Personal Media and Wireless Communications: An Urban Spatial Analysis

Molly Hankwitz, Ph.D.

QUT, Media and communications discipline

The Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation

Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

January 2011


Dr. Terry Flew, QUT

Dr. Stephen Wilson, San Francisco State University, San Francisco. CA (1947 - 2011)



Mobile communications, mobile media, wireless, urban space, spatialities, gendered use, urban planning, social space, cell phone, mobile phone, architecture, wireless cities


'Wirelessness' is a complex phenomenon of the early 21st century. For the past decade at least, a small, hand-held instrument known as the cell or mobile phone/device has appeared across the globe in unprecedented quantities. It has grown to become widley utilized by all persons from old to young, including children, women, men, and of all incomes and nations. It is particularly visible in urban areas where penetration and density are dramatically greater than rural areas and where population density favors our observance of commodity culture. With this comes a booming telecommunications market, and the state of being wireless, or 'wirelessness', as we are increasingly capable of taking networks along, communicating from 'anywhere', and customizing our personal navigation.

This thesis places 'wirelessness' into an historical context wherein the personalization of media tools and networked communications is studied as a social phenomenon as it enables and conditions urban community. Chief in the investigation has been an assertion that the reinscription of gender, through the advertising of this media and social norms in our thinking about technology and its mythos, is contributing to mobile divides and recursive mobile identities for females. Several studies are thus utilized to examine the positioning of women to telephones and the internet, for example, but, also as an underpinning of cities as places where technology is quickly popularized and gains uses to parallel other interests. Reading of data, tracking of information, security culture, and surveillance are some examples.

The research is exploratory, in the sense of providing an urban spatial analysis of a social phenomenon. It is undertaken with feminist, techno, industrial and theoretical literatures and it examines as a whole, where mobile space-- the mobile office, personal media mobility, and networked mobility--intersect, merge, or manifest. Pioneering public art and hacktivist projects, for example, such as Proboscis' Urban Tapestries' which developed public authoring through texting and MMS or the Transborder Tool project, creating navigational tools out of cheap cell phones for crossing into and out of the US-Mexican border desert, display in their critique the degree to which these new technological instruments can be designed for "alternative" social import. Through numerous additional examples, a discussion of networked cities as predecessors to the ‘wireless city’ is developed in terms of how cities have been formed and at how urban design, planning, and techno art utilizes wireless, GPS mapping, and personal navigation in new conceptions of urban space. From the glance at gender to discourse on public computing and wireless development, the technological movement towards microelectronics in everyday use and the transformation of personal space is contrasted with corporate industrial culture's presentation of mobile culture and critiqued as a basis of social change and the advancement of urbanism.




Contextualizing the Research

Historical Context for the Thesis Argument

Comments on Australian and American Text and the English Language

Questions Guiding the Research

Synopsis of Key Argument

Equity and Economics

Wireless State of Mind

Overview of Chapter Content

CHAPTER 1: Co-present Social Differentiations in Wireless Communications


Defining Personal Space

New Social and Spatial Intensities

Landlines and Wireless Devices: Radical Differences

More Cultural Differentiation(s)

Navigation and Social Media

Locative media: Public Urban Projects 

More on Locative Media and Architecture


CHAPTER 2: Gendered Use, Mobile Women, and Wireless Media


Defining Gender, Technology and Contrasting Approaches

Gendered use: Global Perspective

User-based Research: Advantages for Gender Studies

Travel and Female Subjects

Case Study: Women Artists in Mobile Careers


CHAPTER 3: Wireless cities and Pervasive Networks


Micro Infrastructure and the Internet of Things

Automation and Surveillance

Wireless Spatial Experience

Discussion of Enclosure and its Loss

Sustaining the Public Commons

Co-presence and Belonging

City-wide and Community-based Wi Fi projects

Public Access History


CHAPTER 4: Mobilizing Urban Space

Introduction to the Two Part Study

Part One: Theoretical Perspectives on Networked Cities

Part Two: Typologies of Network Form and Density

Group One

Group Two



CHAPTER 5: Technological Diffusion as Urban History


Corporate Design and Experimental Architecture

The Space of Flows: From Static to Mobile

Post sedentary Space and Loosened Data

Personalization: Computing, Telecommunications and Markets

Home Computing

Wellman’s Network Relations Sociology

Households as a Unit of Analysis

Public Computing: Gender bias, Technological Cooperation, and Online Diversity

Free and Recycled Computers


CHAPTER 6: Mobile Media in Recent Activism

Introduction: Comments on Globalization

Indymedia and the Anti-Globalization Movement

Rituals of Protest: Questions of Participation

Inexpensive Recording: Video as Mobility and Cellphone “Pictures”

