Head to one of nine Google/Apple/Facebook shuttle stops in San Francisco this week, take out your phone, and look at the available wireless networks. You’ll see a couple networks, called things like GBUS and fbshuttle, that mimic the wireless networks available on the shuttle buses. In fact, if you’re a shuttle bus rider, you’ll connect to them automatically. But these wireless networks won’t take you online: they’ll redirect you to a website featuring an animated image of the sidewalk in front of you. You will, in other words, be redirected back to the physical world.
The networks are actually a media installation from artist Harris David Harris, entitled d0ntb33vil (that’s supposedly both the password to the real Google bus wireless network and actually the one to David’s networks). “On the one hand, confronting riders with an image of the sidewalk offers an indeterminate symbol of failure, suggesting that something in their highly customized interface has gone wrong, while not saying exactly what or why. On the other hand, the imagery gestures toward riders’ immediate surroundings and the consequences of increasingly experiencing our environments and social interactions through virtual means,” Harris says in a statement about his work.
Tech bus riders have been a convenient target for anti-gentrification protesters for at least a year now. But David contends that he’s not actually targeting the riders–even though they’re the ones who will likely end up on his wireless networks: “Though individuals may play a role in gentrification, it is ultimately a structural issue tied to government neglect and the increasing power of the unregulated market. Just as the shuttles offer a local example in the privatization of public transit, the sectors’ myriad apps and devices promote an increasingly consumer-oriented world in which citizens are nothing more than users, and the only sense of a shared ‘commons’ can be found in paid or data-mined networks.”
Without any of that context, though, riders who end up connected to David’s networks will probably just be confused.
The public can access David’s installation at the Google bus stop located at Dolores and 18th St (network is GBUS, the password is d0ntb33vil).