Getting Lost

Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness
to be tempted of the devil.

And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights,
he was afterward an hungred.

Matthew 4:1-2
Abandoned by their parents, failed by breadcrumbs…

“They walked the whole night and all the next day too from morning till evening, but they did not get out of the forest, and were very hungry, for they had nothing to eat but two or three berries, which grew on the ground. And as they were so weary that their legs would carry them no longer, they lay down beneath a tree and fell asleep.”

Hansel and Gretel, The Brothers Grimm

“Not to find one’s way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance – nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city – as one loses oneself in a forest – that calls for quite a different schooling.

Then signboards and street names, passers-by, roofs, kiosks, or bars must speak to the wanderer like a cracking twig under his feet in the forest, like startling call of a bitten in the distance, like the sudden stillness of a clearing with a lily standing erect at its center.”

- Walter Benjamin
Henri Lefebrve despaired the ‘quotidienneté’ or ‘everydayness’ of modern city life as soul-destroying, within a context of banal social interaction and a materialist environment.

Conceived of most urbanites as workaholic sleepwalkers, lost in an endless ‘metro-boulot-dodo’ or ‘subway-work-sleep’ routine.
Guy Debord and the Situationists sought to combat alienation under capitalism, the culture industry and commodity fetishism, through techniques such as “Psychogeography” which was the “study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment . . . on the emotions and behaviour of individuals”

Their initiatives included the “Dérive,” a “drifting” walk through urban space during which one could seek the unexpected, freedom from bureaucratic control, and a dream up a utopic projection of an alternate reality.
There is a familiar strategy when lost of finding someone who looks like they know where they’re going, and following them.

In 1969, Vito Acconci staged “Follow Piece” as a public intervention executed daily over one month. It involved following one randomly chosen stranger through the streets of New York until he or she entered a private location.

As Acconci described it, “I am almost not an ‘I’ anymore; I put myself in the service of this scheme.”
Oblique Strategies (Over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas) is a set of cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt in 1975. Each card contains a cryptic phrase which can be used during a dilemma.

Some examples: “Honour thy error as a hidden intention.” “Use an old idea”, “State the problem in words as clearly as possible.” “Only one element of each kind.” 
“What would your closest friend do?” “What to increase? What to reduce?” “Are there sections? Consider transitions.” “Try faking it!” “Ask your body” “Work at a different speed”
Before he was exploring ideas about participatory urbanism using mobile devices to crowd-source the collection of geolocated environmental data, Eric Paulos, with projects like “Jaberwocky,” was investigating ideas of using mobile phones to create passive network awareness, of for instance, other Bluetooth users, with the intention of maintaining consciousness in hypermediated urban commuters of subtle social phenomena such as the “familiar stranger.”
Christian Nold is an artist, designer and educator working to develop new participatory models for communal representation, including Biomapping, a community mapping project that visualizes the emotional topography of cities, and Sensory Deprivation mapping, involving pairs of participants, one of whom cannot see nor hear and verbally relates their sensory experience while other guides them, takes notes, and carries a GPS-enabled mobile device.
Continuing from the Situationists, Fluxus, John Cage and Brian Eno, the Drift Deck, produced in 2008 by Julian Bleecker and Dawn Lozzi, is “an algorithmic puzzle game used to navigate city streets,” offering “instructions that guide you as you drift about the city.”

Every card features an object or situation that one might encounter, and a simple action that should be performed at that point.
Serendipitor, by Mark Shepard, is an alternative navigation mobile app that helps you “find something by looking for something else.”

Enter an origin and a destination, and the app provides several possible routes and directions of varying complexity. As you navigate your route, suggestions for possible actions at certain locations appear, including step-by-step directions, designed to introduce “small slippages and minor displacements.” Designed to help you “maintain consciousness” in a sentient urban environment of the near future.

“Get Lost!” by Pol Pla I Conesa was made in 2009 using Android, Arduino, Amarino, Google Maps API, a servo motor and an accelerometer. It reimagines the mobile device as a remediated interactive compass that generates random walks for the city-dweller with time to spare and who wants to get lost for a little while. The walker selects a duration on a timer dial – the only input – and then simply starts walking in the direction indicated by the pointer.



11 Responses to this post
  1. 20 March, 2012 | Patrick

    I wish I knew how to make things like this.