Wireless Street Art

Civic Engagement: Flows and the Social Space of Crowds

Wireless Art: Four Case Studies

DIY Cyborg: Steve Mann as Activist


CHAPTER 7: Personal, Social, and Transnational Urban Identities

Introduction: The Complexity of Newness

Research Approaches

Wireless Identity

Urban Techno Art and Location

Dividuals, Cyborgs, and Mobile Subjects

Non technological Bodies and Variability

Perspectives on Identity: Hegemony,Transnationalism

The Global Commons




Glossary of Terms

Conferences and Symposia


Collective Media and Art spaces




S.1 Social and Spatial Shifts

S.2 Characteristics of Personalization(s) Relevant to Mobile Use

S.3 Characteristics of ‘Personal Space’ in the Mobile Context

S.4 Wellman’s Observations on Benefits of Personal Computing and Networks in Households

S.5 Advantages of Mobile Use in Activism


Statement of Original Authorship

The work contained in this thesis has not been previously submitted to meet

requirements for an award at this or any other higher education institution.

To the best of my knowledge and belief, the thesis contains no material previously

published or written by another person except where due reference is made


Molly Hankwitz, December 2010, San Francisco CA


Author’s acknowledgements

The candidate expresses her deep appreciation and gratitude to the following two people, foremostly: Drs. Terry Flew, Professor of Media and Communication, Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology and the late Dr. Stephen Wilson, San Francisco State University, Conceptual Information Art, my Supervisors, for their boundless encouragement, guidance, knowledge, love of learning, and support. To David Cox, my brilliant life partner, for his inspiration, love of electronic media, his care and his time; to Simon, my son, who has patiently allowed me to study and write without interruption. and to the other Faculty and Staff at QUT, Media and Communications, Research Students’ Center, and the Institute for Creative Industries and Innovation, Dr. Christina Spurgeon for her early supervision, to Stephen Thompson for proof reading. Additional acknowledgements go to my Examiners, all the interviewees, Artists Television Access, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, the Prelinger Library and to family and friends who have given feedback and encouragement.



The third wave, just beginning, has many computers serving each person everywhere in the world.

I call this last wave "ubiquitous computing" or ‘ubicomp’.

(Marc Weiser, “Open House”, 1996)

Contextualizing the Research

One of the most significant developments in personal communications in the last two decades has been the pervasive installation of mobile networks, satellite-driven navigational systems, the subsequent emergence of ‘itinerant media’ (Richardson 2006) and its attendant wireless economy. This includes all forms of mobile networks from cellular 3G and 4G, to wireless broadband and Wi-Fi. (See Glossary for definitions used).

By comparison, to the thirty-odd years of sustained distribution and implementation of personal computing in most sectors of Western society, acceptance of mobile communications has been comparatively swift and diversified. It brings with it complex cultural imaginaries which have yet to be adequately dealt with such as ‘wireless cities’ and ‘wireless subjectivity’. Computer-enabled, networked (and even wirelessly conceived) cities, however, have historical precedent in design practice and visualization. They have been dreamed of and visualized by architects, artists, and planners and aspects of wireless mentality and existence have driven theory and the conceptualization of social philosophy. Meanwhile, mass familiarity with landline and portable telephones, developments in widespread computer literacy, the "home” context of personal computing and the digital revolution form solid foundations from which mobile communications can be marketed, popularized, and theorized. Some differences, however, exist between, broadly speaking, the rapid uptake of mobile communications and that of personal computing as argued within.

Early Wireless Urban Space

The research project began as an investigation into changing parameters of urban space once wireless networks were perceived to shift concepts of location away from enclosure and introduce new ones into public space. At the turn of the century, from the 20th to the 21st century, a phenomenon known to hackers as ‘war chalking’ explored the borders and edges of wireless network security. Few cities in 2000 had more than partial, official WiFi zones or districts. Municipal governments were setting up test networks for use in busy café districts where laptop use was frequent and accompanied coffee drinking and socializing. Experiments in Adelaide and Brisbane were installed in the context of improving café connectivity so as to sustain the lingering of clientele and support business, through offering WiFi. Nevertheless, ‘war chalking’ developed in its own ad hoc, underground framework and, yet, was relatively global as a practice due to the Internet. War chalking was performed by hackers carrying laptops equipped with wireless antennae “cards” capable of picking up the signal. (Jones 2002; Loney 2002; Ward 2001; 2002; Mitchell 2003, 226) It was a fun and experimental response to the early phases of wireless networks when unsecured bandwidth literally “leaked" into cities from antennae, transponders, and wireless modems. The bandwidth was free and it was a slightly risky enterprise to test the free wireless in public space. War chalking and ‘war driving’ (2003: 226;) were practices that exploited this unsecured bandwidth. A laptop made wireless (with the insertion of an approximately sixty-dollar AUD wireless card in c. 2004-5) would be used to locate free bandwidth along the urban streetscape. Indeed entire films were downloadable or the Internet could be surfed at high speeds from the privacy of one’s car interior. (Notes of the author, Brisbane, 2004) These wireless access points were then marked in chalk where possible, on sidewalks and walls, in a symbolic code indicating ‘open’ or ‘closed’ nodes for the use of other “war chalkers”. A hobo-like practice, whereby resource sharing (in this case bandwidth, not food) went on in a community, ‘war chalking’ celebrated cooperation in passing on vital information about free network access. Moreover, it is argued here, the widespread practice invigorated debates about the possibilities of free-wireless-for-all. Thus, wireless mobility has been conceived, from the outset as an incoming technology, as radically changing spatial relationships, first by altering relations of location, hence the experimentation and interest in locative media, and secondly, as a result of complex new functionalities attributed both to laptops---carryable computers and increasingly powerful machines---and mobile devices---cell phones, Personal Digital Assistants. (PDA), and other handheld devices.

