In 2011, researchers at Rice University set up a free “Super Wi-Fi” hotspot in Houston’s Pecan Park neighborhood. Super Wi-Fi utilizes abandoned UHF TV channels, or “white spaces,” to broadcast wireless internet connections over exceptionally long ranges. The Rice University-based nonprofit Technology For All (TFA), which installed the hotspot as part of an ongoing initiative to provide free wireless services to Houston’s Hispanic neighborhoods, was granted permission to deploy this unlicensed technology, with federal funds, on an experimental basis, because of the philanthropic intentions of the project.
While TFA’s efforts could reverse decades of infrastructural underinvestment in the Pecan Park, the suspension of FCC restrictions on the use of white space for the purposes of this project perpetuates the political marginalization of Houston’s Hispanic community; interpellating theirs as a space suspended outside of normal regulatory jurisdiction. With that in mind, this second part of “Mirrors and Other Spaces” investigates such localized states of suspension, asking: what might it mean to study the production of this architecture and its other spaces; to consider this new network not as a force for connectivity, but as the sedimentation of a state of spatialized liminality? Furthermore, how might this disconnection, as a medium condition for the production of space in this context, become politically generative for those inscribed within it?
To address the question of a sedimented spatialized liminality, as the spatial reification of the political marginalization of Houston residents of Mexican and Central American descent, I turn to prohibitions on the occupation of the public sphere applied to Houston’s Hispanics in the twentieth century. As I mentioned in Part One, from the exclusion of citizens of Mexican descent in places of business after the Second World War, to the city’s liberal attitude towards displaced central and South Americans in the 1980s and beyond, Houston in the twentieth century treated its residents of Hispanic heritage as if they were not fully subject to the law. Sometimes, incidents took the form of a denial of services, suspended on the basis assumed incorrigibility. Other times, incidence included denial of ethnic identity where its assertion would make apparent existing legal or social prejudices. In all instances, Houston’s Hispanics have been subject to a socio-politically enforced self-othering, performed in the interest of power, which pushes them from an attempted occupation of the public realm into a specifically-othered space.
Interestingly, the evolution of this pattern of marginalization follows that of the evolution of tactics of spectrum utilization, as instigated by events in this approximate local context (specifically, the invention of the Carterfone in 1959). To explain this phenomenon, I have constructed a series of historical moments for explication and analysis; these, for the sake of convenience, are used to isolate related tropes in techno- and socio-historical narratives. Each of these moments centers on two types of what I have labeled “disconnecting architecture” and their resulting “other spaces.”
Disconnecting architectures structure a territorial or conceptual relationship which optimizes a disconnection from existing protocols. These architectures necessarily produce strange new territories, adjacent to but different from or opposite to those subject to the protocols to which they were subject. My narrative focuses on two types: One is technical, related to evolutions in FCC policy leading to the legal allowance for Super Wi-Fi, and the other is drawn from the history of Houston’s Hispanic community. The intention in constructing this narrative is to localize technical innovation, as a means of understanding its potential political activation in a structurally similar, geographically adjacent context; this is accomplished by gathering situations in the past where similar power structures (addressed through the ad hoc term “disconnecting architecture”) have been enacted, and making relevant observations though contemporaneous and trans-historical comparison and contrast.
In understanding disconnecting architecture and its other spaces, I have found it useful to revisit Foucault’s concept of the heterotopia, and his discussion of the “mirror” as a zone which is simultaneously utopic and heterotopic. The term heterotopia is used describe places and spaces that function in non-hegemonic conditions. These spaces of otherness, neither here nor there, are simultaneously physical and mental. The term is related to the concept of “utopia,” which refers to an image or idea which represents an idea or image that represents a perfected version of reality. Foucault uses the term heterotopia to describe places that have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places than is immediately apparent. In general, heterotopias are physical representations or approximations of a utopias, or parallel spaces that contain undesirable bodies.
My interest in the heterotopia stems from its objectification of ontological agents determined in manners other than through the individual or autonomous. This interest can be contrasted, for example, with the identification and description of mirror-like spaces, or in either making a critique of the spatialization of the not-hegemonic or the processes by which it is produced, for which the idea of heterotopia is useful as a model. Instead, I work around Foucault’s description of the heterotopia as a paradigm; as a ready-made description of a local, historical phenomenon whose affiliative constitution has operated around resemblances which themselves resemble that which Foucault describes in his 1968 essay, “Of Other Spaces: Heterotopias.”
In his essay, Foucault argues that he was living in a time where ontologies were determined dividualistically, with each person’s selfhood, and experience of the world, created out of spatial and conceptual adjacencies. This process of shared self-creation he calls the network:
We are in an epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skein.
The remainder of this essay instrumentalizes this notion of the network in a number of ways. Generally speaking, I build off of Foucault’s spatialized conception of collaborative selfhood in a local context, addressing the means and methods through which subjectivity is impacted by the construction of networked-ontologies, or agents, identities, and realities whose existence is dependent on the existence (often, creation) of some sort of double, shadow, or white space.
In addressing these identities architected through the near-and-far, side-by-side, and dispersed I turn in particular to Foucault’s concept of the mirror as that which contains both the utopic and heterotopic: the fantasy and its realization, and also the zone where one is now and the space where one could be but is not. I quote that description here in its entirety:
I believe that between utopias and these quite other sites, these heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which would be the mirror. The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place. In the mirror, I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the utopia of the mirror. But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am. The mirror functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there.
The historical network I describe here is itself a sort of mixed, joint experience. It is, on the one hand, a speculative historical genealogy of the Pecan Park Super Wi-Fi hotspot; the paper identifies moments in the history of East Texas as if they are co-incidental with the effect of the hotspot in end-user ontology, with respect to the effect of the invention of the Carterfone to oil exploration, a court injunction on the expression of Chicano identity, et cetera. These incidents are, themselves, doubled, with each technical or social historical moment paired with a similar example in the other category. As we will see, each is a shadow of the other described to give visibility to similar aspects in the first. It is those aspects which constitute the “disconnecting architectures” and “other space” of interest in this essay. These are, themselves, part of a dyadic pair, described together for the same reason the social and technical are described: it is in each that the other is made apparent, even though the one is oftentimes a representation of what the other is not. Incidentally, the distinction between the two is not all that important—just as the causal nature of one and the other and hierarchies between the two are issues I have decided to leave uninvestigated. These things are of less interest than the fact of the reflection, and the constellation of historical events I have been able to put together in narrative form. One might say that this is the utopic aspect of my investigation: I see the Pecan Park hotspot where (or, rather, when) it was not, in shadows that give visibility to aspects of the network-as-historical-event; I, the writer/historian, have made this event apparent where it is absent: such is the utopia of this essay.
While it is a speculative exercise, the essay is also a heterotopia in so far as its mirrors do or have exist(ed) in reality, where they exert a sort of counteraction on the central object of study: Dr. Knightly’s experimental network architecture, and the rhetoric he has used to describe it. From the standpoint of these mirrors, these disconnecting architectures and their other spaces, we discover the absence of the Knightly’s project’s philanthropic aims, as the ground or foundation for the project that they are described as being. Starting from the gaze of the network towards its end-users—those who are, in both rhetoric and reality, the causal foundation for the Pecan Park Super Wi-Fi experiment as an experiment, the ground of the virtual space on the other side of Leticia Aguirre’s iPad 2, we come back to the gaze of the network; I, the historian, direct what I see as the essence of the gaze (disconnecting architecture), back towards itself-as-constituted-by-history (its genealogy), to reconstitute the project-as-grounded in an historical, phenomenological category (again, disconnecting architecture, in tandem with its other spaces). The essay functions as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes the place that Leticia Aguirre occupies at the moment we look at her in the glass of the iPad at once absolutely real, connected with the history that has existed around it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is the text you read now.
