Personal Thoughts on The Media City

As this is a very very long reading that is also super complicated I shall try to pick out points within each section of the reading that has piqued my interest and how it relates to me personally.

Performing Public Space 

(Robert Venturi 1966)

“I think we are still stuck with this idea of the street and the plaza as a public domain,but the public domain is radically changing. I don’t want to respond in clichés, but with television and the media and a whole series of other inventions, you could say that the public domain is lost. But you could also say that it’s now so pervasive it does not need physical articulation any more. I think the truth is somewhere in between.

This something that is definitely true, especially so now. According to Scott McQuire, there are 3 specific developments that have lead to changes in the relationship between media space and public space, which are

  • Migration of screens from personal homes to the City scape
  • Cable and fibre optic transmissions that erode regional and national boundaries
  • The emergence of mobile media devices which displace the social architecture which revolve around fixed media forms.

With the rapid developments of the internet which allows people to have an “online” identity and congregate on online spaces which is open to anyone and everyone, from forums, to social media to mass multiplayer online role playing games(MMORPGS) we have to consider these online spaces as public spaces too. As Robert Venturi has mentioned, a space does not need to be a physical space for it be considered a public space and therefore the public too does not need to be physically present. To me, the definition of a public space should be any space that allows for the congregation of multiple consciousness to present.


How should we understand these new forms of public spectating? What impact will they have on public space? The decline of public culture, and the related demise of public space became a familiar tale in the late 20th century.”

Similarly, if we are to consider online spaces as public spaces, we should redefine public spectating within the context of our online identities too. And what are the ramifications of this? With apps such as instagram and the “always online” culture, where everyone is posting videos of the their private lives. Doesn’t that mean that our private spaces become public spaces during certain intervals, especially so during live feeds. Of course right now the choice is still in our hands, we can choose to not post videos of us in our private spaces, but what if society progresses in a trajectory that this becomes expected? What happens when our private spaes such as our homes can no longer be safe sanctuaries and we have to play-act 24/7.


“The rise of the suburbs was positioned as the nemesis to the public space of an older city.”

Would this idea of the suburbs also apply to online public spaces. If cities are dense compact spaces where there is a large congregation of people while suburbs have significantly less, is there a parallel ,when analyzing online spaces. Does the flow from online forums (suburbs) when the internet was first conceived to social media apps where there is higher traffic (cities) imitate the first initial migrations from rural towns to urban cities. If so then would there be another flow, the internet’s equivalent of a flow from the urban to the suburbs. Would this explain the appeal of niche online spaces such as fandoms communities? Then would there be an equivalent to private spaces. Do whatsapp groups for only your closest friends or family be considered as safe sanctuaries for our online identities?


That being said, I think society has more agency with their online identities than their personal ones and this can be seen with toxic social justice warrior (SJW) culture seen on sites such as Tumblr. Does this agency come simply because of new media, or is it because of the anonymity that comes with an online identity?

Down the Street

“street as the condenser of social heterogeneity”

“In Berman’s (1982: 196) terms, the
street formed the ‘common meeting ground and communications line’ of the 19th-century city”

“it was the interface at which different classes met and intermingled”

Has the comments section in social media or forums such as reddit or mmorpgs such Final Fnatasy 14 become the 21st century boulevard? It is a space where people from all walks of life are allowed to pen down their thoughts and interact with one another.

“As Simmel (1997) summarized it, the characteristic experience of the modern city is living among strangers who remain strangers. In other words, these strangers do not move on, as they would from a village, but neither do they necessarily become familiar in staying. Instead, mutual anonymity takes its place alongside various degrees of familiarity as the most common social condition in the modern city”

Once again aren’t this characteristics all to familiar. You interact with strangers on forum sites or chat with strangers during instanced dungeon runs in MMOs but they remain strangers. There would some identities that you would have interacted with more, for example when you by chance participate in a dungeon run with the same person multiple times so you talk more, but even then you remain as strangers.

“Sennett argues that the flowering of public life in the 18th century was associated with the emergence of new public spaces in which strangers might meet, such as theatres and parks.”

And thus the internet has done the same and as it evolves (for example with the social media apps that have evolved from facebook, so does online spaces change. And thus scrolling through social media to me has become the newest art of the flaneur. Unlike physical spaces where there is longer a space for the flaneur  due to vehicles and the fixation on efficiency, online spaces has not faced a similar problem.

Repudiating the Street


“Benjamin (2003: 327) notes that: ‘Fear, revulsion and horror were the emotions which the bigcity crowd aroused in those who first observed it.’”

Similarly weren’t people very afraid of the internet when it first appeared? I still remember lessons of the numerous strangers and creeps that lurk on the internet and they all taught to never interact with anyone on the internet nor meet with them in real life. Of course I am ever so slightly exaggerating and of course there is some truth to this but I feel like it has lighten up a bit.