Historical Context for the Thesis Argument

This research in this document spans an approximately six year period from 2004 – 2010 and it has been an effort all the while to comprehend the multifarious transition, across a spectrum of locations, which civilizations are making in becoming wireless transmitters and mobile users as a result. The work has taken place in urban contexts across several continents through periods of travel and dwelling. Numerous literatures have been utilized and case studies of mobile usage among women artists (Chapter 1) and in political activism (Chapter 6) have been created. In Chapter 3, a spatial analysis is given explanation in order to foreground discussion of ‘emerging socio-cultural and techno-corporeal effects of mobile interactive media’ (2006, 1), their networkability among various, specifically defined “mobile identities” and the permutations and parameters of mobile space as it is currently created as an urban form. A succinct ‘roadmap’ for the logic of the argument is also offered to assist readers in navigating the text and establishing an overview of the work. Summaries for each Chapter are given at the end of this Introduction.

Foremost in the thesis argument is an attempt to reconcile the increasingly universal use of urban wireless communications with local and culturally specific particularities of its use. The candidate’s observations and experience of incoming wireless, while living in Brisbane, Australia, traveling in Australia, and living in the Mission District, a lower-income, ethnically diverse neighborhood of San Francisco, CA in the United States is frequently referenced for this purpose. Likewise, travel-based observations are made and referred to and an urban history of public computing and networks is laid out with respect to the rich tradition of public media support in San Francisco. Clearly, with respect to overall federal responsibility for wireless infrastructure and implementation, Australian government policy differs significantly from the free market politics of California or the Unites States as a whole.

Comments on Australian and American Contributions to the Text

Conducted on the Internet and in cities across several continents, this research has primarily been developed between two economically and spatially distinguishable urban cultures, that of Brisbane, Queensland and that of San Francisco, California. Neither city is a global city. Brisbane’s online community began noticeably to flourish in the early 2000 through 2004, among younger urban artists working from home and with the installation of increasingly advanced computer labs in university and business settings. (Notes of the author) San Francisco, by comparison, is a highly technologically mediated city, both geographically and in terms of history. It is the central cultural hub of the West Coast north of the famed Silicon Valley. It is also a place where media is lived and breathed as an historical presence in the community, from Edward Muybridge’s first photographic experiments funded by Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University and railroad entrepreneur, to the early development of television some of which took place in the city (Baldwin, Spectres of the Spectrum, 2000), proximity to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, (NASA) and location adjacent to the telecommunications “boom towns” of the Peninsula and “the Valley.” Clearly Silicon Valley as it is nicknamed suggests the telecommunications industry and research center it has been, with deep ties too government research and the military. (Notes of the author). At the same time, San Francisco is notorious for unique, utopian experimentation in community-based media arts an outcropping of significant anti-war activism, as well as the counterculture (Summer of Love, The Whole Earth Catalog). It has a diverse range of highly visible alternative public culutres and ethnicities which have thrived through a history of tolerance for immigration as well as the reputation and power of California as a utopian state. Australian media culture, particularly the Fibreculture list-serve experience in which the author participated, and the culture of Brisbane, along with research culture at QUT, were especially important to the work. There was substantial critical learning from influences in Australian scholarship, art, and Australia’s cultural relationship as a media nation with the rest of the world.

English Language

Because the research has drawn heavily on both Australian and American contexts, some usages of language and syntax may diverge, when reading. For instance, the term ‘neighborhood’ is an American word for what is referred to in Australian English as a ‘suburb’. ‘Thus, the concept of ‘suburbia’ does not reflect Australian urbanism in the same way as it plays a critical role in American discourse. There is an Australian ‘suburbia’ but it does not reflect, necessarily, urban districts called ‘suburbs.’ Another difference is use of ‘council’ to discuss municipal government. This is an Australian usage, and is never found in American English, except with reference to small town councils, usually referred to as ‘boards.’ The author uses the term ‘council’ when referring to Australian cities and ‘municipal government’ to make appropriate generalizations about all municipalities. The equivalent term for ‘council’ in San Francisco would be Board of Supervisors.

