While many Brits still make jokes about spending whole summer of their childhood in front of television, watching a BBC children’s program called Why Don’t you just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out Do Something Less Boring Instead?, an APP you can only use while you are connected to internet, but designed to share your experiences about the unconnected world is about to launch. To be fair enough, it’s more than just an APP.
23rd Nov on the IDFA forum, Documentary filmmaker Bregtje van der Haak, visual artist Jacqueline Hassink and information designer Richard Vijgen pitched their newest multimedia project: White Spots. White Spots are those places without phone reception or Wi-Fi connection. With the digital networks’ expanding, most people are like mosquitos on spiders’ net, and those areas off the grid are disappearing. As the last generation who witness before and after of the Internet Age, the team find the White Spots worth being fossilised.
The idea was incubate in 2012, when Jacqueline visited a Japanese island called Yakushima, where she spent weeks without being connected. Started with anxiety, she ended up enjoying the inner peace and taking photos of unwired landscapes. A new geographical division was made in her mind, the connected and unconnected world. Together with the photography project, the team started developing an interactive App based on Jacqueline’s experience to visualise the virtual reality. The White spots App is in production phase after one year’s of research and it will feature a connectivity world map, a network scanner, and a GPS-based route planner. The scanner visualises actual cell tower networks surrounding us at any given location in real time and suggests the nearest White Spot to exit from. Guided by the data scanner app, escapers are encouraged to record their off-line experiences and share after returning to the connected world.
Following that, a documentary will be made to convert actual Wi-Fi and cell tower networks into evocative audio signals and visualizations. The road trip of users exploring the meanings of absence of connection will be materials used in the interactive documentary.
The idea of visualising invisible networks and sharing unwired personal stories indeed sounds appealing. Somehow, take a second look at the White Spots; you will notice it might not only be a map of untouched world with wild landscapes. White Spots seen on the map can be interpreted as implications not only technologically but also economically.
There are places in both developing and developed world that with no human beings living on, or the infrastructure of some areas can also be too expensive to set up or not providing enough profit to keep it running. And there are also places with people in developing countries who have no access to outside world, who are forgotten by digital world. How to develop the interactive app to meet different situations and users’ demands can be challenging.
What’s more, the targeted customers of this project seems unclear; those who are tired from hypersensitivity towards electromagnetic radiation and seeking for an escape might not become active contributors like those who believed that no experience is worth having unless it’s been shared online.
While putting ideas into practice, White Spots team is on a race with Google’s Loon Project, which intends to provide balloon-powered Internet for everyone. If White Spots can’t rope in enough users to record the last experiences before Loon project spread Wi-Fi there, then it will just become a side dish and end up recording Loon’s success.
Documenting the extinction of unconnected world might provide values for old fogies, at a level of memorising but not mourning. For those who actually need an App to seek for unconnected places to hide, I can suggest a cheaper and easier solution: a button called “switch off”.
By: Jialu Zhang