A contrasting example with the ancient Parthenon, it might be argued that the city of Las Vegas is exploiting media more than any other place on earth. This mecca of fun and entertainment attracts millions of tourists annually. Indeed, it is hard to resist the city’s vivid lights, , colours, installations, musical and theatrical shows and mind-blowing hotels. All these elements add to the image of the city, positioning it as the entertainment capital of the world. Even the fact that most of the city’s look is made out of lights and colours that are best visible at night, implies that this city was made for partying and fun.
But what would happen to the image of colourful Las Vegas if all the lights would be turned off? Would it still remain the same Vegas? What ‘face’ would it have then? In fact, all the lights were shut down in 2010 for the Earth Hour movement. As shown on the image below, without its installations and lights, Las Vegas is no different from any other American metropolis. This vibrant city is a great example of how media and technology can transform and construct an image and literal and symbolic meanings of the urban space. Visual media used to such great extent can be very powerful and transformative for the image and prosperity of the city.
When thinking about media architecture one usually imagines contemporary buildings. But there are alternative media constructions that are equally filled with meaning. The Parthenon temple in the ancient Acropolis of Athens is one of the most mediated buildings ever created. The former temple was very important for Athenians as the physical location of their patron, goddess Athena. But what meanings does this grand building have in the 21st century? Today Parthenon is full of symbolic meanings. First of all, it is our main pass into the world of Ancient Greece. The construction makes one feel as of he or she can touch the past, reveal the secrets of the mystical ancient world. Secondly, the building is important as a work of art, as the beginning of classical art itself. Many artists today still refer to the shapes and proportions of the temple as the perfect example of classical art. Most of all, the building serves as a starting point for one’s imagination to fill in the gaps and recreate a beautiful ancient world, even though an imaginary one. It would be impossible without the preservation of this antique masterpiece, which today conveys important, even though entirely symbolic meanings.
It is becoming increasingly popular to install small digital TV screens in business buildings lifts. For the most part, the content displayed on such screens is current affairs news, financial market trends and statistics and advertisement. The target audience of these screens are busy corporate people, who have their day planned by minute and rarely have a free moment to read news or watch traditional TV. Also, considering that most business spaces in major cities are business towers or skyscrapers with many floors, it is advantageous for the advertiser to have their promotional video displayed on such screen straight to the target audience.
The people working in these buildings are very busy, they are ambitious and hard-working. The corporate professionals in the urban environment lead very fast-paced lives. Most of them do not have time to watch TV at home or simply are too tired to pay attention to advertisements and news by the time they get home. So, analysing the ways in which information is presented by these TV screens in elevators, one can gain an insight into how information is perceived by the modern and busy urbanites. These digital screens broadcast short and informative videos that can be viewed and processed in a fraction of seconds. The contents that TV screens in lifts contain are just fragmented snippets of information, they are designed for fast and superficial consumption. Indeed, in contemporary urban setting people are bombarded by information of all sorts, so naturally, they cannot engage fully with everything they are exposed to. So, in this example the type of media (TV screens in elevators) follows from the way in which urbanites perceive information (fragmentary, superficially) which, in its turn follows from the nature and rhythm of urban living.
Media comes in a variety of shapes and forms and even a building can be regarded as media, as long as it conveys a type of message. A great example of such building is an IMAX cinema in London.
This spectacular cinema theatre is a media in both its form and its content. While it is obvious that the building’s main purpose is to showcase grand works of cinematic art, the architecture of the construction might convey yet another meaning. The beauty and the scale of the building constructs a particular image of London. This state of the art cinema presents London as a modern, leading and stylish destination. The city that is a home for such development is evidently successful and ambitious. The IMAX cinema building in London is an example of an influential media architecture.