FIGURE 2.1 Carterfone
This (fig. 2.1) is a Carterfone. The Carterfone is designed to relay telephone communication over a two-way radio, allowing users to communicate by telephone away from a physical, wired connection. When callers on the radio and the telephone are both in contact with the Carterfone operator, the handset of the operator’s telephone was placed in the cradle of the Carterfone device. A voice control circuit in the Carterfone automatically switches on the radio transmitter when the telephone caller is speaking, and switches the radio to receiving condition when he or she is slient. A separate speaker is attached to the Carterfone to allow the base station operator to monitor the conversation, adjust voice colume, and hang up the telephone when the conversation has ended. The device was invented in by Thomas F. Carter, and was produced and marketed by the Carter Electronics Corporation of Dallas, Texas, for which Carter was president. About 4,500 were produced and 3,500 sold to dealers in the United States and abroad between 1959 and 1966.
Many of the consumers of Carter’s device were located in oil exploration and drilling, and for good reason. The Carterfone was revolutionary because it could allow engineers to correspond with a variety of locations from the field with relative ease. This new ability provided for a number of advantages, including expanded availability of geotechnical and mineralogical data in the field, and the a resultant ability for the concentration of data in a home office, rather than needing to physically transport these records to a field office. By expanding the range of a telephone connection, however, the Carterfone violated provisions for the use of the Bell System telephone network, as set forward in its tariff of long-distance charges, as filed with the FCC in 1957.[i] As per the tariff, the owner of the telephone network, AT&T, could subject a user of a Carterfone to penalty charges; AT&T issued notices to its customers to this effect soon after Carter started marketing his device.
The Carterfone is of import because it structures a spatialized relationship which optimizes a disconnection from existing protocols. In this case, what has been created is the reception of telephone communication in beyond that which was allowed by the owner of a telecommunications network, catalyzing a newly unregulated régime of behaviors that would not have been possible otherwise (that which is made possible by access to centralized intelligence from the location where it is being put to use). These behaviors operate within, and are dependent on, the production of new, otherwise impossible spaces which exist beside, but in opposition to, the regulation which prohibited them before—namely, the rules and regulations on telephone use imposed by a network operator. In 1968, in response to a private antitrust action brought by Carter against AT&T in the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the FCC overturned a 1957 AT&T tariff filing[ii] which stated that “[n]o equipment, apparatus, circuit or device not furnished by the telephone company shall be attached to or connected with the facilities furnished by the telephone company, whether physically, by induction or otherwise.” Applying the legal precedent of Hush-a-Phone Corp. v. US,[iii] the FCC ruled that “a customer desiring to use an interconnecting device to improve the utility to him of both the telephone system and a private radio system should be able to do so, so long as the interconnection does not adversely affect the telephone company’s operations or the telephone system’s utility for others.”[iv]
The ruling, often referred to as the “Carterfone decision,” or “any lawful device,”[v] was instrumental in the emergence of innovations like answering machines, fax machines, and modems, which initially used the same manual acoustic coupler as the Carterfone. Historiographically, the Carterfone—or, more accurately, the Carterfone decision—was instrumental in shaping the course of telecommunications at the end of the twentieth century. A 1999 FCC policy paper, noting the significance of the paper, justifiably gave the agency credit for the proliferation this last application, “The Carterfone decision enabled consumers to purchase modems from countless sources,” the agency concluded. “Without easy and inexpensive consumer access to modems, the Internet would not have become the global medium that it is today.”[vi]
What is often forgotten is that Tom Carter’s legal battle with AT&T left him financially insolvent, and led to the downfall of the Carter Electronics. In 1968, having watched his business shrink from over 100 employees to just himself over the course of the decade, Cater was forced to take a cash settlement from AT&T–$500,000, to cover his legal debts. Subsequently, after a dispute with stockholders as to which direction to take his company, Carter sold out; the remainder of Carter Electronics stock was sold to Cable & Wireless Ltd., a British company, shortly thereafter. “I was beat,” he explained in an interview with Inc. magazine in 1984, “mentally, physically, and financially. You think 10 years in court is fun? It sure wasn’t. I had ulcers, and I was on tranquilizers.”[vii] By 1975 he sold his ranch and, at the age of 51, went into semiretirement in Gun Barrel City, southwest of Dallas. He died in 1991.[viii]
The Carterfone’s protocol of disconnection was not an isolated phenomenon during the time and place from which it originated; I would go so far as to argue that its disconnecting architecture was part of a broader, local phenomenon of expansion-through-expulsion. Specifically, in its extension of an existing, spatially bounded resource (AT&T’s telephone network) into otherwise unavailable territory (away from a phone), in a manner which seeks to operate outside of pre-existing modes of exploiting said resource (i.e. needing to be physically within the sound and voice range of a telephone), the Carterfone resembled an already prominent practice in oil exploration: wildcat drilling. Wildcat drilling is a manner of oil exploration involving exploratory drilling outside of known oil fields, without necessarily knowing whether there is oil there or not. This practice involves a high degree of financial liability, and for this reason is often funded through limited liability partnerships. In a limited liability partnership, or LLP, financial liability is amortized by the corporate structure: the company, not the investors, is the entity left liable for any resultant debts. Like the Carterfone, wildcat drilling sets up a situation where one seeks to benefit through the extension of a known resource, though the force of will, in defiance of the possible negative consequences. The relationship of investors to the known locations of natural resources results, if oil is found, in the creation of oil fields which, while outside of existing data, are made to exist by virtue of their exploration; or, if oil is not found, in the creation of new debts which, legally, have no binding relationship to the persons who brought them into existence.
Perhaps the most famous “wildcatter” was Glen McCarthy (fig. 2.2), who between 1941 and 1948 struck oil 38 times and amassed reserves valued at $73.5 million ($700 million today).[ix] An entrepreneur who invested in many sectors of the economy, the fame garnered by his notoriously expensive $21 million Shamrock Hotel in Houston, opened in 1949, would inspire the character Jett Rink in Edna Farber’s 1952 novel Giant, along with its 1956 film adaptation (dir. George Stephens), starring James Dean.
FIGURE 2.2 Glenn McCarthy on his 55,000 acre ranch near Uvalde, TX. Photograph by Dimitri Kessel for Life, 1950
Incidentally, the movie did much to expose Texas’s second class treatment of its citizens of Mexican descent, and implicated McCarthy’s Shamrock in such behavior. The movie, famously, contains a scene in a beauty parlor in Rink’s “Emperador Hotel”—a thinly disguised version of the Shamrock—which refuses to serve the character Juana Bnedict, a wealthy Mexican American (fig. 2.3, next page).[x] Giant, even fictively, establishes a territory of disconnection; a social structure which interpolates certain people as existing outside its boundaries. This treatment of Mexican an Americans was reflected in many other aspects of life in Houston, Texas at the end of the 1950s, including the refusal to provide Mexican American children with free lunches because of the belief, infamously stated by one school board member in 1959, that they would “rather eat pinto beans.” In both cases, what we can see is the interpellation of those of Mexican descent as socially intransigent and the resulting denial of their occupation of or service in socially aspirant places of business or public occupation. What is created, in effect, was an imaginary zone excluded from and unimaginable from within that from which offending Mexicans have been excluded, invoked in the interest of maintaining or creating a racially-motivated social hierarchy. This zone is created, though implication, in the interest of maintaining the original space of interest as a zone of ascendant social fluidity for some, and social repression, by way of exclusion for others. The exclusive salon, and school board, elevates themselves within an imaginary social hierarchy by registering their elite status against a group of people who have been represented ineligible for the occupation of the domains for which they control. Like the Carterfone and wildcat drilling, this practice creates a type of surplus value—social status—by making manifest a territory not present before; a zone of suspension, created through prejudice.
