A Springtime Love Letter to RECL 4P21


Don't wait to be told what to do, how to share information, how to think!

Thank you for the invitation, but I shall decline. Too much surveillance already, no? ;)

Good work. You're getting it.


Orga/Mecha Vision

As Massumi points out in Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, there can be no vision without the faculties of tactility and movement. In this he is describing the organic vision of an individual human subject. Virilio makes a similar leap for the question of machinic vision in Open Sky with his recognition that technical optics have become kinematic and that the perception of touch has become integral to such a vision.

To put Virilio's observation in different words, and paralleling Massumi, we might suggest that the social abstraction, ordering, and processing demanded of a machinic visual faculty is not possible without the tactile enabling of the digital pulses of electricity/information that constitute its technical apparatus.

Further, while movement is required for this technical form of sensation to become possible, in this case the relation is inverted to the movement of the objects themselves, since the technical apparatus (photo finish, RFID timing system) is stationary. Which should serve as an adequate reminder that the technical apparatus superimposed upon the sprint and marathon sportscapes emerges due to the incapability of organic vision to administer bodies and preserve the integrity of the enclosure at high speeds or broad spatial scales.

Optics, Haptics and a State of Irony

What timing!

(Pun intended.)

Almost as if he knew I was working on this very topic, Mexican politician Roberto Madrazo was disqualified recently from the Berlin Marathon after winning his age group category. No Ruiz he, it is how Madrazo was caught that is of interest to sportsBabel, with the 55-year-old former presidential candidate captured by the machinations of the control society.

Courtesy of AP/Victor Sailer

At first glance, it appears to be a matter of touch:

On Monday, race officials said they had proof that Madrazo had taken a shortcut. An electronic tracking chip in one of his running shoes showed he had skipped two checkpoints and appeared to have run one nine-mile section faster than any human being on record, taking only 21 minutes.

"Not even the world record holder can go that fast," the race director, Mark Milde, told The Associated Press. (The record for 15,000 meters, about 9.3 miles, is 41 minutes 29 seconds, set by Felix Limo of Kenya in November 2001.)

But upon further examination, it might be a matter of vision after all:

But a sports photographer, Victor Sailer, wondered why Madrazo was wearing a jacket, a cap and long tights on a day when most of the runners finished the race in sweat-soaked T-shirts and shorts. Sailer showed his photo to race officials and raised the possibility that Madrazo might have broken the rules.

Touch or vision? Whatever the answer, it appears that for Madrazo, "who used his marathon-running as a metaphor for his determination and steadiness in campaign advertisements," the consequence is poor optics.

Introduction to Rhythmanalysis

The following constitutes the conclusion of a paper I just presented in Copenhagen:

A central concern in Bale's analysis of high performance running is the space-time compression that occurs as technologized runners traverse standard spatial distances in ever-shorter temporal quantities. But we must draw a distinction between the imperatives of capital and those of the State (Deleuze & Guattari, ATP; Hardt & Negri, Empire). A world-class running athletes embodies a massive fixed capital investment that seeks maximal speed and the potential financial reward that entails, while the State seeks to maintain a perceived level of ethical integrity for its own spectacular purposes.

Bale's analysis refers to the acceleration of capital in its various forms and one of the ways in which the State seeks to control these bodies is by introducing a space-time dilation to offset the compression. The fully automated photo finish system essentially expands the final tenths of a second at the conclusion of a race so that the administrators may optically adjudicate the speeding bodies and determine a race victor. Similarly, where the wide space of the marathon creates permeability in the tight disciplinary enclosure normally understood with achievement sport, the State attempts to fortify the barriers between spectator and participant by using radio frequency transponder chips to compress the marathon sportscape.

Thus, the State, in the form of the International Association of Athletics Federations, is presented here as establishing countervailing impulses or rhythms of spatiotemporal compression or dilation in a controlling response to the unchecked immanence of high performance running bodies. Based in the tactile nature of networked electronic technologies this control may be described as panhaptic, which suggests that new tools are required to think beyond optical surveillance and conceptualize resistance to structures of authority, both within sporting cultures and in broader society.

*     *     *

And I'd like to juxtapose this with a passage from Henri Lefebvre's Introduction to Rhythmanalysis (p.15, emphasis in original):

Everywhere where there is interaction between a place, a time, and an expenditure of energy, there is rhythm. Therefore:

a) repetition (of movements, gestures, action, situations, differences);

b) interferences of linear processes and cyclical processes;

c) birth, growth, peak, then decline and end.

Split Time

A reminder — With the introduction of RFID chips to the marathon sportscape, there is effected a doubling of time: the time measured by the master race clock (race time) and the database time recorded with the RFID device (chip time). While the IAAF recognizes chip timing as official in most cases, timing provided by a chip system is not accepted under any circumstances for the purposes of determining record performances. This makes the question of why the chip identity is so important even more crucial. Almost every technological innovation in sport is designed to enhance performance and/or improve archival measurement techniques, which cannot be said for the RFID chip, save for the (contentious) claim that it allows one to better measure personal best times.

No, this chip and its split, shadow time exists to striate a heretofore large, open smooth space — and to track objects through said space.


We have frequently considered sports RFID implementations here at sportsBabel, and have described these fluid, location-based tracking technologies as possessing a tactile quality.

Indeed, it is no coincidence that one of the first locational protocols built pre-internet was called Finger. Les Earnest, author of the protocol, writes:

I created Finger around 1971 to meet a local need at the Stanford Artifical Intelligence Lab. People generally worked long hours there, often with unpredictable schedules. When you wanted to meet with some group, it was important to know who was there and when the others would likely reappear. It also was important to be able to locate potential volleyball players when you wanted to play, Chinese food freaks when you wanted to eat, and antisocial computer users when it appeared that something strange was happening on the system.

The only tool then available for seeing who was running on our DEC-10 computer was a WHO program that showed IDs and terminal line numbers for people who were logged in. There was no information available on people who were not logged in. I frequently saw people running their fingers down the WHO display saying things like "There's Don and that's Pattie but I don't know when Tom was last seen." or "Who in hell is VVK and where does line 63 go?"

I wrote Finger and developed the supporting database to provide this information in traditional human terms — real names and places. Because I preferred to talk face to face rather than through the computer or telephone, I put in the feature that tells how long the terminal had been idle, so that I could assess the likelihood that I would find them there if I walked down the hall.

The program was an instant hit. Some people asked for the Plan file feature so that they could explain their absence or how they could be reached at odd times, so I added it. I found it interesting that this feature evolved into a forum for social commentary and amusing observations.

Finger was picked up by a number of other groups with DEC-10 computers that were connected to Arpanet — software flowed in all directions around the net in those days. It later migrated to Un*x, probably via U.C. Berkeley. Somewhere along the line the idea arose to provide a network Finger service. I don't remember who suggested that but it seemed like a good idea at the time so I stuck it in.

ChampionChipThe user would literally be touching the screen, scanning through the other users time-sharing the mainframe, essentially reaching through the wires of the local network and touching the other person — what we have described earlier as vision without sight. Of course, the finger protocol only located a particular fixed terminal on the network and registered the presence or absence of a user at said terminal.

As the gap between computer and body narrows, however, the ability of the computer to shed its fixity and become mobile allows for a more pervasive tracking and control system that may be deployed over more fluid geographies while retaining the tactility of the original Finger protocol.

While the purpose of the application has mutated over time along several dimensions and the role of agency has changed as well, this is essentially what we are describing in the sporting RFID implementation.