After several years of utter bliss with my Sanyo Katana, I was recently forced to recognize its growing ghetto-ness and make the plunge: upgrading to a smartphone. Consequently, I am now the proud owner of a Samsung Transform with Android technology. (And sadly, no, I am not getting any kickbacks from anyone for these opening lines of blog post. Lovely as it might be to actually make a little money this summer.)
Aside from transforming (!) the way that I communicate via text message, the acquisition of a smartphone presents interesting opportunities and ethical questions to the developing psychogeographer that I am. Many of the coolest things that are happening in (what I am dubbing, for lack of a better term) “organized psychogeography” rely on online integration with mobile technology, such as Tim Clark’s Ice Cream Island at Figment NYC or any number of urban games and reimaginings that involved QR codes and the ability to link an individual in the real world to an online network or augmented reality.
In this overwhelmingly digital age, we tend to assume that everyone is pretty much internet capable, all the time, at least in the Western world. But what about people who can’t afford to upgrade to this new incarnation of the teched-out cellular device? Before I got my own smartphone, I had been ruminating for some time on my own exclusion from large sections of the psychogeographic community and playground, and had some moderately grand designs on creating some psychogeographic trek/art piece that addressed what I see as a modern tendency indicative of underlying issues of privilege and socioeconomic disparity. I may still craft such a piece, but part of me feels that it would lose its impact in light of the fact that I now possess Android capability, wherever I should wander.
More broadly, this raises the question: should the elevation of life by the power of art be restricted based on means or access to technology? In the best of worlds, of course not. On the one hand, not having a smartphone could be comparable to simply not living in New York, if you want access to The Met, but it still presents an interesting opportunity to consider the disparities in wealth and access to art that do, undoubtedly, exist. Also, this isn’t just a psychogeographic issue: consider the $20 entrance fee at the MoMA. (Consider it, artists, and then check out how to culture jamufacture your own pass.)
However. Now that I am Android equipped, there are a lot of cool directions in which I can (and am already beginning to) expand my own practice of psychogeography. Honestly, the main reason that I begged my father for an upgrade was that it was much cheaper and more multi-functional than purchasing the independent GPS tracker that I had been dreaming of as a means to track my progress through the strange and mysterious urban jungle of the Big Apple. Thus, I have initiated myself into the branch of the field that Tim Clark’s professor has dubbed ‘obsessive psychogeography’ (and realizing that I had already been doing this by hand with distances, routes, and times for cycling adventures since the impressionable age of 14 or so). Here is one of my tracked treks as yet, using the opensource technology for Android, MyTracks, exported very simplistically to GoogleMaps (I will do fancier, more artistically abstract things with raw GPS data once I get the hang of this and develop some conceptual frameworks):
chasing light, instead of ice cream trucks
One other worry that I had about getting a Smartphone was that the navigation apps would put an end to my frequent practices of finding myself truly lost – a skill at which I am shockingly adept, given my chosen path in life, although it is perhaps an indication that I will at times diverge, perhaps inadvertently, but ever with the sense of greatest adventure, from that path. Or maybe it’s just that becoming a full-time psychogeographer allows me to legitimize for inherent inability to navigate by the shortest distance from A to B without serious preparation and/or practice.
My sudden discovery that I was deep into Queens for the first time yesterday afternoon was proof that this is not an issue: I can carry a smartphone, and still lose myself. I was attempting to bike to the Upper West Side to do some filming for my documentary on Tick Out of Time, and having made the trip twice before, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could do it now without using the directional assistance of my Samsung. It did prove interesting, in all the best psychogeographic ways. Knowing I had to head vaguely northwest to cross the Pulaski Bridge and then the Queensboro into Manhattan, I set out in that general direction. Unlike the Ritter Sport gridding of The Island, North Brooklyn and Queens (I have yet to discover quite where one becomes the other) comprise a whole different candy bar. I have never been to Queens proper, and somewhere around 51st ave, I turned a corner to be confront be a sea of graves, spreading out beyond the horizon it seemed: the Mount Zion Cemetery.
And then, returning, I crossed two bridges over an unexpected tributary of the East River, the first a great green steal rattler that, I noticed only after having traversed it, exhorted cyclists to “dismount and walk across”. This thrust me into the winding, wheel-rattling back roads of an industrial park that seemed to capture my first impression of Queens: towering factorial edifices and trucks scuttling between unreal cardboard blow-ups of Honest Tea and Vitamin Water.
At some point I re-encountered Bushwick Avenue, by pure luck and general reorientation of the self/cycle combo in relation to the river, which I followed home, musing on my first, sweaty encounter with Queens. My thoughts followed my pedaling feet down a consideration of the way that psychogeographing via bicycle transforms the practice. It’s much less tempting, and much more of a hassle, to pause and photograph at such apace, at least in the way that I have become accustomed to making pictures. When I take out my Nikon, I tend to be deliberate, focusing on enigmatic bits of humanistic evidence or pieces of light and angles of buildings that strike me. But, if I learned anything at all from watching Art School Confidential last week, I am awfully young to be having my own style — especially in how I manifest my psychogeographs. I may start taking pictures with my phone, or taking continuous video, or consider means of attaching cameras to my body (ala the Looxcie, which I may get the chance to ogle this evening!), or even going, on occasion, to the Will Self-ian extreme of pure literary presentation (more thoughts on that illustrious fellow to follow in due course, I assure you). Of course, the medium of translating any performance piece, if we are considering psychogeography to be as such (and I think it is, but maybe only sometimes), must depend on the nature of that piece. So ‘psyclogeography’, if you will pardon my coinage of a new and rather excruciatingly punning term, may call for a unique brand of recording and understanding, just as it must influence the nature of the psychological and physical journeys that it enables. Either way, it showed me Queens as I had never (quite literally) seen it before.