FIGURE 2.3 Juana Benedict spurned by the Emperador Hotel. Giant (1956), dir. George Stephens.
FIGURE 2.4 Jose I. Torres and the students of the San Marcos huelga school. Photograph by Ed Gaida, 1971. Houston Metropolitan Research Center, Houston Public Library.
The bullying experienced by Tom Carter, from AT&T, during the 1960s is mirrored in the policy of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) towards its Hispanic students at around the same time. The image above (fig. 2.4) depicts a huelga, or strike school. The photograph of the school, located on Fulton Street in Houston’s North Side, was taken in 1971. Principle Jose Torres (in the background) and his students were there in response to a court decision, the previous year, which had forced the public schools in their historically Mexican American neighborhood to bear the brunt of Houston Independent School District (HISD)’s school desegregation plan. Instituted in 1970 by the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision Ross v. Eckels, the plan paired white and black students though a busing exchange program, but included only 25 elementary schools, mostly in northeast Houston, and included mostly Mexican Americans as the white students to be included in the busing program. When HISD refused to recognize Mexican Americans’ protestations—claiming they were, themselves, an identifiable ethnic minority—a group calling itself the Mexican American Education Council (MAEC) called for a Chicano school boycott, effective on the first day of class (August 31, 1970). The strike was a long time coming; as early as 1968 local Chicano press had noted that “Houston schools are ripe for an internal revolution”[xi] as parents became militant about the poor education atmosphere. Dissatisfaction emerged from inadequate facilities, teacher abuse, and insensitive administration, made worse in 1969 by the refusal to implement a federal free lunch program, even though it had already been adopted locally the previous year. Out of the 6,000 Mexican American students enrolled in Houston’s public schools, 3,500 joined the initial three week strike. Many attended “Huelga Education Centers,” like the one pictured here. Classes were held in churches and taught by volunteer teachers. Huelga schools would continue for several years, stoked by anger.[xii]
The US Supreme Court terminated Houston’s pairing issue in its June 1973 ruling in Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1, which stated that mixing Blacks and Chicanos did not constitute valid desegregation.[xiii] By this point, however, many Chicano students had returned to HISD classrooms. The strike action had caused the district to recognize Mexican Americans and hired additional Chicano teachers. The episode also demonstrated that the Mexican American community could speak in a unified manner, invigorating Chicano educators to work for the concerns of barrio students. In the words of University of Houston Chicano studies professor Guadelupe San Miguel Jr, who published a book on the strike action in 2001, the huelga episode witnessed a Mexican American community that saw itself as “brown”—rather than claiming to be “white” as in previous decades—and militant “in their quest for educational justice.”[xiv] To this end, by 1974, under a state mandate and fierce advocacy from the Chicano activists, HISD began systematically installing bilingual education in lower grades. The program would expand rapidly through the decade.
There is a point to be made here. The Carterfone decision and Ross v. Eckels are rhetorical instigations of disconnecting architectures. The tidiest argument I can venture is that each is the mirror of the other, with respect to their impact on people. The Carterfone decision eventually led to the internet, among other things, but ruined Tom Carter financially and, it is likely, contributed to his early death; Ross v. Eckels made manifest hateful anti-Mexican sentiments against a rapidly growing but still-vulnerable community, but they came out much stronger in the end, with a newly invigorated sense of themselves as an identifiable ethnic community. The Carterfone decision allowed for the autonomy of technical apparatus over agents who sought to oppress its autonomous proliferation (i.e. allowed for the manufacture and use of devices such as modems in a manner outside of AT&T’s direct control), but this new freedom was created at the price of Tom Carter’s life and livelihood. Meanwhile, Ross v. Eckels sought to erase the autonomy of an ethnic group (Mexicans, who were interpellated as “white,” for the purposes of school desegregation, despite the school district’s historically unequal, lesser investment in their facilities and students), but this negation was enacted to the effect of infighting a highly successful strike action, which resulted in the reversal not only of the Fifth Circuit Court’s desegregation plan, but also decades of underinvestment in Mexican students, by causing the hiring of Hispanic teachers and the commencement of Spanish-language education programs.
The reality is, of course, less tidy. I believe that between the Caterfone and Ross v. Eckels there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience. There were, I imagine, lives lived between these two events, but I write here from the perspective of history. In history, I see the present where it of course cannot be, in the past. In both instances, judicial action was undertaken in a manner that sought to disengage an attempted assertion of agency, both shared and individual, in the wider world: that of a telephone network user, in connecting to the network as they saw fit, and that of Houston’s Mexican-American children, in participating in the city’s public educations system as part of a separate, identifiable cultural group. While the Pecan Park hotspot facilitates Leticia Aguirre’s connection to the World Wide Web, it also works to alienate the experiences she acquires while using the network from her embodied or everyday self, instead relegating this experience-as-data to the sociological archive of CACTUS. An additional similarity between this present disconnecting architecture and the past instances discussed so far is that the disconnection imposed, in all instances by a force of will, is imposed to some disruptive effect. With the Caterfone, the disruption is double: involving both the ruling of the FCC, which said that AT&T could no longer exert complete control over their network’s end uses, as well as the disruption (if not destruction) of Tom Carter’s company and financial well-being; with Ross v. Eckels, the disruption is also double: involving both the huelga action, as well as the cessation of prejudicial behavior on the part of HISD towards its Mexican students, as manifest in their subsequent decision to hire more Hispanic teachers and begin new programs. With the Pecan Park hotspot, the potential for this double-disruption seems possible, but has only occurred in the negative, with some sublimation imposed but no subsequent proliferation or autonomy occurring. As I discussed in Part One, Dr. Knightly’s grant rhetoric interpolates the Pecan Park Super Wi-Fi experiment as a philanthropic exercise in order to circumvent and possibly control FCC regulation on the unlicensed use of TV white space. This is an inversion of the earlier paradigms of disruption by means of judicial action, because rather than trying to force a reality by use of the justice system, Knightly and his team are trying to force a reality that is in opposition to, and thus seeks to disrupt the rulemaking authority of the FCC. It is because of this inversion of will-to-disruption that the experiment’s disruptive outcome is single, rather than doubled, and only in the mode of sublimation rather than failed sublimation and then proliferation. As you will recall, the experiment’s interpolation as philanthropic results in an intentional not-designing, the ironic transformation of the network into an as-if autonomous agent; the double-bind between end-user and network architect and the network, enforced by the sociological audit mechanism, CACTUS, to the effect of transforming Ms. Aguirre’s non-technical entailments into non-essential irrelevancies (from the perspective of the experiment’s design).
