Seven Mile Boots

Laura Beloff, Erich Berger & Martin Pichlmair

16 August 2007


In German literature and folk and fairy tales—from Goethe to the Brothers Grimm—the Seven Mile Boots appear as magical footwear that allows its wearers to cross great distances in a short period of time.

In their project of the same name, Beloff, Berger, and Pichlmair replace magic with technology and enable people to traverse distances in a different kind of geography. Equipped with a wireless connection, microprocessors, amplifiers and loudspeakers, the boots allow their wearers to eavesdrop on conversations that take place in Internet chat rooms. Walking around in the technologised boots, wearers can surf chat rooms; standing still, they can listen in on several chats simultaneously and overhear people’s conversations in the virtual world.

The magical boots of the fairy tales are able to traverse great geographical distances in the physical world with just one step. Their networked counterparts operate in an entirely different geography, merging the physical and virtual realm. The wearer of the boots is walking in both of these realms simultaneously, not necessarily crossing great distances in the physical world but conceivably stepping from one continent to the next in the virtual one (if one considers the geographical location of servers).

The magic of the interactive Seven Mile Boots consists in the fact that they serve as a connection to another world of human activity and everyday conversations. At the same time, the wearer is not an active participant in the virtual world but a passive observer

Both the literary references and the metaphorical use of the act of walking make the boots more than just a tool for browsing chat rooms and transform them into a reflection on the characteristics of different notions of geography and distance, virtual and physical. Telematic connections open up a window to multiple communications in remote places simultaneously and in real time.

Beloff, Berger, and Pichlmair’s project explicitly references Baudelaire’s concept of the flâneur who leisurely strolls through the metropolitan streets, taking an almost voyeuristic pleasure in observing his fellow citizens. The image of Baudelaire’s flâneur and of Oscar Wilde’s Dandy has resurfaced again in the context of the World Wide Web.

Media theoretician Geert Lovink describes today’s Net surfer as Data Dandyand states that the Net is to the electronic dandy what the metropolitan street was for the historical dandy; the anonymous crowd in the street has been replaced by logged-in net users. The artists describe the wearer of their Seven Mile Boots as a kind of a super-voyeur, not bound to a local city, but able to search several locations simultaneously and observe conversations between netizens around the globe.