Most of us can picture what a person using an iPhone looks like: neck bent, head down, thumbs racing. He’s probably texting, surfing, changing his Facebook status, possibly even placing a call. PDAs (personal digital assistants) and smartphones perform a number of useful and entertaining functions, but what if instead of drawing you in, your phone could take you out—help you to stretch your legs and see your world?
A new exhibit in Brooklyn shows how a community can utilize this technology to do just that.
Sabine Gruffat and Bill Brown are the creators of Bike Box, a “participatory locative media project and database” now showing at the Devotion Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The bicycles, available for public use, have been “outfitted with iPhones and speakers” and are equipped with an application Sabine and Bill developed which “allows users to record and geotag audio as well as play back geolocated audio.” For those new to the term, geotagging uses the Global Positioning System (GPS) to link content to specific locations based on the device. In this case, participants are able to listen to site-specific audio recorded by others as well as add their own contribution where available spaces exist. The audio content ranges from hearing the sounds of Beijing streets similar in character to the street the bicyclist is traveling, to a detailed recorded history of the waterways around Red Hook. It is a compilation of sounds and stories from artists, historians, scientists, neighbors.
“We were thinking of the bicycles as mobile recording and playback machines,” Sabine Gruffat explains, “creating a space for participation and discovery.” Part of the way this discovery takes place is by taking the focus off of the iPhone. As Bill Brown states, “There is very little to interact with onscreen…we want people looking at the world, not the screen.”
Surely the act of cycling while connecting with the way others see the same path you’re on is bigger than the box it comes in. Nevertheless, I sought out this particular experience because it speaks to a specific fear I and many others have about connective technology: that it can leave us feeling ultimately disconnected.
Bike Box is good example of a different posture we might assume with our PDAs and smartphones. Or, as Bill Brown says, “Bike Box hopes to model a relationship to technology that is interactive, investigatory, and productive. We hope it will also encourage an engaged relationship to space, and an interest in the geographical extension of our lives, our histories, and our memories. Given the current tendency toward virtualized human contact, we hope Bike Box will bring bodies into the street, that shared space of community and collision.”
Information about participating from the Bike Box site:
BIKE BOX will be at Devotion Gallery from July 16th- 25th, 2010. During that time, everyone is welcome to come by and participate in the project. There will be 3 technology-enhanced bicycles at the gallery that can be checked out. These bikes will allow cyclists both to listen to pre-existing audio as they ride around Brooklyn, as well as to add their own site-specific audio to the BIKE BOX database. If you already have an iPhone, you’re also welcome to come by the gallery and download the free, open source BIKE BOX application and enjoy the audio on your own.