In Foucault’s heterotopia, disruption always produces an “other” space—a new or novel territory of the non-hegemonic—and we can see that process occurring in the Carterfone decision and Ross v. Eckels: the Carterfone decision made possible a range of new modes of utilizing America’s telephone network, expanding its range not only into the oilfields of East Texas but also the coming soundscape of consumer answering machines and the datascape of transmission by fax; Ross v. Eckels made possible a range of new modes for Houston’s Hispanic community to occupy the public sphere, and become a vital and more central part of the city’s civic life (discussed later). As I discussed in Part One, the iPad 2 given to Leticia Aguirre to test the reliability of Pecan Park’s new Super Wi-Fi network has opened up an “other” space in that context; facilitating the translation of Ms. Aguirre’s feedback and network usage patterns into design objectives and network modifications. As I argue at the end of Part One, however, it seems likely that this translation of her data is occurring because of the “othered” qualities of her neighborhood, whose only distinguishing characteristics vis a vis qualifying as in need of Technology For All’s assistance is its exceptionally high concentration of Hispanic residents. I feel that this selection was made in bad faith, since Hispanic is not in itself a social disadvantage comparable with the low educational and economic attainment that Technology For All’s presentation materials have wrongly projected onto the neighborhood. CACTUS’ soon-to-be proliferating archive of statistics and testimony is thus an “other” space in the sense that it a zone for the index and representation of a category of “othered” people: a group of Houston residents assumed to be disadvantaged because of the color of their skin and native language.
I’m not a cynic. I don’t want to just say that the Pecan Park hotspot has negative effects because it was only made possible through a bad faith application of prejudices against Hispanic people that are prominent not only in Houston but across the United States. What we have learned, with these first two historical examples of disconnecting architecture, is that the disconnecting architecture of Dr. Knightly’s Super Wi-Fi experiment has historical precedents, and is therefore not only a force of will but is also part of a longer trajectory of similar events. What we saw, however, is that in one key aspect of the experiment’s affiliation with this trajectory, the resulting outcome has become inverted to some negative effect: the flattening of Leticia Aguirre into a cybernetic diagram. To try and make sense of this, generatively, the remainder of this essay discusses possible counter-examples for this negative effect, from the history of Houston’s Hispanic community, especially as they entered into the mainstream of that city’s public life, in the last two decades of the twentieth century.
FIGURE 2.5 INS Legalization Center, Houston. Photograph by Thomas Krenek, 1988.
In the 1980s, Houston witnessed the massive growth and diversification of its Latin American population, which spurred the development of a “Hispanic market” in retail and media. At around the same time as the FCC moved to free up “garbage bands” for unlicensed use, the Reagan administration’s support of the repressive military government of El Salvador had sent thousands of Central American refugees north across Mexico and into cities in the United States, including Houston. By the time the US congress decided to act on the issue of “illegal immigration” in 1986, 75,000 undocumented Central Americans and 80,000 undocumented Mexicans had made Houston their home. The Simpson Rodino Immigration Bill,[xv] passed that year, provided “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants who could prove US residency before 1982, by a 1988 deadline; in Houston. Over 130,000 did, making the city’s Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) office the national leader in requests for legal status under the new law. The distinction was just one instance in the burgeoning expansion of Houston’s “Hispanic” community in the 1980s which, while still dominated by Mexican Americans, had grown to include Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, and other Central and South Americans.
The new size and diversity of this community spawned increased excitement about the Hispanic market and the potential buying power of bicultural wage earners. One sign of increased attention to the Hispanic market was the proliferation of Spanish-language radio and television broadcasters. Radio station KEYH began broadcasting totally in Spanish in 1979, the first to do so since the establishment of station KLVL thirty years earlier. A rival station, KLAT (“La Tremenda”) started soon thereafter and, by 1986, there were seven radio stations competing for the Spanish-listening audience. Today, there are eleven. Spanish language-television stations KXLN channel 45 and KTMD channel 48 and started in 1987 and 1989 respectively.[xvi] The decades of the 1970s and 80s also saw the development of new businesses aimed at Hispanic consumers, which had a marked impact on the cityscape. Begun by anglos Donald Bonham and O.C. Mendenhall in 1972, the first store opened on Houston’s North Side and stocked foods aimed to appeal to the Hispanic palate. By 1980, there were four locations, and by 1986 there were fourteen.[xvii] The Fiesta Cab Company (unaffiliated with the grocery chain) populated the city’s streets with red, white, and green taxis piloted by bilingual drives. Soon, Spanish-language billboards and commercial centers clearly aimed at Hispanic clientele became commonplace. Then, to conform to the shifting cultural tastes of the city, architects began utilizing Hispanic motifs, with the “Spanish” architectural style becoming more prevalent in public buildings, shopping centers, and new construction for social service agencies. The city moved to recognize these developments with the construction of El Mercado del Sol, a multi-million-dollar cultural, entertainment, and research center in the historic Segundo Barrio, east of Houston’s downtown. Created with public funding after the construction of the nearby convention center, the well-designed facility closed in 1989, just four years after it opened, as a result of financial difficulties. It was sold in 2001 to Perry Homes, a major contributor to conservative political causes, including Swift Vets and POWs for Truth, and converted to market-rate apartments.
Houston’s Central American immigration boom and subsequent developments of the Hispanic market brought about an incorporation of the Hispanic community into the fabric of Houston’s civic life. This incorporation brought with it the creation of a space for the proliferation of the other and as-yet-unutilized into the primary structures of economic and state power in the United States at the end of the twentieth century: capitalism and the state itself. This movement towards the regularization of Houston’s Hispanics operated though the making virtual of their experiences: with the amnesty provided by the Immigration and Naturalization Service transforming certain Houston residents’ illegal route into the a matter only of memory rather than legal liability, new media outlets translating experience into recognition and broadcast, and businesses like Fiesta Mart and Fiesta Cab transforming cultural habits such as cuisine and language into commercial revenue. As El Mercado del Sol proves, this making virtual was not always additive: its bankruptcy, like all bankruptcy, had the effect of translating a living business into a legal shell entity, in order to make remaining financial liability disappear. Additionally, there are some uncanny parallels between Houston’s regularization and recognition of the non-hegemonic, its Hispanic residents both legal and illegal, and the FCC’s creation of “garbage bands” for unlicensed non-communications broadcasting. Like INS amnesty, new Spanish-language broadcasters, and new businesses aimed at the Hispanic market, “garbage bands” create a space for the proliferation of the other and unprecedented: in this case, new telecommunications devices, rather than new business models and radio and television programing. Like these new paradigms, the small zones of free spectrum utilization at 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5.8 GHz provided by the FCC virtualize attachments to an existing social structure—the American telecommunications network—in an unprecedented way, while allowing the network and the data it transmits to remain essentially constant.
Between these recognitions of Hispanic citizenship and economic power, and the intact hegemonic social structures in which they operated, there existed a number of hybrid experiences: moments where people of Hispanic descent entered visible positions of power or prominence in politics, business, and the media. Houston’s Hispanic political leadership became evermore influential during the 1980s. One significant milestone was reached when Ben Reyes resigned his position in the Texas House of Representatives to become the first Mexican American member of the Houston City Council. He won election to represent the first district, which included the Mexican American north and east sides of the city, and would soon become one of the more outspoken and progressive members of the council. Albert Luna III won the special primary election in 1980 for the seat Reyes vacated in the state legislature; he would be joined by Roman Martinez in 1982. The decade also saw the election of several Mexican American judges—including A.D. Adios, Alfred Leal, David Mendoza, and Felix Salazar—and, in 1987, the appointment of attorney Sylvia R. Garcia to be a head of the city’s municipal courts by Mayor Kathy Whitmire. In 1979, Ninfa Rodriguez opened her second restaurant nest to the fashionable “Galleria” shopping mall in the mostly-white southwestern portion of the city, and thereafter expanded until, by 1981, she operated seven locations in Houston and, one in San Antonio, and three in Dallas. She was named 1981 businesswoman of the year by the United States Chamber of Commerce, and was honored with an original musical based on her life by Houston Theater Under the Stars (Ninfa!) in 1982.