  2. 20 March, 2012 | Peter

    The technical glitch with disappearing comments now patched up – sorry!

  3. 21 March, 2012 | Becky

    I love Serendipitor – perfect for a random stroll through this gorgeous city!

  4. 21 March, 2012 | Eva

    So you either have a set of instructions you follow in order to get lost, or a set of instructions/suggestions on how to appreciate what you stumble upon while lost. Does it work? Is your head really in a lost-state when you are taking part in such an experiment?

    Who nowadays gets lost in geography? We have too many helpful devices, plus – more importantly – we don’t seem to have the freedom and time to get lost. Being lost = distress of missing an appointment. Always negative. Maybe we can only truly get lost when on a holiday with enough time, willingness and unfamiliar surroundings?

  5. 21 March, 2012 | Eric

    Let’s get lost! Nice selection of breadcrumbs for hungry drifters.

  6. 22 March, 2012 | Peter

    Thanks for raising some very relevant points Eva! Who wants to get lost except the extremely bored and possibly tourists with enough leisure time?

    With Jesus, getting lost was a voluntary parental challenge and spiritual rite of passage, whereas Hansel and Gretel were faced with more of a involuntary parental challenge that was completely survivalist in nature – literally to survive in nature.

    Lefebvre and Debord and the rest (maybe not Paulos) are more relevant, as they seek to challenge, in some way, the sanctity of ‘work,’ the ‘work ethic.’

    I see Debord’s dérives as being about getting lost as a form of popping your socially-imposed ‘filter bubble‘ of Marxian ‘false consciousness’. Very Paris 1960s. It’s rebellious and empowering, and there’s an element of social gaming, as well as public performance and escapism.

    Who actually engages in these things though? Probably just people who like urban art and have a bit of free time.

  7. 22 March, 2012 | Kunal

    I’m drawn to the idea of products or systems that promote the value of being “lost” or wandering. Many of these precedents resonate with the idea of the flâneur; of being both a part of the city and observing it simultaneously. Peter I’m glad you raised the idea of the filter bubble that Eli Pariser articulated – as our reliance on technology to mediate our physical experiences grows, our priorities for those experiences shifts towards what can be tangibly measured by those technologies. It also limits the scope of our appreciation for physical experiences – e.g. concentrating on taking a smartphone video of a concert rather than appreciating the music and atmosphere itself with your own eyes.
    I stopped using Foursquare because I found myself only checking in at locations where I was bored or waiting for something else – primarily transit stops. When I was out having fun, my mind did not prioritize letting my phone know where I was. Back to the questions at hand though, I think there are some great social experiments to run here. Big Urban Games might be another interesting place to look – one way to re-engage residents with a city is by reframing it as a game space. Pac Manhattan is my top-of-mind example – – but there’s a rich vein to explore here.

    Best of luck Peter!

  8. 22 March, 2012 | Eva

    Escapism / Debord: When ‘getting lost’ means simply to lose track of ones mapped out pathway, you can go from getting lost in space to getting lost in reality. I like this idea, that losing your way in a city can trigger all sorts of other wished-for sensations of getting lost, of escaping commitments, escaping your life, losing control … Getting lost gets a positive connotation here, by giving you this (brief) window where you can escape from your daily life.
    Which pretty much always happens when you are in a completely-new-to-you environment. When you encounter the unknown. Your senses are more aware, you life more in the NOW than in the past/future.

  9. 22 March, 2012 | Peter

    @Kunal – thanks for some interesting points.

    I particularly like your use of ‘tangible’ for what were formerly considered thoughts or perceptions – psychological and neurological experiences – it really reflects the physical cognitive re-wiring we’re all experiencing in our states of hypermediation as outlined by people like Nicholas Carr and Paul Howard Jones.

    Also interesting is your self-awareness of social media self-censorship – the riddelin-generation’s paradigm of this fun, active, positive persona we must generate for public consumption.

  10. 25 March, 2012 | James

    Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently uses a similar technique to Acconci’s as part of his sleuthing: rather than set out to solve anything, instead he leaves his house and follows the first car he sees, stating that, while it never leads him where he was intending to go, it almost always leads him somewhere much more interesting…

  11. 26 March, 2012 | Marscha

    Don’t we all get trapped in the ‘metro-boulot-dodo’ of everyday life…
    Love the countermovement.
    I always let my senses guide me on my nature walks but why not do the same in the city?