Secondly, cell phone’ is a more common way to refer to the handheld telephone in America, while ‘mobile’ or ‘mobile phone’ is common in Australia. These two terms for the handheld telephone are used interchangeably throughout the text, largely because the author began studying mobile telephony and owned her first mobile phone before returning to the States to write. Additional terms are defined in the Glossary section at the end of the document and are assumed universal, though not necessarily universally deployed.


The research started at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in 2004. In 2005, the author was recipient of one of three Innovation Stipends from the then Creative Industries Research Applications Centre (CIRAC) at QUT. The thesis has since been the product of in person and 'distanced' supervision with Dr. Terry Flew, ARC Centre for Excellence in the Creative Industries and Innovation, QUT, and author of numerous books on the participatory media sphere in the global and new media context, and under joint guidance and support from the late, Stephen Wilson, PhD, Conceptual Information Art Department, San Francisco State University and author of Art+Science Now (2010), as well as five other books devoted to crossovers between art, science, and technology which date back to 1986.

Motivations in the Research

In terms of the author’s research questions, then, with respect to the study of wireless urban space, advances in portable culture and cities need be coupled and the research began to revolve around sophisticated directions of cultural analysis: gender, representation, history, and technology as urban interface; the techno-history of micro computing.

The developing technocultural “sphere” of marketplace advertising had been found to celebrate from early on, the user typically enabled with portability as a male business professional. “He” was the one who traveled. “He” was the one with access and an important job--both in the context of laptops and cell phones. This is documented and discussed elsewhere within the thesis text. Its dominance as an image of the user influenced the self conscious decision to balance out this privileging through the construction of a case study on portable tool use by professional women new media artists.

Efforts to round out further, the discussion of mobile “types” with alternate frames of reference for “use” was also a concern when looking at activism and mobile use.

With respect to the case study on women artists, however, there was considerably context to suggest that professional artistic careers had been transformed in the digital age and because of new media and portability. This lead to the inclusion, on the authors’ part, of an important mobile subjectthe international or transnational woman artist—dependent upon travel and portable communications for her career. Given the number of women artists involved in new media populating list-serves such as ‘faces’ (see Appendix) and the contemporary right of women to travel and enjoy mobility, the case study was prepared in in particular, to study the circumstances, choice making practices, and usage requirements of highly mobile, itinerant, professional women artists.

With respect to activism and mobile communications, the thesis marks a particular moment when the anti-globalization movement was breaking new ground and gained political recognition due to its use of the global Internet, the development of Indymedia, and the regular visibility of its protests. It was an obvious question to consider the use of portable technologies and mobile networks in this social movement, especially when certain continued efforts to thwart activity by police, through confiscation of tools, were routinely reported and increasingly violent. Reports of events , across a spectrum of protests from the Australian refugee crisis to the Republican National Convention in New York in 2006, in which portable communications were central to the independent media or media activism became relatively common and it was the perception of the author that much of this had gone under documented, theorized or discussed. Therefore these concerns helped to formulate a more apparent set of questions and to guide the production and direction of the thesis. They are outlined below.

Questions Guiding the Research

  1. How is gender represented in mobile marketplaces and where has it been written about and studied, specifically with respect to personal and mobile communications?

  2. How are mobile tools beneficial to activism and protest culture?

  3. Are mobile communications markets, including all forms of cellular and wireless devices, creating new kinds of mobile divides and if so, how do they manifest, on what grounds are they new, on what grounds are they some extension of other divides, and where do women fall in this area of research?

  4. How has been/is urban public space being conceived and differentiated within substantial published research and significant creative technology projects?

  5. Given that wireless cities are incoming as entire social projects, are there useful models, especially in architecture and network theory, for examining networked urban space and, if so, what are they and where are they to be found?

Synopsis of the Central Argument

Contemporary reasons to consider the particulars of wealthy Western nations with respect to wireless abound. The most powerful marketing mythologies, conceptions and images of wireless are exerted through advertising, global television, and print media emanating from wealthy, globalized western cultures and the World Wide Web. This expanding global marketplace influences populations in the internationalized spaces of transit throughout train and bus stations, airports, tourist industries and through the cacophony of advertising found in urban areas. The narratives of these powerful marketing mythologies tend to produce an observable hegemony of values—gender, race, class---cities themselves, however, possess vastly different media histories when it comes to the development of colloquial communications and the implementation of media culture into daily life. The city most observed in this thesis has been San Francisco, California, where new media and new technology culture is absorbed within the powerful context of Silicon Valley and is transformed by a highly politicized, diversified, and freewheeling set of urban publics into all manner of commercial and non commercial community-based networks and projects. Beyond those larger questions guiding the research have been efforts to engage with public computing histories in the Bay Area.