More than politics and business, news media was a particularly visible, but also problematic route for the assimilation of Hispanics into Houston’s cultural elite, because of television’s easy counteraction on ethnic identity. Reporters such as Elma Barrera, Olga Campos, Cynthia Cisneros, Adela Gonzales, and Sylvan Rodriguez, and talk show hosts Cindy Garza, Rosa Linda Perez, and Sandy Rivera, and anchorwoman Sylvia Perez became household names in Houston in the 1980s. From the standpoint of TV news, we can see how the assimilation was enacted at the price of the evacuation of ethnic identity of those involved—I will look at one newscaster, Sylvan Rodriguez, in particular.
FIGURE 2.6 Memorial segment for Sylvan Rodriguez, KHOU, April 8, 2000. (Click to play)
Sylvan Rodriguez was one of the more prominent Houston reporters of Hispanic descent in the late twentieth century, a group which also includes Elma Barerra (who started was promoted from intern to reporter at KTRK-13 in the 1970s, and entered semiretirement in 2006) and KTRK general assignment reporter Cynthia Cisneros. Despite his acceptance as a Hispanic member of the mainstream news media, the memorial segment broadcast by Rodriguez’ last employer, KHOU seeks to negate his ethnic identity in favor of a more general interpolation as a competent professional. In his memoriam (fig. 2.6), former KHOU anchor Steve Smith doesn’t mention Rodriguez’s ethnic heritage or identity, despite the fact that it seems to have played a strong role in either his news coverage or KHOU’s editor’s choice of footage to air during this segment. In the first 90 seconds, we see Rodriguez identified as a “community leader” while speaking before a banner saying “beinvenidos” (fig. 2.7A), reporting from Havana (fig. 2.7B), hugging elderly Hispanic women (figs. 2.7C and 2.7D), and reporting from Havana for a second time (fig. 2.7E). These shots, all unidentified, form a kind of backdrop or filler material for the narration of Rodriguez the man. Interestingly, this second narration lacks, completely, the ethnic markings we see in his highlighted news footage. Instead, the network audience is presented with an caricature-like photographic index of a Houstonian of success and achievement: a headshot showing a suited, middle-aged man with perfect teeth and hair (fig. 2.7F); a casual photo showing Rodriguez with his pretty blond wife.[xviii](fig. 2.7G); a professional event photo from a gala, featuring a diverse crowd beneath massive chandeliers (fig. 2.7H); more of the blond wife, possibly taken at another gala (fig. 2.7J); a photo cropped to show Rodriguez and his eldest son (fig. 2.7K); an index of his position as a “role model”—a poster for a gala honoring him, showing a headshot of him with prefect hair, teeth, and a suit, on to which they zoom in, just in case you missed the point (fig. 2.7L and fig. 2.7M); and a view of his large and well-appointed living room, complete with family (fig. 2.7N). With one exception, all of these are called out—with narrator Smith letting us, the audience, know what they are meant to signify or highlight. This introductory segment concludes with a recorded message from President George H.W. Bush, the consummate late twentieth-century Houstonian of prominence, and the standard bearer for Houston’s political and social elite (fig. 2.7P).
Rodriguez’s assimilation into Houston society is performed in images here, almost dialectically, with his reporting–and, silently, his Hispanic identity—the thesis for his social ascendency (anti-thesis), shown with his professionalized body (hair-teeth-suit), resultant accumulations or performances of a type of masculinity (wife, kids), entrance into society (gala attendance), a type of enthronement or coming out or debut as one whose status and identity are to be emulated and strived for rather than as one who is striving to achieve (his own gala), and, finally, the display of his own, self-originating, index of his having it all—the professional, at-home portrait of family furnishings. The conclusion (sublimation) of this process is the simultaneous preservation, transcendence, and abolishment in the photo of Mr. and Mrs. Bush with Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez, shown after President Bush’s memorial statement, which effectively assimilates Sylvan Rodriguez within the social matrix of the Bush political dynasty. Mr. Bush says, “We’ve always had a warm feeling in our hearts for Sylvan Rodriguez, we feel like he’s one of our sons.” This interpolation of completed social upward mobility is re-enforced by the sequence of images which plays under this sentence: first the group portrait (fig. 2.7Q), “We’ve always had;” a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Bush as people or perhaps parental figures (fig. 2.7R), accompanied with the phrase, “a warm feeling in our hearts;” followed by the phrase, “we feel like he’s one of our sons,” accompanied with a photograph of Rodriguez grinning, widely and genuinely (fig. 2.7S).
By virtue of this assimilation, Rodriguez lives on as an iconic figure of social ascendency. This included the establishment of Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary School in the Southeast Houston neighborhood of Gulfton. The neighborhood, made up mostly of low-rent apartment complexes, boasts a large population of recent Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants. According to 2010 census data, half the documented population is foreign born, with 84% of those coming from Mexico or Central America.[xix] At Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary, a state sainted-Rodriguez watches over the generations of Houston’s Hispanic social climbers, lending his blessing, though his image, to their education and upward social mobility. The school, which consistently outperforms district averages on standardized tests,[xx] recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. In a “PSA” created by the school at this time, it was noted that the elementary school hosts a program in journalism and broadcasting to complement its bilingual, ESL, and general education programs.[xxi] The legacy continues.
I see the process of sublimation-then-iconification performed by the memorial sequence and subsequent events, addressed above, re-performed by Technology For All and Dr. Knightly’s use of Leticia Aguirre in their Super Wi-Fi experiment. By turning Ms. Aguirre’s home into transmitter for wireless connectivity, Rice University has simultaneously transformed Aguirre into an iconic representation for their project—not only in the photograph for the Chronicle, addressed elsewhere in this essay—but also in photos taken by Rice University Assistant Photographer Jeff Fitlow and released by the Rice University Department of Public Affairs.[xxii] The photographs have been featured in a number of online news articles, in outlets ranging from The Atlantic, to Fast Company, the Register, and Pune Mirror.[xxiii]
To understand the outlook of the university on Ms. Aguirre as Super Wi-Fi end user, as well as a representative of Dr. Knightly and his team’s experiment, as constructed through rhetoric, I turn now to a video produced by the Office of Public Affairs, based on footage from the press event at which Eric Kayne was in attendance and shot his portrait of Aguirre for the Houston Chronicle. The video was uploaded to YouTube April 21, 2011 (fig. 2.8, next page).
