly a manifestation of the nomadic
territorial order in contemporary urban society,
however as a violation of the most basic principles of
social order, an academic defence of a "graffitists"
right to tag on these abstract grounds is a difficult
argument to make. The Geographiti project emerged as
an attempt to resolve this dilemma. 


Geographiti, can be conceived of as a kind of "virtual
graffiti" that is accessible through special digital
mobile devices only, allowing users to invest space
with a symbolic component without visibly altering the
landscape. With Geographiti, a user creates a
waypoint[5] on a location-aware mobile device and
uploads it, via a network link, to the GPSter
database. As one fan explained Geographiti "it is
based on a simple idea: every person has some
favourite spots on this planet, so why not share those
with others?"[2] Any subsequent, similarly equipped
mobile user can then also request waypoints from the
database and, via the network link, receive messages
particular to that point in space as well. An
important aspect of the graffiti metaphor for the sake
of the Geographiti project has been the notion that
the messages in this virtual space should be
accessible by everyone on the system.- As opposed to
other experiments in location-based services that have
conceived of the technology as a marketing tool for
broadcasting advertisements to consumers, the concept
of Geographiti, like that of the original Internet,
was therefore specifically designed as a distributed,
non-hierarchical tool for communications.[6] 

   Fig. 1 

Fig 1: The GPSter search interface

 Fig. 2 

Fig 2: The Geographiti client searching by location
and keyword. 

- The Geographiti project consists of a universal
open-access waypoint-sharing database (Figure 1.) and
a mobile client application to send and receive
waypoint data from the field (Figure 2.). Geographiti
users search the database by range, keyword and
coordinate with results displayed automatically upon
entering a respective location. The Alpha prototype
ran on a wireless local area network over the 802.11
(or Wi-Fi) standard, and used a GPS device for
positioning. Open-access public Wi-Fi networks are
being set-up for seamless wireless roaming in large
cities; the idea being to share bandwidth (each
operator offers their access point for public usage in
exchange for access to other access points). The
relatively local nature of public Wi-Fi networks as
well as the communitarian spirit from which they are
growing fits perfectly with the philosophy of the
Geographiti project, making them ideal environments
for deploying this type of system.[7] 


Geographiti on a public Wi-Fi network would create a
kind of 3-D "virtual graffiti wall" only visible to
those looking for it, however, unlike "tagging" this
graffiti would not be invasive. Following
socio-constructivist thought one could argue that
graffiti is a manifestation of the nomadic territorial
order positioned in opposition to the despotic State,
which destroys graffiti in order to reinforce its own
dominant representation of space. But, while the
streets, as Virilio contends, may be the forum from
which all the meaningful movements in history have
emerged, a universal defence of graffiti on these
grounds is surely an unenviable task. With the
Geographiti system of virtual graffiti however,
censorship would be replaced with intelligent social
filtering on the level of individual. Invisible to
those who do not wish to see, this digitally geo-coded
realm would free both nomadic territoriality and the
architect"s spatial imagination from the tyranny of
consensual reality empowering us to create and inhabit
the ultimate utopian dream of the wall-less
architecture or the frameless film.- 


"Step through it! 

Roni Size [13] 






Anonymous, Cooltown propotional videos; [1] 

Anonymous, Roberts Klotins trans. "Planetary Games" in

Baudrillard, J. M. (1993 [1975]) Symbolic exchange and
Death, Theory, Culture & Society, Vol 26, Sage Pub.

Bogard, William. (1996) The Simulation of
Surveillance: Hypercontrol in Telematic Societies
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge [4] 

Deleuze, Gilles. (1997) "Postscript on the Society of
Control" in Neal Leach Rethinking Architecture: A
Reader in Cultural Theory, Routledge, pp. 309-311
(originally published Deleuze, Gilles. "Postscript on
the Society of Control", October, 59, 1992, pp. 3-8:
p3) [5] 

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. (1987) "A Treatise
on Nomadology" A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and
Schizophrenia. Univ. of Minnesota Pr, Minneapolis, [6]

Der Derian, James (1999)) "The Conceptual Cosmology of
Paul Virilio" in Theory Culture and Society, Volume
16, Number 5 [7] 

Dimendberg, Edward. (1997) "Henri Lefebvre on Abstract
Space" in Andrew Light, and Jonathan M. Smith (eds.)
The Production of Public Space (Philosophy and
Geography), Rowman & Littlefield, p 17-45 [8] 

Douglas, Ian R. "The Calm Before the Storm: Virilio"s
Debt to Foucault, and Some Notes on Contemporary
Global Capitalism";

Iampolski, Mikhail. "Le cinema de l"architecture
utopique" Cinema and Architecture, Isis, Paris [10] 

Lefebvre, Henri, (1991) Production of Space, Donald
Nicholson-Smith, (trans.), Blackwell Pub., [11] 

Persons, Per, et Al. (2000) GeoNotes: Social and
Navigational Aspects of Location-Based Information
Systems, HULME lab, Swedish Institute of Computer

Roni Size and Reprazent, (1998) New Forms,
Mercury/Talkin' Loud [13] 

Spohrer, J.C. (1998) "Information in Places" IBM
Systems Journal Vol 38, No. 4 online at
p1 [14] 

