Bodies, space, devices and culture

I’m currently writing a chapter for my book on popular culture about bodies and interfaces. As part of my research I returned to William J Mitchell’s Me++. I was surprised how fresh it still feels. It was originally published in 2003 and it picks up on the cyborg metaphor that was popular in the 1990s and attempts to situate it within the networked city. The vision it creates is of bodies that are open to the information flows of the city. The tension he describes is between boundaries and networks, these complete as bodies are implicated by flows of information. The use of a science fiction imagination to drive the text has meant that the content has not dated too much, although some of the imagined futures look a bit strange some 10 years later. But the central argument still feels pertinent, particularly as mobile devices have become even more powerful and ubiquitous over recent years. Plus the book is really vibrant and readable, situated as it is between design, fiction and social science.

When I was searching around I found this interview with William Mitchell. It was conducted around the time of the publication of Me++ . It’s a real shame that some of the issues raised by Mitchell have been pushed to the back burner in more recent work. The big advantage of Me++ is that the body is central to the analysis of the intersection of space and culture. As Mitchell puts when asked about Me++ inthe above interview:

It is about the combination of wireless technology, miniaturisa- tion and mobility, these three things coming together. The mobile phone is an extremely good example of this, because the telephone used to be part of the architecture, it was attached to the wall, and a telephone call was place-to-place, you knew probably where the phone was going to ring, but you did not know who was going to answer it.

Now it is completely the opposite. Now the telephone is part of your body, it is in your clothing, it is in your pocket, and tele- phone calls are person-to-person, you know who is going to answer, but you do not know where they are. So it is the exact reversal of the situation. Everybody knows now, particularly here where everybody has a mobile phone, that this changes the social use of the communications technology in some very, very fundamental ways.

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