liminal networks

< 4 November 2010 >

“Every point on the surface of the earth is now part of the Hertzian landscape – the product of innumerable transmissions and of the reflections and obstructions of those transmissions.” (Mitchell, p. 55)

Virtual and manifest space

I am interested in “locative” media – a media that juxtaposes multi-sensorial mobile technologies such as cell phones, laptops, various electronic measurement devices, data streams from the internet, and other ‘receivers’, in an attempt to arrive at a conceptual model of the dynamic yet ‘unperceived’ discourse we are all immersed in.

Several studies have suggested there may be new modalities of human interaction evolving from the ubiquitous presence of portable communication technology, but it appears little work has been done tying deeply ingrained human adaptations to physical surroundings, to any qualitatively, or quantitatively distinguishing features of wireless (cell phone) communication based on the (virtual) distance the nodes are separated by. Yet space is an integral part of human perception and sociological interaction[1]. I am therefore interested in investigating the linking of GPS coordinates to communication (narrative) content. Such correlations could be used, perhaps, to streamline data transfer during higher density momentary fluctuations in the field by switching between local and wide area networks organically as the system required, or, as in my own work, for performative and exploratory visual re-mappings of the sociological space that artist-researchers like Paula Levine (San Francisco State University) and others refer to as ‘interlocational’[2], or ‘liminal’[3]. Distance, whether assumed or physical, perhaps sets the space for communication, on the one hand creating comfort zones, on the other a void of uncertainty.

W.J.T. Mitchell, Professor of Architecture and Media Arts and Sciences at MIT has proposed the notion of the “Hertzian landscape”, a virtual landscape of electronic images (texts, discourse – data) that envelops the planet in constant flows of information[4]. This data cloud surrounding the planet is everywhere pervasive and accessible. Levine writes,

“The idea was to visualize a space that more closely resembled the experience of living within overlapping flows of media technologies, and use this experience as the structure by which to recast the everyday and familiar.” (Levine, p. 6)

An interesting visualization of this electronic atmosphere may be seen in the color field visualizations of the commercial broadcast bands in the United States by B.I. Balogh[5];

“This work in progress aims to map the hertzian space created by the United States’ mass media broadcast stations. This space is not definable in traditional terms of surveyed boundaries of state and local territories, but rather by electrical fields and consumer markets in the air around us. Geospatial data provided by the FCC is rendered as translucent shapes whose color is determined by the type of service (AM/FM/TV). The resulting image depicts a landscape formed by our collective communications.”

Human behaviour modifies to accommodate new environments. A study by Hans Geser of the University of Zurich, “Towards a Sociological Theory of the Mobile Phone” identifies the cellular phone as a technology that offers “emancipation from local settings” (Geser, p. 9). The study speaks to the dissociation of content from place, noting that prior to the development of widely available portable communications,

“…the main function of fixed telephones was to reinforce the social integration of stable sedentary settings like cities or bureaucratic organizations: helping them to grow into dimensions far beyond the integrative of potential of primary social interactions.” (Geser, p. 3)

and that, subsequently,

“Mobile phones are recreating the more natural, humane communication patterns of pre-industrial times: we are using space-age technology to return to stone-age gossip.” (Fox 2001) (Geser, p. 11)

Geser cites other studies suggesting the rise of “nomadic intimacy” and “nomadic social participation” (Geser, p. 21) and that mobile communications will “increase intersystemic permeabilities, blendings and interpenetrations, while lowering the capacities to keep such contacts under centralized and regularized control”. (Geser, p. 41)

A possible disagreement with the notion of multi-nodal space as suggested by the intent of my research, is posited by Geser:

“It has to be considered that mobile phones are only capable of supporting highly decentralized network-like interactions, especially on the simple level of bilateral communications. Thus, older space-dependent interactions are still essential for supporting multilateral interaction fields, as well as more tightly integrated collectivities like communities and organizations”. (Geser, p. 41) However, it is possible that this is a view situated within current understandings of technology – many of the studies cited by Geser seem to be suggesting that “empowering technologies (which) are likely to amplify (instead of to reduce) psychological, social and cultural divergences, because of their capacity to be used for different purposes in any sphere of life” (Geser, p. 42), but this is of course difficult to predict as multi-nodal communications are quite likely to develop as technology becomes more sophisticated, or, as the locative artists suggest, different technologies are ‘overlaid’ on each other to arrive at new forms. Quantitative studies alone do not inform as to the extent and method of use of cell phone technology and its social development; qualitative studies are needed.

