August 31 by ccarey
The Wi-Fi Coloring Book
What does Wi-Fi look like? In these amazing images created by artist Nickolay Lamm, we can finally begin to visualize the mediascape that invisibly surrounds us. This is a perfect example, it seems to me, of what McLuhan was getting at with his enimagmatic turn of the phrase, “The medium is the message.” The content of Wi-fi is secondary to the environment that it shapes, colors, and influences, and these images do a wonderful job of visualizing the “medium” of Wi-fi through colors. They help students visualize a rather enigmatic concept about media.
I could imagine a more detailed comparison of these images to 19th century maps of railroad tracks or 20th century maps of highways, bridges, and roads; or perhaps even maps of the cables that form the infrastructure of computer networks. Today, these are the lines and waves that give color to our lives: pervasively, invisibly, and with consequences that are difficult to trace. What they lack in materiality (there are no iron rails to pinpoint in space and time) they make up for in color, at least on the spectrum.
Perhaps the only way to understand a medium so pervasive as Wi-fi is to treat it like a child treats a coloring book. And this is a great visualization of the problem inherent in the study of media. How does one visualize and make present that which is all around us, wrapping us in the environment that it formally produces? Knowledge begins with a child’s eye, the artist’s gaze, and the innovative spirit of an artist coloring the world with a different palette.