Death of War Chalking

Approximately ten years after the death of war chalking as a hacker pastime, wireless networks more often than not, are either cellular only, or they are Wi Fi belonging to specific municipal campaigns for the hospitals, public library and school systems. And this varies widely from place to place. London, England for example, is noticeably devoid of free Wi Fi in public space and global positioning with an iPhone is nearly impossible due to the clouds and fog. There is comparatively much more free wireless in the city of San Francisco and Google is now, as of 2011, slated to provide high-speed WiFi bandwidth across the city, however, currently, and within the last five years, most Wi Fi has been in the form of secured, privately paid for and password-protected home and business usage. There is no ‘city-wide’ Wi Fi, per se, except in the municipal networks of public library, schools, universities, and hospitals. Cafes, in the period from 2004 to c. 2008, became an urban network of free Wi Fi and simultaneously, customoers ceased to find pay-for terminals, or pay by the hour “card” systems for Wi Fi access, such was the presumed ubiquity of the laptop. Thus, access/usage plans, antennae, and modems for all types of non-wired networks, free or not free, and half a dozen commercial wireless carriers form the basis of an urban ‘wireless economy’ which while useful and widespread, is still not seamless. With so many new wireless multifunctional devices and Internet phones requiring WiFi for certain services, this position is bound to change and, arguably is being “pushed” in the Google free WiFi project for the city which has been going on for half a decade.

Wirelessness is thus defined as a state of being in the world and communicating wirelessly that utilizes a variety of possible networks from cellular to 3G to 4G to GPS, Wi-Fi, and broadband or versions of these. A multitude of new, secured networks and of networks of free Wi-Fi in designated areas of cities, attached to districts, or secured in small businesses and private homes now dominate the wireless spatial landscape, while fast, free wireless bandwidth remains relatively scarce, except through cafe circuits and municipal wireless projects as aforementioned. Transitions to wireless electronic futures, beyond war chalking, have become apparent in this brief ten year period from approximately 2000 to 2010. Faster speeds, higher resolution screens, applications for handheld devices, ‘cloud computing’ and memory have become important. Multifunctioning handheld devices are in as comparatively high demand today as all things “multimedia” were long ago. As Richardson observes about mobile phones, they are ‘part of a more general telematic trend towards wearable, handheld and pocket communications and entertainment media.’ (2006, 1) This trend is hand in hand, for instance, with the Google effort to carry a free WIFi project in the city, as mentioned above. The tools and the networks have a symbiotic relation.

Equity and Economics

A rudimentary analysis observes that those owning first generation 3G, and now 4G iPhones, Blackberries, iPads, or other similarly equipped devices, and devices equipped for Wi-Fi, or those with high-powered wireless laptops are prepared for mobile living and nearly unlimited access (as long as they can afford it) to the 'Wireless Anywhere'. Those without, however, or with simpler tools, have limited access to its benefits. At the same time they must co-exist in the prevailing communications economy. An AT&T data plan for the current iPhone, which allows unlimited wireless data and texting, including MMS, costs in the realm of $200.00 US per month and ‘considerably more in other parts of the world.’(Cox 2010) The rising current costs of these plans and tools, arguably, create mobile divides when high speed, personalized, sophisticated multi-channel multimedia is the growing content market and direct access to ‘rich’ information is desirable. As a result of fees, these devices are considerably less common than ordinary cell phones, creating an unequal condition of access and ownership from the start. However, in terms of the tool, this inequity may simply be as important as the difference between owning one kind of TV or another. What does it reflect critically about urban space and/or mobile divides? Can we make mobile tools, which operate across these boundaries and create greater equity for all? The Transborder Immigrant Tool Project from artivist/hacker Ricardo Dominguez, Brett Stallbaum and b.a.n.g lab has been extremely controversial in the United States because of the politics of the Mexican/US border around which its free software application and use of off-the-shelf phones, says ‘yes, we can’ make tools that profoundly alter the private commodity status of the cell phone and which put cell phones and customized software into the service of people quite inexpensively. (TBTools project, 2010) As Richardson writes of mobile interactive media, ‘handheld games and portable multimedia devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and should be examined both in terms of their potential merger with mobile phone functionality, and in their own right as nascent new media forms.’ (2006, 1) Mobile telephony and Wi-Fi provided communications and even access to the Internet among poorer populations and nations where landlines may never have been installed. (Castells et al, 2007,7 - 11) At the same time, accessing the Internet is one of the primary uses for mobile devices, as Sadie Plant has observed. (Plant 2001 in Richardson, 2006, 1) Multitudes of cellular networks and mobile phone “trees” are forming infrastructure which is shaping new urban landscapes suggest Kane and Miller in their study of Los Angeles. (Kane and Miller in Varnelis, 2007, 146-157) Handheld devices such as iPhones and iPads, represent the high end of the trend-setting portable machine and new “channels” for obtaining information via filter applications, make a phone call, text message, or which receive TV or video are beginning to permeate cities. Multiple competing futures to wireless communications are thus apparnet in the plethora of tools available today. The elegant Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, iPod for teens and adults and the numerous wireless games devices for children (DS, DSI, Playstation, Nintendo Gameboy) make visible a growing urban fabric of wireless users from all generations. (Richardson 2006, 1-3) These gadgets suggest what is sleek, mobile/portable, “social” (gaming) and at the same time, in some cases, are pocket-sized computers of great power (iPhone 4 has 14 gigs of Memory). A growing presence of wireless connectivity is also apparent and already variously designed touchable displays, suggest that “soft” manipulable interfaces are the future and that paper reading materials---books and newspapers –may soon be a thing of the past replace by online media as well as electronic reading surfaces. Disposable computers, such as those that fold like paper and use e-ink, follow the innovative, sustainable design mentality of designers such as Karim Rashid. (Hustwit 2009) In these ‘green’ times, wireless gadgets are a tremendous bolster to cultural trends of ‘going paperless', while the environmental cost of creating millions of handheld gadgets and/or running them, has yet to be coherently calculated. Solar battery chargers are but one crosscurrent in this scenario, suggesting user-controlled, environmentally perceptive methods for powering one's tools. iPad instruments are lightweight and un-machine-like, intersecting with the culturally loaded new economy of everything clean and 'green' and “future”. Mark Weiser’s vision of ubiquitous computing and the ‘disappearing machine’ becomes observable in this context though perhaps, not quite, as he would have intended. (Weiser 1991; in Galloway 2004, 386) At the heart of his invention of ‘ubicomp’ was a notion that humans would not only have computing, but would “dwell” with computers in the future. He wrote: ‘the imbedded computers of 2005 will bring other worlds to us in new ways-- sometimes in ways so unobtrusive we will not even notice our increased ability for informed action.’ (Weiser 1996a, 5) His theory embraced the concept of ‘calm’ technology. Ubicomp was first tested on “tabs, pads and boards’” built at Xerox Parc between 1988 and 1994.’(Weiser 1996b)

