Breaking the Frequencies
The Internet, the city, and recently augmented space are flooded with disinformation, meaningless images, contrasting interpretations, unreliable sources and corporate spam. Public space is filled with images that consequently construct, direct and control our reality. Attempts to countervail, reform and improve should start at roots of our society; our children. Knowing how to acquire the appropriate information lays at the basis of survival. Society has changed in fundamental ways, the world’s wealth has been drastically redistributed, and individuality and locality are drowning in a pool of homogeneity. Finding your way around is essential; knowing how the key.
In 2005 the Locative Media department of Waag Society developed a mobile learning game, in which “students are transported to the medieval Amsterdam of 1550 via a medium that’s familiar to this age group: the mobile phone”. Frequency 1550 took place again in June 2007. The game uses 3G cell phones and network to allow students to compete in finding answers to questions about the old city of Amsterdam, for history class excursion and assignment. Frequency 1550 explores the social potential of location-aware devices, inspired by the use of tracking technology and wireless media, human relationships, movement and identity; the project seeks to extend and re-appropriate the functions of locative technologies by exploring ways in which they can be socially constructive and facilitate new dynamics to occur within everyday school life. Children are taught to look beyond city facades, interact socially and technically, and move through the city in new ways.
Frequency 1550 is an annotation of the current transition of social and traveling space, moreover, it is concerned with the medium and plays with its possibilities, ultimately shaping and advancing it. Frequency 1550 is, like Internet art, formed by commercial interests. Corporate minded sponsors, such as phone providers and cell phone producers, are constantly seeking how to control the market. Projects such Frequency 1550 are an ideal way of testing commercial applications and practices. Furthermore, introducing cell phones in the domain of education, as Frequency 1550 intends, offers a new market, one which is able to acquire governmental sponsoring as well as annex potential customers at an early age. Likewise, the city is used as testing ground for creative, commercial and governmental institutions to assess flaws and threats.
However, there are many problems regarding usability, expense, network stability and game design. Frequency 1550 is most certainly not the first Locative Media project that is constrained by the limitations of the available technology. Central in the game play is the challenge of roaming the environment while deciphering the presented information on a miniature screen and interacting with the device through a bad designed cell phone keyboard (in ten years it probably will be considered ridiculous to use your thumb to text messages on a 10 button keyboard). Furthermore, at this commencing stage the mobile network, the Bluetooth and GPS connection, and communication to a central server are simply not advanced enough to separate the world and the presented scenario. These barriers make it almost impossible to engage with the plot and temporarily escape from reality. Frequency 1550 does not go beyond positioning; engagement is limited to location, not its context. Of course the project is not only about concentrating context in a coordinate point, nor is the project merely about gaining greater understanding of place through the cell phone screen. Frequency 1550 is not a museum or digital touring guide; the focus is on opening up spaces of play through in which context may be discovered.
Frequency 1550 is protocological in many ways; besides the technical protocols enabling communication and information visualization, the users are presented a scenario that directs and narrates the city. The project differs from an ordinary excursion or contemporary artistic practices because the users are voluntarily engaged in the situation whilst following a set of rules. These rules instruct historical facts, social interaction, coordination and navigation. The children are stimulated to actively participate in the ‘lesson’ – and this is generally different in a disciplinary form of education. Currently the University of Utrecht and the University of Amsterdam are collaborating with Waag Society to research the learning effects of learning games. Furthermore Frequency 1550 aptly demonstrates the dominant presence of the control society. Disciplinary institutions, such as schools, are crumbling down and turned over to a more pervasive form of training that uses both the privacy intrusive technology and also the corporate means.