Wirelessness: Radical Empiricism in Network Cultures

Adrian Mackenzie
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    How has wirelessness--being connected to objects and infrastructures without knowing exactly how or where-- become a key form of contemporary experience? Stretching across routers, smart phones, netbooks, cities, towers, Guangzhou workshops, service agreements, toys, and states, wireless technologies have brought with them sensations of change, proximity, movement, and divergence. In Wirelessness, Adrian Mackenzie draws on philosophical techniques from a century ago to make sense of this most contemporary postnetwork condition. The radical empiricism associated with the pragmatist philosopher William James, Mackenzie argues, offers fresh ways for matching the disordered flow of wireless networks, meshes, patches, and connections with felt sensations. For Mackenzie, entanglements with things, gadgets, infrastructures, and services--tendencies, fleeting nuances, and peripheral shades of often barely registered feeling that cannot be easily codified, symbolized, or quantified--mark the experience of wirelessness, and this links directly to James's expanded conception of experience. "Wirelessness" designates a tendency to make network connections in different times and places using these devices and services. Equally, it embodies a sensibility attuned to the proliferation of devices and services that carry information through radio signals. Above all, it means heightened awareness of ongoing change and movement associated with networks, infrastructures, location, and information.The experience of wirelessness spans several strands of media-technological change, and Mackenzie moves from wireless cities through signals, devices, networks, maps, and products, to the global belief in the expansion of wireless worlds.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28959-7
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    Between 1999 and 2009, a “turbid” or disordered sensation of change was felt as wireless connections expanded and eroded the edges of the Internet and mobile telecommunications. Wireless connections in the making were unraveling networks as the dominant fabric of contemporary media. A vertiginous, chaotic movement zigzagged across devices (routers, smartphones, wireless memory cards, netbooks, wireless radios, logistics tags, etc.), cities, diagrams, people, databases, logos, standards, wars, crimes, towers, Pacific Islands, Guangzhou workshops, service agreements, toys, states, bicycles, “exotic places” such as Timbuktu, theme parks and chip foundries. This book is a set of experiments in connecting movement of wireless...

  5. 2 Substitutions: Directions and Termini in Wireless Cities
    (pp. 31-58)

    Cities such as London, Montreal, Mumbai, San Francisco, Sydney, and Taipei offer a crucial set of leads in thinking about contemporary wireless experience in terms of transitions, arrivals, and terminations. Intimately coupled to the architectures, temporalities, tempo, embodiments and socialities of cities, wireless networks bring changes associated with neoliberal, mobile, global, network capitalism as well as a sense of potentials and tendencies irreducible to it. Wirelessness might be well be conceived as the “sorts of path” that appears when transitions and arrivals happen more often. In the name of connecting to the Internet anywhere and anytime, cities have been rapidly...

  6. 3 Wireless Chips: Digital Signal Processing as Conjunctive Envelope
    (pp. 59-86)

    At the end of 2007, one billion IEEE 802.11 or Wi-Fi® chipsets were in the world. One billion such chipsets will be producedeach yearby 2012, according to market researchers (ABIResearch 2007). Most of these will not go into computers. Two-thirds will find their way into electronic devices, especially consumer electronics and telephones, and many will percolate into wireless network infrastructures in cities, in industrial and institutional facilities, and in environmental sensor networks. Recent market projections envisage a trillion wireless devices in use by 2015. This is called “teraplay” (Gabriel 2009). In terms of sheer scale of communication networks,...

  7. 4 Devices and Their Boundaries: Inventing Wireless as ʺVast Spaceʺ
    (pp. 87-116)

    For most people, wirelessness means devices—mobile phones, routers, game consoles, media players made by companies such as Apple, D-Link, Motorola, Belkin, Samsung, Netgear, Linksys, or Dell. However, abstract processes—an enveloping conjunction of relations coalescing around problems of spacing, departure, arrival, proximity and being-with others—attach to all contemporary wireless devices. Wireless devices, enmeshed in the psycho-infrastructural economy of network media, undergo constant transitions, processes of modification, and experimentation. Wirelessness agitates, frustrates, and bores, as well as satisfies, excities, and gratifies. These feelings often surface around devices. While changeability is not unique to wirelessness (since it can just as...

  8. 5 Acting Wirelessly: From Antenna to Node Database
    (pp. 117-144)

    Consume, a Wi-Fi project active in East London during 2002–2004 and still visible on the Web, sought to add “whereabouts” to the act of connecting to the Internet. Consume’s equipment at that time included a wireless access point transmitting from a larger antenna on the roof of the former Greenwich Town Hall, a website representing the current state of wireless connections in a geographic area centered on London (Consume 2003), and a series of public events and exhibition booths based around setting up wireless equipment. The project attracted substantial media attention during 2002–2005. Its motto was an injunction...

  9. 6 Sorting Inner and Outer: Wirelessness as Product, Wirelessness as Affectional
    (pp. 145-170)

    The conjunctive relations processing in wirelessness includes the enveloping patterns of signal processing in wireless chips, the tendencies to vary and proliferate devices in reordering spaces, and the attempts to act wirelessly by collecting connections together in node databases and extending connections through antenna and other modifications. At the same time, from the centers of envelopment of signal processing to the public node databases, wirelessness is heavily saturated with economic and market processes. There is no part of wirelessness disconnected from markets, market research, marketing, advertising, buying, and selling, or not charged by an affective yet banal buzz sourced in...

  10. 7 Overconnected Worlds: Development Projects as Verification for the Future
    (pp. 171-196)

    Intel, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, Huawei, and many large IT corporations invest in projects in Africa, South America, and Asia. Increasingly, these immensely wealthy enterprises make and market wireless equipment, products, and services in affluent Europe and North America based on images of what they do in less affluent parts of Africa or Asia. When Google announces its commitment to wireless networks in San Francisco (Mills 2005)andAbuja, Nigeria, as well as six other African cities (Paul 2006), or invests in a system of low earth orbit satellites over Africa “connecting the other 3 billion” (O3B Networks 2008)as well...

  11. 8 Live, Forced, Momentous Options and Belief in Wirelessness
    (pp. 197-214)

    As James was writing, a large-scale wireless world was gelling in a shape initially staked out around massive electromechanical radio stations drawing hundreds of kilowatts owned by the nation-states or a few corporations in North America and Europe (Marconi, Bell, Siemens, etc.) (Aitken 1985). These stations served to reinforce and project naval and mercantile power across seas. The monumental radio towers of the early twentieth century radiated signals in a world economy centered on London and New York. They competed commercially in an economy already connected by a global network of underwater cables (Mattelart 1996, 2000). In the early twentieth...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 215-228)
  13. References
    (pp. 229-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-256)