You are here

Excavating Mobile Media

Erkki Huhtamo is the second speaker in this keynote session. He is a Finn who is now based at UCLA, and will present notes towards an archaeology of mobile media. His full paper is available for download from the ISEA2004 site. He begins by reflecting on the future of mobile media - a nice image of the upcoming Sony Pocket Playstation device (strangely enough with an image of the hand of the alien from Alien reaching for Harry Dean Stanton's head - some ironic self-reflection on Sony's part? Probably not).

On the other and, how do you 'do' the history of the new - is it a kind of 'current history'? Huhtamo is interested in the 'secret' histories of new media (this fits well with the previous keynote). This means digging beyond dominant histories, working against what he calls corporate 'cryptohistories' (idealised versions of history) and looking without a predetermined goal in mind. Additionally, he is interested in uncovering cyclical, recurring ideas or topoi in history. Important to remember in this is that media exist always within the cultural frameworks that envelop them (media specificity may therefore be cultural specificity), and it is therefore also important to pay attention to its discursive dimension.

Huhtamo quotes Raymond Williams as saying that media technology gets its meaning(s) when turned into cultural form(s). Also, following Walter Benjamin, the dream worlds of culture (the imaginations associated with it) are just as important as material reality. On to mobile media, then - how to write their history in this light? What are the Urformen, the proto-forms of mobile media (possibly neither mobile nor media themselves)? Mobile media include portable, wearable, or vehicle-mounted devices, covering a very broad range.

Urformen then might include portable sacred items, pictorial items, toys, and watches, for example. Bodily behaviour around these portable devices is interesting, especially because it is often associated with the showing or hiding of images - perhaps this is an early parallel to 'pull' media where content needs to be discovered rather than being broadcast? Our next stop is with early amateur photography (the 'photographic pest' as it was referred to by some at the time. Photographers were seen as peeping toms, as 'one of the perils of life', and indeed images from the late 1800s already foreshadow the paparazzi of today.

Questions of the rights of people to control their photographic representations are also already noted. In turn, such backlash also drove miniaturisation and other developments aimed at avoiding negative consequences. And, indeed, some of the devices envisioned as future travesties of mobile technology - e.g. spy technology - now exist in mainstream forms. Are such cyclical references consciously referring back to earlier ideas? (Note also the important role of artists in imagining future devices - 'artists' impressions' indeed!)