FIGURE 2.8 “First ‘Super Wi-Fi’ user,” YouTube. Uploaded by “RiceUniversity,” April 21, 2011. (Click to play)
In the video, we can see that the flattening of Leticia Aguirre into an instrument of the Super Wi-Fi hotspot’s network architecture is a reality apparent not only within the rhetoric used to explain the project in its grant applications, but extends to the manner in which members of Dr. Knightly’s research team refer to Ms. Aguirre, in person. Twenty-five seconds into his on-camera explanation of the design of the new network, graduate student Ryan Guerra is forced to reference Ms. Aguirre’s as the end-user of the network he has been working on. When he comes to this point in his explanation, Mr. Guerra’s earlier excitement transforms into a look of vacant disinterest; he pauses for half a second, when trying to remember Ms. Aguirre’s name, and instead refers to her as “she… the, uh, lady who lives here,” and quickly adds that the network is also available to those living nearby. Guerra’s enthusiasm and rate of speech picks up after this small stumble, and he ends his explanation with a slight smirk. The video then transitions to footage of Ms. Aguirre, moving back-and-forth in a blanket-covered rocking chair, holding her iPad 2, giving testimony of her gratitude for TFA’s gift of free Wi-Fi: she is clearly excited about her new internet access, which she uses to “see the weather,” “get to know places that I’m never going to see in person… to travel through the internet,” “to get in touch with family in New Mexico… and California,” and which she “cannot afford” otherwise: “that’s another bill, and gas is pretty high right now so we don’t need another bill.” The video ends with an exchange between Aguirre and Guerra, where Guerra, impersonally and paradoxically, notes that the experiment’s “goal is to make everything that we do as researchers completely transparent to you, so if we do some cool algorithms [or] some heavy math that… so… we spend years working on this, and the end goal is that you don’t even know about it.” He continues, “you said needed to print those documents? Whatever you need, we’ll work on that.”
What is clear, in the video, is that Leticia Aguirre’s personal interaction with her new internet connection is not registered by the design of the experiment, despite the project’s focus on acting in the service of its end users. As far as Guerra is concerned, Leticia Aguirre could be anyone—and to this end, expresses little interest in her name or internet viewing habits; in the only instance that he refers to her during the video, immediately de-emphasizes her individual importance within the project’s design by emphasizing that her network connection is more a matter of her physical proximity to the hotspot than being provided for her use as community service.
Guerra’s treatment of Ms. Aguirre’s role in the network experiment is reflected by statements made by Dr. Knightly, on the same project, and the manner in which they are situated in related media coverage. For example, follow the conceptual progression made between the quotes of Ms. Aguirre and Dr. Knightly in the Houston Chronicle article that featured Eric Kayne’s photograph:
“Leticia Aguirre seems an unlikely candidate for the vanguard of wireless Internet technology. But that’s just where the Houston grandmother finds herself today, as quite possibly the nation’s first user of “super Wi-Fi” technology at her east Houston home.
‘To me the Internet is like a window to travel to places I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get to,’ said Aguirre, 48, who works at a nearby restaurant. She’s an early adopter of super Wi-Fi because of a partnership between Rice University, which provided the technology, and Technology For All, a Houston nonprofit that provides free wireless Internet access to low-income households in a three-square-mile area in east Houston. As its name suggests, super Wi-Fi has created a buzz in the technology community, with providers scrambling to determine how best to use the valuable new Wi-Fi spectrum. With money from the National Science Foundation, Edward Knightly, a computer engineer at Rice, was able to build prototype equipment this winter and create Houston’s first super Wi-Fi hot spot a few weeks ago. He believes it is the first such hot spot in the nation. ‘This is an early trial,’ he said. ‘We’re still trying to determine the ideal use for the technology.’”[xxiv]
In this short selection, Ms. Aguirre has been effectively interpellated within a broader project technological progress. In the process, as we have seen, Ms. Aguirre has been rendered as part of an unmarked diagram—relation to children, job, age—a render which allows her use as an iconic representation of a progressive, transformative experiment despite the dependence of that project on a at most only partially true representation of Ms. Aguirre as socially underprivileged. Sadly, at the moment where Leticia Aguirre, as Leticia Aguirre (embodied, and speaking) comes closest to the social processes into which she has been effectively sublimated (technological empiricism), her individuality is made to disappear completely: her behavior once again flattened into an input in a cybernetic process of improving the techno-social interface. Just as Sylvan Rodriguez was made to disappear sublimely into the Bush Family and whatever singularity they represent, in Knightly’s quote we see Ms. Aguirre, her house, and even the physical entailments of the Pecan Park TV white space network evaporate into nothing more than the circumstances of empiricism: “This is just an early trial,” Knighly says, “We are still trying to determine the ideal use of this technology.”
In response to Kittler and McLuhan, this paper takes a position that technology is neither autonomous nor subject to historical context, by instead engaging with the study of the history of science and technology by inscribing a technological advancement within a broader cultural context, through the practice of writing (namely: my own). In the first part of this paper, I asserted the primacy of rhetoric in shaping technology, and the consequential effect of that rhetoric on human cognition. I made that assertion by reconsidering how the Pecan Park hotspot had been architected, rhetorically, relative to existing FCC policy. In this second part of my paper, I have tried to complicate the causality of Dr. Knightly’s experiment by locating a cultural a priori for that rhetorically-shaped technical apparatus. This complication has been based on the similarity of the Pecan Park hotspot’s effects on end-user ontology relative to historical events in a similar local context.
With the first two historical examples of disconnecting architecture, we learned that the disconnecting architecture of the Pecan Park Super Wi-Fi experiment has historical precedents, and so is not simply a force of will but is also part of a longer trajectory of similar events. In one key aspect of the experiment’s affiliation with its historical trajectory, the resulting outcome was reversed, to negative effect: flattening Leticia Aguirre into a cybernetic diagram rather than allowing some greater degree of autonomy or proliferation of new and novel non-hegemonic outcomes.
To try and make sense of this, generatively, I have looked a possible counter-example for this negative effect, from the history of Houston’s Hispanic community, especially as they entered into the mainstream of that city’s public life, in the last two decades of the twentieth century. Both the Sylvan Rodriguez memorium and representations of Leticia Aguirre in the press have the effect of incorporating someone Hispanic into social frameworks (ostensibly) without ethnic marking. In order to do this, the media addressed above assert a type of difference, which I have speculated to be rooted in Hispanic identity as an ethnic marking, which is relevant or necessary with respect to the role performed by each person in their respective contexts (news reporting, and being the recipient of free internet service). Each of these instances involves an evacuation of personhood, with Rodriguez sublimated into a type of aspirational success, and Ms. Aguirre into the progress of empirical inquiry. In each case, the individuals of interest are represented as utopic mirror-versions of themselves: seen where they are not (in the Bush family, as existing primarily within the use of the internet in order to produce errors, to be architected out of the network). It is this shadow version which gives visibility to these people, to us now, in as much as they have been entered into the archive of Houston press materials, and through those materials discussed in this essay. These representations are also heterotopic because these mirror-people do exist in reality, where they exert a sort of counteraction on the way in which they have been represented. Drawing on Foucault, it could be argued that it is from the standpoint of these people, in reality, as looking into their mirrors, that we can begin to reconstitute what is, as it always already was.[xxv] Through these mirrors, we can make the spaces Sylvan Rodriguez and Leticia Aguirre have been made to occupy (the realm of the iconic and aspirational; the realm of the cybernetic, and CACTUS’ coming archive) simultaneously real and unreal. It is from the construction of this simultaneity that I hope some potential for change can emerge.
