Finding ‘place’ with location-based Media

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Digital Media is a magician. It has answered to the miracle of time-travel and made a trick out of time and place; nearing the impossibly distant and (sometimes) making distant those in close proximity to one another. We have seen, in the previous article, how the impact of media technologies has involved a disintegration of boundaries between the ‘home’ and ‘work’ environment; distorting previous notions of time and space in the process. We can now travel half a world away and still ‘connect’ with our loved ones from that distance. We can work in one country and live in another. We can now, since the development of location-based media technologies in the early 90’s, experience our locations in ways previously unimagined, unfolding the continuum of time and space to walk the narratives of ancestors, histories and personal stories within location-based digital technologies.

Location, simply put, is special. Contrary to what it may feel like, we can’t actually be in two places at once. Physical location is unique and can’t be replicated or transferred. It is a basis for identity, with a culture, history, architecture and community that are irreplaceable. The digital-narrative of a particular location, Farman explains, ‘offers experiential value that gives us a deeper sense of the story and the ways that story affects the meaning of the place’ (Farman 2014).

Mobile phones are often in close proximity to us (within our pockets, handbags, and hands). They are increasingly integrated within our lives. Yet despite this media’s ability to connect individuals, networks, and information on a global level, one of its consequences, ironically, has been to ‘disconnect’ the individual from their physical location; evident in the many people we pass by everyday with faces facing their phones- only half-aware of the physical environment surrounding them. The consequential ‘psychic cocooning’ of mobile media, first described by David Morley, is ever-available to provide a form of escapism to individuals (Wilken 2014), should they need it to connect with ‘others more similar to them’ than those surrounding their physical location. This phenomena -along with the progression of civilisation into densely populated cities, has developed what George Simmel and Richard Sennet recognize as an increased sense of ‘alienation in proximity’ (Simmel) and being in a ‘place of indifference’ (Sennet).The city, it seems, has created many more strangers- situated in close proximity to one another- than the less-populated communities and villages of the past.

But the development of location-based media has tackled some of these ‘disconnecting’ consequences, particularly, that of trust in strangers. Games such as UK-based Uncle Roy All Around You, deliberately invoke confrontation between strangers, and challenge the notion of ‘strangeness’ in strangers; inviting participants to confront passersby and paid actors within its sequential levels across London. It has enabled individuals to discover the stories of others with games like Rider Spoke prompting participants to cycle around London, discovering the messages and stories of strangers whilst also leaving behind their own stories to be discovered.

Location-based technology is still new. So far, we have appreciated how it has allowed us to experience and participate within the space of actual place in different ways. From historical tours to the use of location aware tracking apps such as Google map’s ‘directions’, Facebook ‘check-ins’ that form new relational connections with a place, or rescue teams who find victims in crisis with such devices, to the games and play which tackle aspects of alienation within a community; these technologies are always realizing new ways it can be utilized, whether for entertainment, information, or emergency. And so it is exciting to see what future prospects lie in store for this technology, and what digital implications may be upon the physical locations of place.

References:

Jason, F (2014) The Mobile Story. Routeledge: UK.

Wilken, R (2014) The Mobile Story: Proximity and Alienation. Routeledge: UK.