Dutch designer Richard Vijgen has long been fascinated by the unseen structure of the Internet. His last app, Architecture of Sound, let people discover the Wi-Fi signals, overhead satellites, GPS units, and other radio waves that surround them.
His new app, though, goes in the other direction. Called White Spots, it's like a compass for finding the end of the Internet. And it may be a lot closer than you think.
Like Architecture of Radio, White Spots starts by loading up an augmented reality perspective that shows how connected you currently are in the world, and what mobile radio waves are surrounding you. Point your smartphone around, and the app highlights which carrier's cell tower is directly in front of you, with a distance in meters displayed beneath.
Chances are, you're positively surrounded by these towers. But by tapping "Get Me Out Of Here" at the bottom of the screen, White Spots shows the reality: most of the world is still unconnected. Within the app, these unconnected areas are visualized as the titular white spots. Most of the planet's white spots are in the ocean, but there's still enough lapses in coverage on land that if you want to, falling off the map of the Internet is just a short drive away. Heck, White Spots will even plot out a route directly there.
"We don't normally think of the Internet as something spatial, but in reality, of course, it is," Vijgen tells me. "We hope the app gives a new perspective on connectivity, by showing that connectivity is also a geographic phenomenon . . . in general, the more remote a place is, the more expensive it is to install the network infrastructure. When the people who live there cannot return that investment (by paying for data) the infrastructure will not be installed."
Although Vijgen developed all the technology behind the app, he actually teamed up with documentary filmmaker Bregtje van der Haak and photographer Jacqueline Hassink to make White Spots a multimedia experience. There are more than 30 original stories embedded in the app, which focus on individuals living in "white spots" either by choice or by chance, including artists who are creating Internet-free zones, and activists trying to install network infrastructure in Africa.
"These white sports are a kind of 'uncharted territory' of the 21st century, a kind of terra incognita," Vijgen says. "The people who live there don’t produce data, we can’t Google them and they are not part of a worldview that is increasingly mediated by the Internet. In a sense these white spots are our blind spots."
You can download White Spots for iOS and Android here.