Municipal Developments

City governments are deploying municipal wireless infrastructure at a very slow pace. Free Wi-Fi, as a municipal area-wide idea is found in the States only in smaller cities or towns, or in extremely uncommon projects such as Philadelphia’s city wide access program discussed in Chapter 3. There are at least two possible reasons for this. Wireless is new, therefore, unfamiliar and, until recently somewhat untested (wireless standards of 801.11a band 801.11b, etc, have been debated). Secondly, obstacles exist at the level of city government bureaucracy; financial, political and social arenas. In San Francisco, complex contract negotiations and deciding on a carrier tied up negotiations. (For some time Google and Earthlink debated sharing the contract). Choosing a carrier was also a concern for Brisbane City Council IT in 2004 which had installed a temporary wireless project on Queen Street mall to target ‘laptop users.’ They had plans of similar test installations for Fortitude Valley and Brunswick Street, and a broader agenda of the wireless ‘smart’ city of Brisbane. (Brisbane City Council interview 2004) As of early 2009, municipal wireless projects and projects in individual businesses were visibly being utilized in Brisbane’s West End and at Queensland State Library. (Notes of the author)

Unequal bandwidth distribution, educational splits, and varying attitudes towards the perceived need for technological and media ownership, both generational and income-oriented impose divides which impede public access. These divides tend to reproduce the social logic of class systems, race and gender-based inequalities, much as Steve Mann, a contemporary of Weiser’s, predicted ‘smart space’ would. (Mann 1996) Mobile and digital divides undermine rights to public information, freedom of opportunity in employment, and knowledge that now comprise interaction with contemporary urban life on some level. Lower-income neighborhoods show significantly disempowered education, ownership, and user patterns, where technology is concerned. This is largely generational and income based, with older people having considerably less understanding and ownership than younger. (Berman 2007) Aging populations tend to fall out of the loop altogether, especially where literacy and new skills are concerned. (Berman 2007) Other reports indicate that older people, particularly those with glaucoma, are a hot market for the iPad because they can read by the bright screen. (Kim, 2010)

Twenty-first Century Cities

As the 21st century gains in network-dependency and networks become more ubiquitous, equity in communications literacy and ownership is critical to the basic planning of cities and the retooling of existing systems. Movements to control the airwaves through community-based Local Area Networks (Bay Area Wireless Research Network, SFLocal Area Network, BrisMesh—see Appendices for further description) involve sharing and cooperation (Rheingold) through deployment of free wireless outside official networks. These community-based LANS form the basis of mobilization to share resources, avoid surveillance, and cut cost, much as early video collectives (Bay Area Video Coalition), experimental television networks (Paper Tiger TV, Deep Dish TV, Community Access Technology-Sydney) or autonomous servers (xs4ll, Octopod, did for video and the emerging Internet.