London is a vibrant metropolis with one of the best public transport systems in the world. Its famous red double-decker buses run frequently and efficiently. Electronic displays on many bus stops in London help residents and tourists navigate this large city. While knowing exactly what time one’s bus arrives is important and convenient, does it really worth the money? How do these displays help us in our everyday life? It is of course a very useful tool as it brings a sense of certainty and simply put, saves valuable time for busy urbanites. While punctuality and planning is very important for urban dwellers and British people especially, the majority of people nowadays have smartphones or other mobile devices with connection to internet, which allows them to check bus timetable online. For me personally, electronic displays on bus stops make me feel secure, especially at night time. But again, I could always check the arrival times online…
More than anything, the way we move around busy metropolis shows the nature of urban life and urbanites. Always busy in the fast-paced environment, people in the city plan their life minute by minute, as the city itself imposes its rhythms on its inhabitants. In a similar way, rural space makes one slow down, it might even seem that there is more of time itself in such space. In contrast, in the city one almost cannot afford to waste a minute, hence people get attached to planning tools such as bus timetable displays.
So far only conventional types of urban media were discussed. In this post I will try and analyse the connection between public and private in urban environment. During the recent FIFA World Cup 2014 in Brazil football fans around the world tried to support their country/favourite team in every way possible. So to see various flags hanging out from the residential buildings’ windows became a norm in many cities across the globe. Residents (both immigrants and local patriots) would show their love and support and sometimes they achieved an extreme levels of obsession with the football game, like the owner of the house on the image below.
Mr. Baddams was clearly sending a message with such excessive decoration of his house and received mixed reactions from the neighbours. But, while some neighbours might be unhappy about this kind of fanaticism, it is expected of local people to support English team in the tournament. It might be a little different, however for immigrants who support their countries from England.
What one feels when, despite moving to another country, he or she still shows loyalty to the historical home? What meaning does an Italian flag hanging out from a window in London has for another Italian passing or driving by? It takes us back to the question of exclusiveness and inclusiveness discussed in the first post. In this case flags convey a certain message, make one feel as if he or she belongs to a certain group of people, even if it’s a minority at this particular location. In a way, it makes both immigrants and locals to feel pride for their country. It is also important when analysing the unifying quality of the World Cup. On one hand, this spectacular event brings people together, especially football fans. On the other hand, it segregates viewers into groups, mostly by their country of origin or country of residence. And the flags that football fans hang out from their windows serve to say something about their unique background, about their national identity and pride for their country.
Flags put together unite all countries of the tournament, but still, people throw coins onto their country’s flag…
The tradition of one’s country’s flag being displayed from the person’s residence for everyone to see implies the blurring of the boundaries between public and private during the global special event that the World Cup is undoubtedly is. In usual times, urbanites are very private and protective when it comes to their place of living, while during the World Cup people volunteer to draw attention to their private space. While in most cases it is a safe thing to do, there is always a tension between football fans of the opposing teams. But, of course, it is up to the individual to take the risk and responsibility for the possible consequences.
There is a whole range of ethical and moral codes associated with the use and production of urban media. But the ethics of advertising in the public urban space is a sensitive and vague topic. How far should businesses and advertising agencies go in order to draw urbanites’ attention? One of the most controversial ads in Berlin underground is definitely a case for discussion.
The advertisement of the Bergemann & Sohn funeral services created by the advertising agency Jung Von Matt is a perfect example of highly unethical advertising. The invitation of the underground travellers to ‘come a little closer’ is very problematic. Even though the ad was praised by advertising industry community for its creativity, original use of space and black humour, it is a question of morality and safety of such advertising. While the ad is undoubtedly creative and original, it is also immoral and irresponsible. Suicides on the underground around the world is already an issue, and provocations like this advertisement are unacceptable. It is, first of all, the local authorities’ responsibility to regulate the content of public advertising in major cities, and in some cases it is not just a question of ethics, but safety.
