Conclusion — Seeing Clearly With Both Eyes

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. tower.html

This revelation of the economic and social underpinnings of the ICT infrastructure that so many urban dwellers take for granted has focused on the banality of this infrastructure. However, in every discussion of banal technology, the technological sublime lies just beyond the field of vision. If we are, as Mosco invites us to do, “seeing vigilantly with both eyes,” (2004, p. 10) then we should be able to discern the shadow of the sublime in Ile Sans Fil’s attempts at developing social connections using wireless internet connections. But that sublimity also depends upon WiFi’s increasing banality: one of the reasons that community wireless infrastructure projects are succeeding in major cities such as Montreal, Seattle and New York is that the technology is programmed by default to share an internet signal. This banal technical fact underlies all of the attempts to harness this technology for the benefit of society. In addition, WiFi’s cheapness and ubiquity means that it is difficult for commercial operators to develop a working business model in urban areas, where free signals spill from residential and commercial sources, not to mention non-profit groups. This places groups like Ile Sans Fil in a situation where many urbanites expect WiFi services to be free of charge (Sandvig, 2004). The group’s sublime visions for wireless technology may always and already be profoundly shaped by the banalities of design and economics.

However, perhaps we all need a dose of the sublime from time to time. This investigation of ICT infrastructure’s banality has pointed out the economic exigencies that drive particular trends in infrastructure development, as well as the social fallout that can occur because of these decisions. These banal matters are important and influential, but a vision of the sublime potential in the same infrastructure can enliven development that may change the way that those economic and social factors are imagined or created. Revealing the banal may also reveal the sublime. By looking closely at the banal, we may be able to see in the distance the next glimmer of the sublime, motivating us once again to attempt to change the way things are right now. Perhaps by making visible the often ignored, we can begin to think more about the real in the virtual, the local in the global.