Wireless State of Mind

Being wireless, is thus, arguably, encouraged through advertising, blockbuster films, pervasive ownership, the marketing of wireless children’s' toys and chip-enabled household gadgets. Wireless behaviors and the imagination of wireless culture exists outside of the representative technology, however. Android, iPhones, smart phones, iPads, DS, Playstations and an array of wireless notebooks populate consciousness, while the wireless laptop is quickly becoming an international telephone through Skype calling, whether one carries it or leaves it at home, and mobile phones carry the Skype application, cutting international call cost by half.

While cellular networks have long been more affordable than traditional landlines, they are not less expensive than installing Wi-Fi, which may inevitably overtake cellular as the dominant wireless technology. Mobile communications, with its emphasis upon voice and simple texts, has gained social acceptance, rapid deployment, and broad implementation in all its forms. It is not only a widely accepted set of social practices (Plant 2000) all increasingly commonplace, but is also culturally diversified, engaging many kinds of users and affecting greater numbers of people and populations than older forms of “new” technologies. Most importantly, perhaps, to this analysis, is that generations of young people born into the mobile, wireless age know nothing but this mobile techno-social reality.

The state of being wireless and being mobile thus shapes urban space through its objects, its networks and its reiterative, recursive dialogues within networks. New spatiotemporal relations of location, users, and infrastructure make communications possible where previously impossible. This fact leads to new interpretations and uses for cities themselves. The new online resource, under the rubric ‘Liberating city data’,, allows anyone to search data about the city, obtain maps and data visualizations. Obvious examples of urban or “other” use would be mobile, usually Wi-Fi, networks engaged for disaster relief, where landlines and wired Internet fail to work, or in mobile art, where new communications spaces for urban publics show much promise. (Build Your Own World, 2010) Moreover, the recently popularized mobile phone data tool,, and similar mobile data application (the iPhone has dozens of downloadable social media applications) portends hand held communication to be the new mediator of community information. Development of the 'mobile anywhere' will thus possess a multitude of social and cultural “mediums” for shaping its future use and cities, where much of the class stratification associated with technology is visibly expressed, are thus relived [and reinscribed] against the unequal vicissitudes of neo-liberal economic power (Iles and Slater, 2009). As we participate in the ‘flexible utopia’ (Gregg, 2008), on what grounds is this ‘mobile anywhere’ truly flexible, and for whom? We see the future of “now” illustrated through the attractiveness, fashion, wellness, and apparent income levels of a hegemony of mobile “types”. However, space, place and location are only spuriously and superficially recombined in this context. There are complex sets of cultural differences tied to real material and immaterial, co-present spatialities found in cities.

Overview of the Research: Chapter Content

The document consists of a Keywords, Abstract, Table of Contents, brief Introduction, seven interrelated Chapters, Conclusions, an Appendix: Glossary of Terms, Filmography and Bibliography. The flow and ordering of the Chapters was determined by the logic from which the thesis emerged and the Questions Guiding the Research.

Chapter 1 - Co-present Social Differentiations in Wireless Communications This Chapter looks closely at proxemics, co present analysis of mobile telephony, and gendered use starting with of Hall’s analysis of personal space, then issues of personal enclosure in Plant and Mitchell. New spatial and social intensities are drawn out of the literature to study engage with changing relationships of public and private, and the intensification of work, family, romance and friendship in mobile culture. Personal architecture of boundary and choice making and the body in the city are examined first. Small-scale tools and personal space are studied in terms of decoration, symbolism, exteriorization, and interconnectedness. These subjectivities illustrated by Plant, Mitchell, Townsend and others, are addressed as part of social differentiations. Intimacy in Hjorth, Milne and others is examined alongside proximity, interpersonalization, audio and visual disruption of social space; behavior, dependency, and the construction of personal identity. These properties are set into contexts of mobile use and gender utilizing Hjorth’s studies among others. Finally, mobile imaginaries, navigation, location-based media, and specific public projects which utilize text and navigation are offered in a detailed examination of mobile communications as it augments urban processes and engages public authoring and participation.

Chapter 2- Gendered Use, Mobile Women, and Wireless Media This Chapter examines ‘gendered use’ and contrasting approaches to the topic in the available literature. Castells et als global gender studies, Hjorth’s studies, and those of other researchers are utilized. Observations on changing perceptions of the tool, drawing from Plant, Lemish and Cohen, and early studies by Rackow and Navarro, among others are made. The Chapter also situates my original research on women new media artists within contexts of gender and mobility, making the argument that user-based research is ethnographically superior to abstract statistical analysis of womens’ mobile lives, despite the worth of the latter literature. Practices of customization, the object as “Other”, decorating and naming are also addressed. The Chapter also looks at liberation myths and fantasies of distance and longing, drawing off travel discourse in recent scholarship and the history of women’s personal mobility. Portions of Dr. Melissa Gregg’s critique of flexibility, labor, and female identity in ads is explored, including deeper discussion of female types, career women and motherhood in relation to technology. The Chapter finishes with my own study of women new media artists and an analysis of the findings. Participants in this research included professional artists from New Zealand, Australia, Europe and North America.