I’m not going to project, because I don’t think that would be useful. Instead, in considering Leticia Aguirre’s rendering as cybernetic through the simultaneity of the mirror, I have sought out an already-articulated gaze that is, as it were, directed back at itself. From there, I hope to look at what it might mean to look back from “the other side of the glass,” as Foucault put it: what I would look like to direct the gaze of the observed back at their observation. This transposition of intellectual consideration is made possible through the substitution of trust, as that which simplifies social systems, for the cybernetic approach employed in the Pecan Park Super Wi-Fi experiment.
In his essay, “Trust,” German systems theorist Niklas Luhmann argued that trust can simplify risk and contingencies in social systems, allowing extraordinary outcomes through its making possible of clear communication between parties. Like cybernetics, trust works to mitigate contingency and circumstance by rendering social situations into a throughput of input and output. Trust is that which makes one make a decision where a risk is known, but the potential for disappointment is ignored; the distinction between the self now and the self in the future is reduced from success or a disappointment as imposed by an external force (subject to confidence rather than trust) to a future either involving an expected outcome or possibly regret but whereby relations between what exists internally and externally remains constant. Anything that could have happened will have been always already a possibility, in one way or another.[xxvi] Where cybernetics reduces procedures to a black box of inputs and outputs, trust reduces experience to outcomes and, possibly, regret.
FIGURES 2.9 AND 2.10 Video of the rotation of prototype180 and photograph of prototype180, rotated. Photography by Kenny Trice, video uploaded to YouTube by “eyespyfilms,” November 10, 2010.
In November 2010, New York-based conceptual artist Mary Ellen Carroll rotated a tract house 180 degrees on its lot, in order to “make architecture perform” (fig. 2.9 and fig. 2.10) The project, located at 6513 Sharpview Drive in the aging, first-ring suburb of Sharpstown in Houston, Texas, utilizes that gesture as the first in a series of urban innovations. As Carroll has written, “While the rotation and relocation of the house on its lot interrupt the relation of the house to its context and to existing street typologies they also signal the altered life of the house as a space devoted to a program that will address the issue of aging first ring suburbs and their futures.”[xxvii] To make this happen, Carroll navigated between the otherwise discrete constituencies of Houston’s local government and civil society, creating a robust network of over 3000 individuals in city government, civic associations, construction, and higher education, each of which instigated one small possibility in her performance of that which was always, already possible in the eyes of Houston land use policy.
My citations of Foucault, Kittler, and Luhmann are instructive here. In the terms of Foucault’s “Heterotopia,” Mary Ellen Carroll’s prototype180 is a type of mirror: a mixed, joint experience existing between the utopia of the intellect and the “other spaces” of the social imaginary. In the house, as an icon, one sees the neighborhood of Sharpstown and city of Houston as invested into an object, whose trajectory has moved it from where it was, on its lot, to where it was not, at the back of the lot, which has itself now been deeded to the park, behind. This new, doppelgänger house—verdoppelt, or doubled; and gangen, or walked—exists as a shadow, double of its former self, having moved itself to be where it was not, both physically and legally, through its reflection of the always-already-possible, politically, and also its quite literal, geometric reflection (on its lot).
This double, utopic reflection is itself doubled with an online presence, mediated on the house itself. Under its eves, the house contains two cameras, which use Wi-Fi mesh technology developed be Rice University Professor of Computer Engineering Dr. Edward Knightly to broadcast two live feeds online (fig. 2.11). The house is also a heterotopia in so far as its mirroring exists, as a touchable, physical, seeable reality—a building—which exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that it occupies—the broadcast representation of its perspective, looking out. From this digital counterpoint, we discover our absence from the position our digitally doubled gaze twice occupies, since we see ourselves seeing what we cannot, in body. Starting from this gaze that is, conceptually, directed towards us; as a representation of the project, which becomes its ontological ground, always located on the other side of the camera lens, we come back to the house, as a focus of our attention, and the house to us, in its globally-available, doubled self-broadcast. In this way, the house directs its gaze towards itself—as the no place of utopia—and reconstitutes its physical reality as a real impossibility, an impossible vantage point, manifest in real space. The cameras function as a heterotopia in this respect: it makes the house that we occupy when we view the view of the cameras at once absolutely real, connected with the physical space that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it must pass through a virtual point, the project’s website.
FIGURE 2.11 http://www.prototype180.com. Screencap, 12/4/2012, 14:19:29.
Carroll perpetuates an already existing pattern of sociological disconnection, through a liminal position, with political effect. It is, both literally and figuratively, a disconnecting architecture. Architecture is a manner in which components are organized or integrated; this disconnecting architecture makes a unifying structure enact an otherwise invisible disintegration and heterogeneity. The rotated house acts as the structure for the transmission of digital information, between itself and the World Wide Web, and also between itself and a body of spectators. While the house facilitates this connection by hosting web-enabled cameras, it also alienates this performance online from its embodied itself (which remains out of frame). This disconnection is enacted through a force of will, a method of not designing and not building structures—physical, political, and technological—to some disruptive effect. In this instance, the force of will exists in Mary Ellen Carroll’s novel movement through Houston’s discrete civil constituencies, and the resultant not designing the translation of 6513 Sharpview Drive from the front to the back of its lot, and from its position in the streetscape into the park, behind, through the gesture of structural rotation; the end result is the transformation of the house from one among many into a center for the reconsideration of urban futures.
As with Foucault’s heterotopia, this disconnection produces an “other” space, a liminal space which acts as the stage for a categorical disturbance. That space is what we see performed in the project’s online presence, which I understand as signifying how prototype180, as an architectural performance, is made into an object for the mutual consideration of art and technology. As Carroll notes in her 2009 monograph, prototype180 “is an attempt to create a project that may lead double lives: between technology and art, between art and architecture, between architecture and technology, and between art or architecture and commerce. The result of these doublings is that the project will defy categorization, [existing] in multiple categories and negate those categories, so that it will not exist in the traditional sense, at all.”[xxviii]
With respect to the problems of cybernetics and representation posted by Leticia Aguirre’s involvement in Dr. Knightly’s NSF-funded Super Wi-Fi experiment, I see in Mary Ellen Carroll’s prototype180 the possibility for a type of productive silence. Both projects instantiate a type of ontological flattening by means of disconnecting architecture, transforming an object of study into a type of representation, whereby a previous physical unity is rendered intangible. Dr. Knightly and his team use cybernetic flattening to direct their gaze back towards themselves and their empirical aim (“trying to determine the ideal use of this technology”), with Leticia Aguirre serving as a control on their actions by virtue of the corrective action of her provided objectives and desires. As an end-user/object of study, Ms. Aguirre is being exploited, because the surplus value generated in the monitoring of her behavior—grants funding, publications, future patents and profits—will not return to her in a manner commensurate with its value. She got an iPad 2 out of it—but in comparison to $1.8 million in funding, this is a pittance. [xxix]In comparison, Carroll and prototype180 use the project’s internet presence direct the gaze of their artistic spectator back towards the object observed (the house, as looking out at the neighborhood) as a means of furthering its reconstitution of where it is (in catalyzing the reconsideration of Sharpstown’s future). It is the fact that the house itself which facilitates this reconstitution, as enabled through the heterotopic mediation of its cameras, which allows the dematerialization of its objective qualities to operate in the mode of generativity, catalyzing cultural change situated in its immediate facility, rather than exploitation. It is the fact that this situation exists, without being stated—that it simply operates, without any investment of confidence—that allows this generativity to occur. The project operates generatively because it has been given no stakes—everything which happens around it adds to what has happened, and what can; the house allows the trajectory of reality to register against its reflection, so that it may redirect itself from where it already is, if it (or, rather, the body of actors concomitant with that reality) chooses to do so.