Personal stereo devices, such as an mp3 player might help one gain what Simmel titled as the blasé attitude, which helps to liberate metropolis dwellers by providing choice and flexibility in their social interactions. And while this might be the case, the ubiquitous use of personal stereo devices in an urban environment also has potential dangers. When the world of the personal media becomes the dominating involvement and the present urban space becomes the subordinate involvement (Goffman), this is when media might be dangerous in the context of the metropolis. A good example of that is a pedestrian crossing the road with his or her headphones on, and sometimes the music in their headphones becomes the dominating involvement, putting the person into danger. In fact, there are quite a few headphones-related deaths registered, and most cases involve teenage pedestrians. Recognising this issue, local authorities try to raise the awareness by increasing the number of posters, predominantly aimed at teenagers.
On the image above one form of media (public visual advertising) is referring to another media (personal stereo device). In the particular case of audio devices, the use of visual poster as a warning is important as it might be noticed and recognised by a pedestrian even if the latter is wearing headphones and is listening to loud music. Also, such posters are smartly located near the roads, traffic lights and bus stops. Thus, one type of media might serve to regulate the use of another type of media.
Bull, Michael, Sounding out the city : personal stereos and the management of everyday life (Oxford: Berg, 2000)
Gordon, Eric, Net locality : why location matters in a networked world (Chichester : Wiley-Blackwell, 2011)
Another example of how media is operates in urban environment is concerned with the use of personal electronic devices in public space. I had an opportunity to observe how such devices are used as I was on the bus, on my way to university. A young man entered the bus and sat down in front of me. As soon as he did that, he then hastily put his headphones on, took his IPod mp3 player out of the jeans pocket and quickly found the song to play before putting the mp3 player away. Right after that, the young man took his mobile phone and started scrolling the smartphone screen up and down. One could tell that he was not doing anything specific on his phone, neither he was engaging with the music playing in his headphones. He deliberately avoided eye contact with other passengers and was constantly ‘doing something’ on his phone. It looked as if the man was in a sort of a shell. It is an illustrative example of what de Souza e Silva refers to as freedom, provided by the use of the media and mobile technology in public space. And while the young man was in control of his social interactions, it might be argued that he was exploiting personal electronic devices to transform public space into private space. The sense of urgency with which he interacted with mobile interfaces and, at the same time, the disengagement with them suggests that for a modern urbanite personal electronic devices might serve as a ‘shield’ through which one isolates himself from the external world to feel more comfortable and secure. Therefore, there is a thin line between the freedom and isolation which is provided by the use of mobile interfaces in urban public sphere.
de Souza e Silva, Adriana, Mobile Interfaces in Public Spaces: Locational Privacy, Control, and Urban Sociability (New York; London: Routledge, 2012)
My first post is inspired by London’s multiculturalism and the ways in which it is expressed in the media. London is with no doubt a multilingual city, but how the use of various languages on the surfaces of the city might affect it inhabitants? To answer that question i will analyse my own experience of London as a foreigner. I very rarely encounter my native language in the city, so when i saw red and grey double-decker bus with the ad of the sightseeing tours of London written in Russian i was pleasantly surprised, but also confused. In the span of a few seconds as the bus was driving by the cafe i was in, I’ve experienced a range of feelings, and even the fact that seeing my native language in a foreign environment would evoke such strong emotions was a revelation to me. My experience might have been reinforced by the fact that when i saw this bus i was speaking Russian on the phone. It is hard to put that experience into words, but the whole situation might be described as surrealistic. For a moment, it wasn’t exactly clear where i was in space and time. It was a sentimental moment as it made me think of my country and my home, creating a sense of nostalgia. This encounter with my native language in London provoked reflections on other non-English media surfaces. One of the most well-known bi-lingual areas in London is China Town. What effects might numerous signs in Chinese have on the members of the Chinese community in London? Does this broad presence of their native language in a foreign land make them feel more like home, more secure? Or on the contrary, does it make them feel more isolated? It can be argued that there is both inclusion and exclusion in such space.