Stronger Loving World

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Saturday, July 03, 2004


I was talking to someone at an NYC Wireless meeting last week about the phenomenon of warchalking and why it never caught on. It just seemed to me that it was exactly the type of thing that would catch on in New York. Rogue wireless users mark up sidewalks with chalk in attempt to mark the spaces where wireless nodes are available, "free" or not. It's quick, easy, and helpful. It's a public community service that takes very little effort and requires small acts of vandalism. What could be more fun? It took off in Europe a few years ago and to my knowledge is still popular in London. From what I'm told there was a surge of enthusiasm here in New York in 2002 that eventually died out. The reason I was given was that the symbol, two concave arcs facing one another, was too obscure and people would have difficulty decyphering it. In other words, there's nothing about the immediate presence of the 'logo' that refers to anything universal; one must be inducted into a specific social code in order to understand what it means. So in an international situation, it could conceivably cause conflicts. It is a loose and innocuous symbol, yes, but I don't see how someone who owns a laptop and uses it for wireless access is not already be aware of certain social codes.

NYC Wireless is working on a 'universal' logo, using the commonly used international symbols. (Stupid stick figures are universally recognized symbols.) Like heiroglyphs, or pictograms, universal symbols use a language that is seemingly direct referent to the outside world. I really worry about universal symbols though--they are so goddamn thin. Are they universal symbols for the generic, two dimensional map of the major protrusions on the human body, or universal symbols for gastric bypass surgery? The intent is to put up the new symbols as signs around the city, to "close the loop, and allow wireless users to thank their providers." I really much prefer warchalking, probably because it resembles graffiti and would make the streets of new york cryptic, coded, weird and esoteric, like the writing on the floors in Labyrinth. Ok, and instead of wireless access all of the chalk symbols lead directly to David Bowie, dressed in a cape with electrifying mulleted hair and sparkling make up. And he gives you a GMail account. I like graffiti art because its intent is to be overblown and obvious; all its faces and bodies are bulbous and exagerrated and every word swaggers and radiates. But publically used, temporary graffiti brings a kind of childlike nuance back to street writing. For those of us interested in the city as a text, the ability of citizens to co-author said text is much more warm, reassuring, and fucking playful than adjusting to octagonal lines that are government mandated and tell you when to start and stop.

Ben Serebim made an argument for free wireless access in public parks that I thought was really funny; his rationale was that parks are already spending thousands of dollars a year to upkeep water fountains and provide free water, when the fountains are rusty and break constantly and "nobody likes them anyway". The parks should instead take out all of their water fountains and use it to provide free wireless access for all park-goers. "That's better than water. Who wants water?!" I like the idea of looking at information as a basic human need that should be provided alongside shelter and nourishment. And really, who needs water?