Chapter 3Wireless cities and Pervasive Networks This Chapter examines debates arising because of pervasive computing and its impact on urban space including universal access, digital inclusion, and social movements towards city-wide Wi-Fi. Chapter 3 discusses wirelessness as an idea citing specific “trial” projects and offering examples of localized Wi-Fi projects, while discussing the benefits of ‘wireless’ over ‘wired’ for the consumer. It then looks at pervasive computer networks in terms of automation and surveillance before offering a 3-part analysis of global/local based upon borders: international, urban planning, architectural (buildings), and personal boundaries, changing urban surfaces: security/privacy, public/private space, and the panopticon/Orwells’ Big Brother, recombinant theory (Graham 2003,113), media architecture, pervasive electronic messaging, elements of dis-enclosure, mobile subjectivities in ‘co-presence’ (Hjorth 2005) and extension as vector and self. The Chapter concludes with a brief assessment of the changing public commons.

Chapter 4Mobilizing Urban Space This Chapter introduces theoretical positions on the networked city, beginning with Foucault’s critical revision of the disciplinary society contrasted with Deleuze’s perceptions of the society of control, then moves through various complete depictions of the networked city (Mitchell 2003), including architectural theory, digital architecture and ‘animate form’(Lynn 1999), experimental architecture,(Cook et al, 1972) and nomadic space (Headmap 2001), with some discussion of ‘flexible utopia’ (Gregg 2007) and ‘post-urbanism’ of Sumrell and Varnelis. (2007) It is a foray into mobile communication and computer networks from corporate industrial film, architectural history and the history of art. It grounds the thesis within an understanding of concepts of the ‘wireless city’ which emerge today as complete ‘entities’ and offers contrasting philosophies for mobile communications in the context of the city. Chapter 4 contains an 8-part analysis of the networked structure of architecture and urban space. Finally. it looks briefly at critical positions on mobile identity and surveillance in the pioneering inventions of Dr. Steve Mann.

Chapter 5Technological Diffusion as Urban History This Chapter discusses the current state of pervasive computing and mobile communications; decentralization as a result of the personal computer. The Chapter looks at early conceptions of the value of the personal computer versus the sometimes visionary designs of groups such as Archigram, the Situationists, or designers such as Francois Dallegret exploring mobile architecture and nomadism. The Chapter explores the revamping of personal mobility through raised cities, elimination of street traffic and computing. The transformation of work relations, mobility of data, advantages and disadvantages of new workspaces, and the growing role of ‘personalization’ in terms of work and place-making is also discussed. Finally, decentralization is viewed in the context of Barry Wellman’s sociology and the Netville study (2003) and his discourse on residential computing and personal networking. The Chapter annotates Wellman’s observations on relevance of the household unit and Wellman’s early views on mobile telephony as part of the complex computing/communicating household. The Chapter concludes with user-friendliness, place-making with personal devices, affordability, and benefits to artistic practice, arguing that the personal computer revolutionized daily life and as part of private studios and habitats to set the stage for uptake of mobile communications as a future, increased miniaturization and mobilization of data.

Chapter 6Mobile Media in Recent Activism Chapter 6 shifts the thesis from the city as a planned or envisioned whole, to its particular as a place in which urban cultures protest to human events. Chapter 6 is a foray into the culture of protest as public demonstration and street protest. The Chapter includes numerous examples of mobile media in this service, from various countries where I participated in demonstrations, and or worked with activists during the period from 1998-approximately 2004. Its content responds the successful deployment of alternative media, particularly the global Internet in the anti-globalization movement, thus to the successful use of mobile media in activism. The Chapter also offers detailed examination of ‘rituals of protest’ (Lovink in Miekle, 2002) covering mobile tactical practice and detailed examples of wireless media used in protests. Four mini-case studies support the argument that activism is enabled by mobile tools and that quantifiable progress in street activism has been made as a result of improved communications through mobile tools.

Chapter 7Personal, Social, and Transnational Urban Identity Chapter 7 undertakes the articulation of wirelessness imagination as a contemporary state of self hood and personal identity with respect to the real phenomenon of mobile media tools and networks, result of marketing campaigns, trends, literature and its pervasive use. It looks at ideological modalities in mobile use; its real politik, and attempts frameworks for mobile culture with respect to ethnography and experience. Two perspectives in particular, personal and individual use versus the ‘space of flows’ (Castells) are contrasted in an effort to position the self/body. Chapter 7 thus investigates wireless identity, pinpointing ‘realities’ for identity as found in the literature, while contesting these identities and asserting technological imagination, freedom from technology and the dead end of practicality when it comes to creativity and identity. Techno art projects are cited utilizing wireless technology while positing positions on the body and cyborgs. Finally, the realm of urban community, particularly immigrant community, and the formation of identity-making practices with respect to proliferating trans nationalism is presented.