Arithmetik Garden – RFID City

On a few blogs I found reviews of the Roppongi Crossing show in the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. One of the exhibits that seemed very interesting was the Arithmetik Garden by Sato Masahiko and Kiriyama Takashi.

When entering this interactive exhibit, the player picks up a card with a number on it. Then the player is asked to make the number equal to 73 by passing through six gates of different operators, i.e., +5, +8, *3, *7, -4, and /2, any times in any order. When the player passes through the gate, an RFID reader installed in the gate reads the RFID tag embedded in the player’s card. The database maintains the current number of the player, along with the route the player has decided to take. This exhibit is currently presented at Roppongi Crossing 2007 of the Mori Art Museum. During the exhibition, we collect data about players’ routes and compare them with shortest routes calculated by the computer.

Although the title of the work refers to a garden (with perhaps associations to playful garden settings such as the maze), for me the work is also about the concept of the mobile city, where people are/will be constantly interacting with their environments: sometimes purposely, sometimes without us even knowing that our actions are being registered. It also shows how this new technology might alter our daily routines. In order to gain points (or to evade registration) we might pick different routes.

It reminded me of Ito, Okabe and Anderson’s concept of ‘footprints’. Footprints is a practice in which people leave a virtual trace behind, for instance through the use of loyalty cards from particular vendors through which they form individualized relations with the vendors. Currently this works mainly through swipe cards, but in the future it could easily work through rfid chips or mobile phones. The footprint data is used by vendors for market research and possibly to adapt inventory according to demand. Sometimes data is shared with larger companies such as Mosaic who use them to make geocoded user profiles. Some people internalize the logic of these cards: they work their initinaries in the city out in such a way to maximize bonuses connected to the cards, while others are indifferent to them.

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Martijn de Waal

Martijn de Waal (1972) is a writer, researcher and strategist, working in the field of digital media and (urban) culture. He is currently a senior researcher at the Play & Civic Media group at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

He has worked with and for various clients and organizations such as The Netherlands Architecture Institute, Open Society Foundation, The Architectural League of New York, Lift@Home, Kitchen Budapest, The Mondriaan Foundation and Dutch Public Broadcasting.

Formerly he was part of the New Media, Public Sphere and Urban Culture research group at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Groningen, and connected to the department of mediastudies at the University of Amsterdam. In 2009 he was a visiting scholar at MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media.

His most recent book are The City as Interface. How Digital Media Are Changing the City (NAi010 Publishers, 2014) and De Platformsamenleving (The Platform Society), co-authored with Jose van Dijck en Thomas Poell (Amsterdam University Press, 2016)