In conclusion, while the banal continues to hold power, the sublime is never far away. Perhaps a reappropriation of ICT infrastructure helps us to see with both eyes the sublime promise in the banal wireless signal.
However, from a perspective of splintering urbanism, there are numerous paradoxes inherent in Ile Sans Fil’s work. As Sandvig (2004) points out, some aspects of providing free wireless hotspots have problematic political and economic underpinnings. One of these is the organization’s work with Business Improvement Districts, groups that are often associated with pro-business, splintering activities.
Ile Sans Fil acts as a sponsor for the Montreal Fringe Festival. Photo by Boris Anthony.
In addition to targeting new members and volunteers through strategic visibility in the media, Ile Sans Fil also targets laptop users by making their name visible to users of mobile devices, either through the use of signage in desirable areas, or through associating the group’s name with the wireless signals themselves. This visibility, for the most part targets the privileged few who own these devices — and who know where to look.
Considerations of visibility are as important in revealing the politics of grassroots technology development as they are in revealing the implications of corporate technological advances. Ile Sans Fil, for example, leverages their visibility in mainstream and alternative media outlets as a way to compete with similar corporate ventures.
Ile Sans Fil members at the St-Laurent Boulevard Street Fair (photo by Robert Crecco)
It is not as if ICTs are somehow external to cities or divorced from their politics. At individual city levels as well as at global levels, the presence of ICT networks and infrastructures is part of the politics of places. Although the forces of capital fixity and hypermobility operate to consolidate wealth and power, ICT networks are often used to work against these privatizing and marginalizing forces. In the next sections I look at how Montreal’s community wireless group Ile Sans Fil negotiates with various types of visibility in the very particular social context in Montreal.
A wireless antenna almost invisibly graces a storefront
Other physical changes shape cities as new ICT industries emerge. ICT infrastructure leaves physical marks on urban space, which make visible the often tenuous power relationships underpinning them. All of the complex data-processing and multimedia processing facilities upon which technopoles depend are supported by other infrastructures, such as the telephone network, the electrical grid, and fresh- and waste-water services.
The introduction of ICT-linked capital, among other things, may be a catalyst for the physical and economic transformation of urban spaces. Here, Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal displays some of the physical traits of gentrification.
Like the industrial revolution, the economic revolution connected to advances in ICTs has had major impacts on urban areas. Physical reconfigurations, as well as economic shifts related to shifts in capital, have marked cities all over the world.
Montreal’s Cite Multimedia, seen from above