The Kinesthetic Factors

“One of the most basic forms of relating in space, one which is deeply imbedded in man’s philogenetic past, is the potential to strike, hold, caress, or groom”. (Hall, p. 1009)

What happens when this potential is virtualized? Halls work is seminal in physical human proxemics and juxtaposing his research with studies of human interaction in Hertzian space may yield an approach to a wider understanding of emergent virtual sociotechnologies. According to Hall,

“Proxemic behavior can be seen as a function of eight different “dimensions” with their appropriate scales:

1) postural-sex identifiers

2) sociofugal-sociopetal orientation (SFP axis)

3) kinesthetic factors

4) touch code

5) retinal combinations

6) thermal code

7) olfaction code

8) voice loudness scale” (Hall, p. 1006)

Further investigation as to how these kinesthetic factors might map into a Hertzian re-formatting of human experience is required.

Brief conclusion

This brief summary has attempted to identify some of the directions that further investigations into the relationship between physical and social spaces could go. Much of the data already existent will need to be re-contextualized in light of emergent social behaviours in a ‘less physical’ world. Creative/qualitative studies are able to reveal unexpected interconnections between various data sets, but the integrity of any conclusions in an interlocational emergent space is dependent on massive correlative pattern recognition. As Rita Raley, in Tactical Media observes,

(these artists) ”…pragmatically accept the data to contest its inevitable abstraction but do not have a stake in producing it as categorically true or false.” (Raley , p. 101)



Castella, V. Orengo. Abad, A. M. Zornoza. F. Alonso, Prieto. Silla, J. M. Peiro. “The influence of familiarity among group members, group atmosphere and assertiveness on uninhibited behavior through three different communication media”. Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 16, Issue 2, 31 March 2000, Pages 141-159. Retrieved from

Fox, Kate (2001): Evolution, Alienation and Gossip. The role of mobile telecommunications in the 21st

century. Social Issues Research Center, Oxford. (cited by Geser).

Geser, Hans. “Towards a Sociological Theory of the Mobile Phone”. University of Zurich, March 2004 (Release 3.0). Retrieved from

Hall, Edward T. “A System for the Notation of Proxemic Behavior”. American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 65, No. 5, Selected Papers in Method and Technique (Oct., 1963), pp. 1003-1026 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable. Retrieved from

Harrison, B.L., Ishii, H., and Chignell, M. (1994). “An Empirical Study on Orientation of Shared Workspaces and Interpersonal Spaces in Video-Mediated Collaboration”. Telepresence Technical Report OTP-94-2, Ontario Telepresence Project. Retrieved from

Levine, Paula. “shadows from another place: transposed space”, 2005. Retrieved from

Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.

Raley, Rita. Tactical Media. Minneapolis, MN: The University of Minnesota Press, 2009.



[1] see Hall, Edward T. for example.

[2] “I have come to think of these as interlocational maps. … Interlocation brings to mind something taking place between locations, which describes these mappings quite accurately. The maps reflect not only an overlaying of one site upon another, but they also visualize the space that exists as the result of that overlay, conceptually moving between one site and the other.” (Levine, p. 19)


[4] Kazys Varnelis’ description is “…beyond corporeal space, we increasingly also live in Hertzian space, a cloud of electromagnetic radiation that bathes us in information”. Retrieved from

[5] Mapping Hertzian Space – A Noospheric Atlas of the United States

About Suk Kyoung Choi

artist / researcher

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