Junghua Liu on Thu, 9 Jul 2009 18:29:00 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime-ann> Wi-Fi Colour in Real World and Cyberspace: Cyborg Identity study

My name is Jung-Hua Liu, I am a fine art PhD student in University of
Leeds in UK. I have a project "Wi-Fi Colour in Real World and
Cyberspace: Cyborg Identity study"

I have had my fieldwork in London, Chicago, New York, Hong Kong and
Taipei. This article focuses on two southeastern Asian cities: Taipei
and Hong Kong, and discuss the cyborg identity in Wi-Fi Networks.

This project is a fine art project which aims to integrate
anthropology's house studies of anthropology as explaining theory,
linguistics's conceptual metaphor of linguistics as  as analysis,
colour chart artworks as the representations to study the Wi-Fi users'
identities . Because Wi-Fi users need to be equipped with Wi-Fi
devices in a Wi-Fi network to go online, this project takes the
machine equipments into consideration to study users' behaviour. Wi-Fi
users seem to have their mediated life with Wi-Fi devices and
networks, so this project looks Wi-Fi users as cyborg (cybernetic
organism) which is both human beings and machine. This project aims to
present how house studies help us to understand the complicated and
mixed condition of human beings in contemporary societies where
technology affects our life significantly. The artworks create a
mediated appearance of urban life and this can expand anthropologists'
view on the urban culture from the real world to cyberspace.

Wi-Fi is a technology which builds network connection via wireless
signals. For example, you can go online in Taipei or in the Hong Kong
airport via free Wi-Fi connection without plugging into a network
socket. Besides the different connection method, most Wi-Fi networks
have names for the users to recognize Wi-Fi hotspots and for the
providers to announceing their ownership, . Their names look like such
as "AT&T" in USA, and "Wifly" in Taipei. In contrast to Wi-Fi,
traditional network cable can only provide one user to access internet
per line, but Wi-Fi signals can cover more than one user's connection.
Recently more and more users go online by mobile phone's 3Gg, GPRS or
similar data transferring technology. Unlike Wi-Fi, mobile phone users
do not need to gather in particular location to obtain the connection
ability. From the difference, Wi-Fi network is similar with a house
which contains the members in one place, so I we regard look Wi-Fi
network as a house metaphor in this study.

To proceed my project, I have to go to different cities to collect
data. This project does not try to record all Wi-Fi AP data in cities
but focuses on how Wi-Fi networks are shaped in different cities.
Although there are some organizations providing Wi-Fi distribution
maps, pure Wi-Fi machine data can't give us the culture, society,
economy and environment information in the cities. Besides, commercial
companies are collecting Wi-Fi position by their stuff and only allow
limited license to query the data from their user interface which
can't provide full access to their databases. Open/Free map group is
collecting data by the participants and the group owner rejects the
request which they think the use(r) may not related to open/free map
project. From the restricted distribution of Wi-Fi position
information, we can see that Wi-Fi does not only relates to
technology, but also to the concepts of possession, knowledge,
resource and power as is like other materially/immaterially valuable
objects in anthropology.

To collect the Wi-Fi hardware information, I wrote a Windows batch
file runs in my laptop and used iPod Touch commercial software to
record Wi-Fi information automatically while I walked around the
cities. Besides automatic collection of laptop in the different areas
of the cities, the related culture and environment are also observed
and recorded.

Taipei's main service provider ius Q-Ware's Wifly and it is they
installed in nearly 5000 hotspots. This service was originated from
Taipei City Government' s network policy since 2004 and Q-Ware is
commissioned to build Taipei wireless network. This policy aims to
make produce a new network Taipei as a new network city to connect
everyone wirelessly. This service is sponsored by Government so
Q-Ware's Wifly hotspots spread in the city widely, including main
roads, metro stations, Starbucks coffee shops, fast food restaurants,
and 7-11 convenience stores. Although it is a government policy but
Wifly is a commercial Wi-Fi service, not a free civic service.