Thomas, Bruce, et Al. (2000) ARQuake: An
Outdoor/Indoor Augmented Reality First Person
Application, ISWC 00 available online at

Townsend, Anthony M. (2000) "Life in the real-time
city: mobile telephones and urban metabolism", Taub
Urban Research Center New York University, August 30th
2000, online at,

Virilio, Paul. (1994 [1975]) Bunker Archaeology,
Princeton Architectural Press, New York, [17] 

Virilio, Paul, Mark Polizzotti (translator) (1986
[1977]) Speed and Politics: An Essay on Dromology,
Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series; New York, [18] 

Virilio, Paul, and Sylvere Lotringer, (1983) Pure War,
Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Series, New York,- [19] 

Virilio, Paul, Julie Rose trans. (1995) Art of the
Motor Univ. of Minnesota Pr, excerpts online at

Virilio, Paul. Cyberwar, God and Television: Interview
with Louise Wilson in CTHEORY online at [21] 

Virilio, Paul, "Global Algorithm 1.7: The Silence of
the Lambs" interview with Carlos Oliveria, in CTHEORY
online at

Virilio, Paul, "Cyberresistance Fighter, interview
with David Dufresne online at


[1] According to one noted expert: "soon a level of
accuracy will be achieved for both indoor and outdoor
locations that will allow the colour to be set for a
cubic centimetre of space, forming volumetric pixels
([or] Voxels)" [14]. 

[2] In "95 Virilio claimed that the commercialization
of GPS receivers, which have now become available for
US$100 +/- , "constitutes the event of the decade as
far as the globalization of location goes" [20] This
radical claim was given substance when, in May of
2000, the military removed the error on civilian GPS
increasing it accuracy tenfold. 

[3] According to Virilio the growth of the media
industries in the post-war era can be considered
together with the birth of the military industrial
complex as constituting a general miltarization of
society. "It is no longer exo-colonization (the age of
extending world conquest) but the age of intensiveness
and endo-colonization.- Now one colonizes ones own
population" [19]. Virilio"s thesis is given credence
by a 1997 the National Research Council white paper
written for the US department of defence that outlines
the mandate for the military to work together with
game developers to share innovation and recruit gamers

[4] Inspired by Deleuze and Guattarri as well as
Michel DeCerteau"s "Practice of Everyday Life" the
nomad has been a popular trope in contemporary
post-structural theory. For Cultural Studies the nomad
is both an object of study and a way of doing theory
from the field as opposed to the omniscient
sociological point of view of the Frankfurt-school
tradition of Critical Theory (while both study
contemporary culture, the former seek-out sites of
strategic resistance --sometimes, for example,
referred to as "queer spaces"). While cultural
theorists have attempted to use the nomad to rescue a
certain degree of agency from the cynical death-grip
of Critical Theory by revealing a panopoly of
alternative positions, Cultural Studies and Critical
Theory should not, as is often the case, be set-up as

- While nomadism may prove to be an excellent model
for theorizing emergent mobile technology paradigms we
should also keep in mind Virilio"s dromology which
analyses social control via the governance of "flows".
In a consumerist dromocaracy, Virilio sees the
centralized discipline of Foucault"s enclosures
becomes superseded, by "ultra-rapid free-floating
forms of control"[18].- Power itself becomes nomadic
and is articulated through the control of "flows" and
interruptions on the phenomenological level of
perception. The radical quality of any critique based
on the nomad thus seriously comes into question,
especially when one considers that a consumers"
patterns of movement (determined through cell-ID) are
amongst the most valuable commodities to marketers. 

[5] A waypoint is a reference point to ones geographic
location that normally has a few words attached to it
(such as, for example, "John Coltrane"s Grave N
4045.0780 W 07324.1920"). Typically waypoints are
created by mariners, geographers or outdoors
enthusiasts to aid in mapping and plotting courses of
navigation and are not generally shared, nor, before
GPSter, had there been any system for sharing
waypoints across large numbers of users. 

[6] Examples of the corporate, advertising driven
future envisioned for location-based services include
Starbucks experiments with pushing customers SMS
messages to alert them to the presence of a branch
outlet in the user's cell zone and Hewlett Packard"s
Cooltown project (whose ridiculous corporate videos
envision a global infrastructure for a proprietary HP
location awareness whereby only HP licensed hardware
will access HP licensed content [1]). In our opinion,
these corporate visions of location-awareness are
invasive, exclusive and depersonalizing. We have thus
conceived the Geographiti project, in response, as a
means for people to access the potential of
location-based communications technologies as a tool
for community building.- 

[7] While the addition of a GPS receiver gave the
application a degree of positioning that allowed users
to exchange messages every 10M+/- or so, we are
currently working on a Wi-Fi-based system that would
not require any special hardware. A Wi-Fi access
point"s hardware address can be associated with a
discrete geographical location to create publicly
available positioning information accurate to 100M+/-.
This coarse positioning can, in turn, be semantically
divided into sub-zones to which users can leave
messages (e.g., "by the soda machine"). A model for a
location-based information system of this type has
been developed at the Swedish Institute of Computer
Science [12]. 

===="Being at one is god-like and good, but human, too human, the 
     Which insists there is only the One, one country, one truth and
         one way."

- Friedrich Hölderlin, 1799

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