“at what point do attempts to rationally plan increasingly complex urban
spaces and circulatory systems collapse into prescriptive attempts to control public behaviour? In retrospect, it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that, following Haussmann to the letter, many plans for ‘rationalizing’ the street were premised on the desire to eliminate any site which might enable ‘the people’ to constitute a collective revolutionary subject.

Part of me wants to brush this of saying that its just the thoughts and fear of conspiracy theorists but at the same time, is not already happening in Singapore. Do we accept that it is simply for ethnic integration or is it to prevent any minority race from congregating in mass?


The need to systematize the street’s benefits and pacify its dangers was stated most forcefully by Le Corbusier, and can be traced through all his early writings. The key urban problem, as Corbusier formulated it in the inter-war period, was congestion. On the one hand, the design and lay-out of city streets was set at the wrong scale. On the other hand, the speed of new vehicles, particularly the automobile, necessitated radical change. In Towards a New Architecture (1923), Corbusier (1946: 54–56) establishes what will be a recurring position.”

“We should repudiate the existing lay-out of our towns, in which the congestion of
buildings grows greater, interlaced by narrow streets full of noise, petrol fumes and
dust; and where on each storey the windows open wide on to this foul confusion.
The great towns have become too dense for the security of their inhabitants and yet they are not sufficiently dense to meet the new needs of ‘modern business’.”

As we can see cities will only strive to get denser and denser. Singapore itself is planning to introduce another 500000 people into its already densely packed country and we question when will it ever be enough? What are we trying to satisfy. For a country ruled by capitalism, isn’t the city population just another number as the lives are quantified and equated to more revenue generation. Which begs the question, we obviously will never be able to sate captilism’s greed, so what are the ramifications of continuously increasing a city’s density?

“In its place, Corbusier (1971: 122) proposes: ‘We must create another type of street’. Drawing on his favoured metaphor of machine production, Corbusier (1971: 131–32) asserts: ‘The street is a traffic machine; it is in reality a factory for producing speed’, later adding his famous assertion: A city made for speed is made for success’ (1971: 179). In streets designed primarily for circulation, the flâneur’s ‘art of strolling’ can find no place.”

When the street no longer becomes an interface for interaction and becomes a place for regulate flow and movement, what happens to the society then. When happens to a society when efficiency is so important that we no longer can afford to stroll. I can’t help but see this as a parallel to Lee Kuan Yew’s comment ” Poetry is a luxury that we cannot afford” and till today we are still trying to bring up Singaporean’s interest in the arts again.


” What has changed by the mid-1930s is that the street’s function is to
be internalized: ‘Most of the city’s streets will now be inside the buildings’ (1964: 113).”

But even so, we don’t really interact with one another even in buildings now do we? When was the last time we interacted with random people at the shopping mall or at the gallery. I think when we suppress social interactions on the streets and say that we don’t have time to stroll, this mentality will permeate indoors as well.

“If the private car is the harbinger of the dominance of suburbs
over city, it is electronic media which consolidates this new political settlement in which the political function of public space cedes ground to media space.

Maybe that is why people are so inclined to interacting online, even if it just simple trolling. To satisfy a basic need to interact that can no longer be fulfilled in physical public spaces?


“Since the Clinton presidency this is often called the ‘character’ issue: the tendency to judge politicians and other public figures according to what we think they are ‘really like as a person’.”

“The effective politician, like the good actor or celebrity, is likely to be one who is able to ‘be themself on camera.”

I feel like this is very worrying especially in the current era of Trump. But we need to think, why do we have this need to think that we know someone based on what we see on screen. And we get disappointed when this turns out not to be true. Why do we need to form a connection with beings like celebrities. Is it for self empowerment? Is it for ego?


Control Space

While the mutual anonymity which is the gift of big city life opens space for self re-invention, it also generates the need for abstract systems of identification to facilitate social interactions among strangers

Isn’t this how we identify people on social media and apps now? We no longer see people as individuals and instead lump them into categories. For example on the gay dating app Grindr, we categorise ourselves into the “type of gay” we are, like geek,jock, chub,otter,fem… (the list is endless). And on sites like tumblr, we identify each other through what fandom we are in, Potterheads, Whovians etc. On social media we categorise people into hipster or normie and in America we identify people based on their political affiliation. What are the ramifications of identifying people through such labels? Does this perpetuate us Vs them culture when clique nature is encouraged?


“Routine data gathering is the condition for the emergence of what Deleuze (1992) dubbed ‘control society’ in which the stable separation of spaces that characterized Foucault’s ‘disciplinary society’ is displaced by spatial flexibility and continual monitoring. In control society, Deleuze argues there are no longer ‘masses’ and ‘individuals’, but merely ‘dividuals’: the condition of the masses become digital samples, or databanks.”