Besides commercial hotspots, private Wi-Fi APs (access points) appear
everywhere in Taipei, including companies, elementary schools, high
schools, universities and residential areas. There are two special
Wi-Fi services in Taipei, FON community and global Boingo. FON was
originated from Spain but it does not provide Wi-Fi connection
directly by themselves. Instead, it provides low price Wi-Fi access
point with special functions to help people share the connection with
others freely or with the charge of a asking the fee. If you are a FON
Wi-Fi AP owner, you can access other's FON AP freely. Otherwise, you
may pay the FON AP owner to get the connection. In contrast to FON
focusing on the end users, Boingo corporates with different the Wi-Fi
service providers around the world to offer one account to access
global partner's hotspots. In Taipei city, there are 428 Boingo
hotspots but the Wi-Fi APs still are named after their service
provider, such as "hinet". It is hard to distinguish what Wi-Fi AP
belonged to Boingo. If we ignore the differences of Wi-Fi APs owners,
the highest record of Wi-Fi APs is 72 in a single location at the same

In Hong Kong, the main service providers are PCCW and Hong Kong
government. Nearly 6000 commercial PCCW's Hotspots and 350 free HK
government hotspots.
PCCW Wi-Fi hotspots locate in main MTR stations, convenience stores,
and shopping malls.

Hong Kong Government runs free Wi-Fi service in public libraries,
parks, government buildings. Particular buses provide free Wi-Fi
services. Like Taipei, private Wi-Fi APs (access points) appear
everywhere in HK, including companies, universities and residential
Community Wi-Fi APs, such as FON, also exist.

Wi-Fi networks covers the whole cities, most houses have their AP.
The citizens are living in a both physical space and
intangible/invisible Wi-Fi networks. The popular Wi-Fi hotspots
transform human beings to cyborgs which are the mixture of human and

Wi-Fi Network includes tangible AP and Network Card, and intangible
Wi-Fi signal coverage. The users share internet connections in
particular APs. The activities in Wi-Fi networks contain gathering in
real world and surfing the Internet in cyberspace.

Claude Levi-Strauss considersed house is both a physical buildings and
a social unit. Carsten & Hugh-Jones think the symbolic and
metaphorical power of the house weaves social relations into a social
network. Wi-Fi networks are like houses, because Wi-Fi networks own
are provided through physical machines and people get own their online
social activities via Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi networks of a companies or Wi-Fi service providers could be seen
as the social interaction in different kinds of houses which represent
the different aspects of identities in contemporary world. According
to the above similarities, the hypothesis of this project is "Wi-Fi AP
is House.”

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson: conceptual metaphor is based on
culture background. Kathleen Ahrens: applying 'entities,' 'functions,'
and 'qualities' to analyse conceptual metaphors and to explore the
mapping principles in them.
Besides the above three items, this project analyze metaphor by
additional 'behaviours.'

The mapping principles indicates the Wi-Fi users are living in real
world and cyberspace as cyborgs.
To represent the Wi-Fi's house metaphor, This project produces three
types of colour chart:
    1)Urban landscape
    2)AP-centered portrait
    3)Personal routes

Wi-Fi APs are the main objects in Wi-Fi networks and house metaphor,
so they are the described and visualized objects. Every Wi-Fi AP has
its unique MAC address (Media Access Control address) and this project
represents house metaphor and Wi-Fi networks by MAC address.

MAC address is also known as BSSID (Basic Service Set ID) and it looks
like "00:13:f7:8e:5a:15”, whereas Wi-Fi AP name is "V1492”.
The artworks are generated in a website for fit the subject 'cyborg'
which is both human being and machine.

To show the colours in the website, this project translates the MAC
address to the colour coding of the webpage, which is hexadecimal six
I We pick from the first six digits of the MAC address a webpage
colour code, then from the second to the seventh.

The orderly six-digit transition can translate all digits into colours
according to the reading direction of human being and machine.

a) Urban Landscape - in one city

The first six digits of MAC Address are is manufacturer code and the
last six digits are serial numbers. In Wi-Fi urban landscapes, the
major colour charts are similar because Wi-Fi service providers, such
Wifly and PCCW, always adopt the particular manufacturers' Wi-Fi AP.