In the first part of this essay I asserted the primacy of rhetoric in shaping technology, with respect to FCC policy and the rhetoric produced by Dr. Knightly’s team to describe the Pecan Park Super Wi-Fi experiment; I then considered the effects of this rhetoric on human cognition, speculating the impact on the project’s self-interpellation as philanthropic both on its experimental design and also on the manner in which it made use of Leticia Aguirre’s testimony and network usage patterns. The silence of 6513 Sharpview Drive allows an escape of the solipsism of the hotpot’s experimental architecture; by replacing a cybernetic model with a project design based on trust, prototype180 has been able to enact a dematerialization which facilitates innovative possibilities without the risk of exploitation. What this could mean in practice, especially with respect to Ms. Aguirre, remains uncertain. There is no easy comparison between a woman and a house. However, in locating a cultural a priori for the Pecan Park experiment in its relative similarity events in the same approximate local context I have been able to inscribe this technological advancement within a broader context through the practice of writing, which has ended this indication towards reparative amelioration of the problems I discussed in Part One.
I wonder what Ms. Aguirre thinks of all this. Someday, I will ask.
[i] Cf. In the Matter of USE OF THE CARTERFONE DEVICE IN MESSAGE TOLL TELEPHONE SERVICE; In the Matter of THOMAS F. CARTER AND CARTER ELECTRONICS CORP., DALLAS, TEX. (COMPLAINANTS), v. AMERICAN TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH CO., ASSOCIATED BELL SYSTEM COMPANIES, SOUTHWESTERN BELL TELEPHONE CO., AND GENERAL TELEPHONE CO. OF THE SOUTHWEST (DEFENDANTS), FCC 68-661 § 13 F.C.C.2d 420 (1968); 13 Rad. Reg. 2d (P & F) 597 (1968).
[ii] Tariffs contain the rates, terms and conditions of certain services provided by telecommunications carriers. Tariffs must be just and reasonable and may not be unreasonably discriminatory under Sections 201(a) and 202(b) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.
[iii] Hush-A-Phone Corp. v. U.S., 99 U.S. App. D.C. 190, 193, 238 F. 2d 266, 269 (D.C. Cir., 1956), “which holds that that a tariff prohibition of a customer supplied ‘foreign attachment’ was ‘in unwarranted interference with the telephone subscriber’s right reasonably to use his telephone in ways which are privately beneficial without being publicly detrimental.” Cf. In the Matter of USE OF THE CARTERFONE DEVICE IN MESSAGE TOLL TELEPHONE SERVICE; In the Matter of THOMAS F. CARTER AND CARTER ELECTRONICS CORP., DALLAS, TEX. (COMPLAINANTS), v. AMERICAN TELEPHONE AND TELEGRAPH CO., ASSOCIATED BELL SYSTEM COMPANIES, SOUTHWESTERN BELL TELEPHONE CO., AND GENERAL TELEPHONE CO. OF THE SOUTHWEST (DEFENDANTS), FCC 68-661 § 13 F.C.C.2d 420 (1968); 13 Rad. Reg. 2d (P & F) 597 (1968).
[v] Although this phrase is not used in the ruling
[vi] Oxman, Jason. The FCC and the Unregulation of the Internet. Rep. no. OPP Working Paper No. 31.
[vii] “Thomas F. Carter Of Carter Electronics: Calling For Competition.” Inc, 1984. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
[viii] “Thomas Carter, 67, Who Beat A.T.& T. In Lawsuit, Is Dead.” New York Times. 26 Feb. 1991
[ix] Burroughs, Bryan. “The Man Who Was Texas.” Vanity Fair Oct. 2008.
[x] As Thomas Krenek notes in his history of Houston’s Hispanic community, Del Pueblo, it was understood in those years that “better” barbershops and beauty parlors would not serve Mexican American customers. Kreneck, Thomas H. Del Pueblo: A History of Houston’s Hispanic Community. College Station TX: Texas A&M UP, 2012. Print.
[xii] Of particular irritation was against the court injunction taken out against the Mexican American Education Council in 1971, in response to their receipt of funding from the Department of Health Education and Welfare, which stated, “Content to be ‘White’ for these many years, now, when the shoe begins to pinch, the would-be interveners wish to be treated not as whites but as an identifiable ethnic minority.” This injunction is also quoted in Part One. Krenek, 114
[xiii] Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1. US Supreme Court (1973).
[xiv] San Miguel, Guadalupe. Brown, Not White: School Integration and the Chicano Movement in Houston. College Station: Texas A&M UP, 2001. Print.
[xv] Pub.L. 99-603, Stat. 3359 (1986).
[xvi] These channels are now complemented by local affiliates of Dallas-based Una Vez Mas, KYAZ channels on channels 51 and 47, Burbank CA-based Estrella TV on channel 61.
[xviii] Shelley Sekula (now Sekula-Gibbs), Rodriguez’s second wife. In June 2002, she married Robert W. Gibbs, Jr., director of corporate community relations at Reliant Energy. She briefly served in the US House of Representatives, from 2006-2007, to fill the vacancy opened by the retirement of Tom DeLay.
[xix] Census 2010. Rep.: US Census Bureau. Web. 17 Dec. 2012
[xx] “Assessment Results.” Texas Department of Education. , n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
[xxi] “Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary School.” Sylvan Rodriguez Elementary School. , n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
Fitlow, Jeff. Untitled photographs of Leticia Aguirre. Rice University Department of Public Affairs, Houston.
[xxiii] “Houston Grandmother Becomes USA’s First ‘Super Wi-Fi’ User, Lifestyle.” Pune Mirror. , 21 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.
Jackson, Nicholas. “Granny Uses Super Wi-Fi to Watch YouTube Videos.” The Atlantic. , 20 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.
Myslewski, Rik. “Texas Grandma Gets First ‘Super Wi-Fi’” The Register. , 19 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.
Zax, David. “Houston Grandma Is Nation’s First “Super Wi-Fi” Adopter.” Fast Company. , 19 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.
[xxiv] Berger, Eric. “Houston Gets Nation’s First ‘super WiFi’ Hot Spot: Pecan Park.” Houston Chronicle 18 Apr. 2011. Print.
[xxv] But it is also a heterotopia in so far as the mirror does exist in reality, where it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position that I occupy. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to reconstitute myself there where I am.
[xxvi] Luhmann, Niklas. “Trust.” Trust and Power: Two Works. Chichester: Wiley, 1979. Print.
[xxvii] “Prototype180.” Prototype180. , n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.
[xxviii] Carroll, M. E., and Domenick Ammirati. MEC. London: Steidl Mack, 2009. Print. 109.
[xxviii] She has also garnered a fair amount of notoriety by being featured in the media, but this will have far less impact on her future than it will for Dr. Knightly, Ryan Guerra, and their colleagues.
APPENDIX A: HOUSTON EMPLOYMENT BY SUPERNEIGHBORHOOD: EMPLOYMENT
APPENDIX B: HOUSTON FAMILY INCOME BY SUPERNEIGHBORHOOD: INCOME
APPENDIX C: HOUSTON EDUCATION BY SUPERNEIGHBORHOOD: EDUCATION
APPENDIX D: HOUSTON ETHNICITY BY SUPERNEIGHBORHOOD: ETHNICITY