This feels a lot like what we talked about during the Urban Media Art Academy workshop. What happens when we try to quantify everything, even abstract things like emotions, grief, and sadness. What if trying to quantify everything makes us see half of the things we are trying to observe, we only see the logical side and we think we understand it in totality. So what happens when we make decisions that impact whole communities based limited information. In my opinion, in the capitalistic society that we live in today, we always only try to get hard data and ignore soft data as it takes more energy to collect and process, but as I mentioned above, to ignore it is to see only half of the information.


“As Rule (1973: 279–80) puts it: ‘mass surveillance requires constant efforts of discrimination’. Without discrimination between those who belong and those who don’t, surveillance loses any practical function. This logic assumes increasing importance in the context of the ‘war on terror’ with its demand for mass screening on the basis of gross profiling.”

Once again this reminds me about what we talked about during the Urban Media Art Academy. We need to be aware that there is someone behind the camera who is doing the surveying who has their own biases. What happens when when we carryout choices that impact whole communities based on this surveillance, unawares of the subtle biases?


 The Dream of Ludic Space

“Debord (quoted in Knabb 1981: 23–24) argued: ‘The most general goal must be to extend the non-mediocre part of life, to reduce the empty moments of life as much as possible.’”

Tho simply being aware of your situation does not give a solution to fill in the void.

“Roy Ascott’s (1995: 39) ‘smart buildings’ which ‘attend to our every move, our every utterance’ envisions technology that not only satisfies needs as they are expressed, but anticipates them”

“The technological environment needs to know what we like, or at least what we do, in order to anticipate our needs. But at what point does ‘anticipation’ become a neo-Weberian ‘iron cage’ for shaping behaviour?”

what are the implications when intelligent building, not to mention every smart appliance, compiles a personalized database as part of its optimal operation?”

Once again who is coding these smart objects to anticipate our behavior and do they have their own biases? What happens to our own behavior when the things around us anticipate our actions in the same way. Do we subconsciously conform to it.

I think one consequence of this would be us getting trapped in our own bubble. Sites such as netflix and youtube now have algorithms that try and track what we like and it puts up options based on what they track. If we buy into this and only watch things that the algorithms say we like, wouldn’t that narrow our media consumption? As we would no longer branch out and experiment? In America I think this perpetuates bipartisan culture as citizens will only watch videos that pop up on their feed that perpetuates their world view. This leads to self validation and echo chambers which leads to narrow mindsets and furthers the Us vs Them culture.

“In cities today, electronically propagated narratives flow constantly and increasingly
densely. These narratives – superimposed, as they are, on real space in real time –
act as feedback loops recursively transforming the very situations that produce them.”

Mobile Publics

“This phase has now given way to an era in which media
technologies have become ubiquitous, mobile and scalable, generating new possibilities for social interaction in which information flows are increasingly able to act on and shape social activities as they occur.”


“Mobile media also have the potential to alter the dynamic of public interactions among crowds of erstwhile strangers. Mitchell (2003: 161) describes this incipient form of social activity as electronic ‘swarms’”


I think one good example of this would be the Pokemon Go phenomenon that happened 2 years ago. Although it was short lived (mainly due to Niantic not being ready for the explosion) it reinvigorated the public space once again. People were taking to the streets congregating and exploring the city together with strangers

Playing in Public Space

“A crucial role for new media art in public space is the potential to avoid the filter of sites such as the art gallery, and thereby engage audiences who might never cross that threshold. This indicates the new function of art in the contemporary media city: not as the belated response to an already existing social world, but as an integral part of the construction of social relationships.”

I feel like beyond this, public art should also strive to increase the public’s art appreciation literacy by trying to provoke thought.


As Sennett and others have emphasized, public sociability is not natural; it needs to be learned, nurtured and practised. In an era in which public space is dominated by spectacular ‘brandscapes’ and pacified by the distributed technology of surveillance, new forms of public interaction facilitating qualities such as collective participation and unpredictable collaboration hold increasing social importance. In this context, the role of artists using new media to construct experimental interfaces in public space can assume strategic value”

Art can help in teaching public sociability. And in general as mentioned above it can teach to increase literacy of any field. But how do we exactly go about doing it I am not too sure. Personally, I think public art needs to be more direct as compared to nuanced. As being too nuanced would lead to little activation by people who are not able to pick up on this nuances and we need to assume the most lowest literacy when working with the public.

“Body Movies occupies a similar liminal terrain. Passers-by aren’t sure what to make of it; the interface is striking but not immediately comprehensible. Habit is suspended in favour of experimentation. Unexpected conjunctions emerge.

I think presenting something unexpected is also one technique we can use to provoke thought.


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