The disjunctive and uneven Wi-Fi urban landscapes. and tThey are
either more or less open from cyborg's view according to membership
which are obtained by subscribe Wi-Fi service. The colour charts are
not only represent digital/analogous colour but also
financial/geographical/social colour. This landscapes shows the
locations (identities) in material and immaterial space.

b) AP-centered Portrait – in one AP
The colour charts are generated in the same way in urban landscape.
This portrait presents the sequence of a single Wi-Fi AP in different
time, like life history.
Because the records are distinguished by areas, the portraits
represent the location from different angles.
The portraits can show that a Wi-Fi AP is public/private or rented/bought.

c) Personal Routes – in one day

The colour charts are generated in the same way in urban landscape.
The charts are the Wi-Fi APs which the users passed through in single
day and whether the users can access the APs or not.
In contrast to AP-centered portrait, this picture is the life history
of the user.

Arjun Appadurai proposed five terms to describe the uneven and
disjunctive landscape under globalization. After modifying definition
of terms to describe Wi-Fi networks in cities, the landscapes can help
us deepen the colour meaning and understand the importance of the
house metaphor in studying cyborg identities in Wi-Fi networks.
Ethnoscapes : The Wi-Fi APs spread widely in the city but not every
users see the same Wi-Fi distribution map because it depends on
whether the that users can access APs or not. In contrast to
traditional wire connection which is only provided in few places, such
as homes or companies, people can expand their online life around the
city if they buy the commercial Wi-Fi services. Connection location is
not static again, users still can go online at homes or companies but
they also can do this in the roads or metro stations. The city-wide
Wi-Fi hotspots constitute of a house to provide users to go online via
identifier. Wi-Fi cyborgs maybe belonged to one commercial Wi-Fi group
but they have their individual moving routes, Besides they can be
other Wi-Fi group members at the same time. Personal colour charts
present their moving routes and the different user's charts shows the
heterogeneous ethnoscapes.

Technoscapes : Taipei and Hong Kong are full of Wi-Fi facilities, and
a user may connect to Wi-Fi networks in different devices in the
different locations and time. At home, the user may depend on laptop
to connect to Wi-Fi APs but check email via their pda in the Wi-Fi
network of metro station. In other words, a Wi-Fi cyborg does not
always equipped with the same machine to connect to Wi-Fi, so a cyborg
is a configuration of Wi-Fi devices. What devices that the users adopt
contribute a Wi-Fi technoscape, and the technoscape indicates the
difference of locations. A metro station Wi-Fi AP-centered portrait
maybe depicted by pda rather than by laptop so the one quality of
Wi-Fi house is pda-oriented. The quality can help us think what kind
of cyborg lives in this Wi-Fi AP.

Financescapes : Both cities choose the ideal and theoretical locations
to install Wi-Fi facilities, and that presents the unequally financial

Mediascapes : The commercial and government Wi-Fi service providers
tell us where we need to go online and how we should go online by
different medias, including radio, tv, webpage and Wi-Fi mark in the
buildings and on the roads.

Ideoscapes: Although both cites promote Wi-Fi service, Taipei's "New
Network City "and Hong Kong's "Wireless City”policiesy is are
different. Wi-Fi in Taipei is infrastructure because Wi-Fi boxes are
attached in (along/under?) the roads as part of infrastructure. In
Hong Kong, Wi-Fi is service as integrated into the store or government

House studies and conceptual metaphor provide a social/cultural
approach to consider Wi-Fi technology in our life. This project
reconsiders the importance of the house in cities by Wi-Fi study in
qualities, functions, behaviours and entities. Wi-Fi AP as house in a
society provides the identifier and resource for the users to go
online. In this special house, kinship means the membership and this
kind of kinship is not consistent and permanent especially in
commercial Wi-Fi networks. And this difference makes us to rethink how
the urban house types, bought or rented, affect kinship condition,
such as unstable or stable.

The visualization of Wi-Fi networks produces landscapes, portraits and
routes map and can help anthropologists think of the effect of
technology in modern society in a pictorial view.

If you are interested in this project, you can go to the following
links to get the information and charts. I will be appreciated with
your suggestion and participation.
 1) Main project site: http://fireant.itaiwan.net/wireless/en ;
 2)Project blog site: http://wificolour.blogspot.com ;
 3) Wi-Fi Colour Representation: http://fireant.itaiwan.net/urban_image
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