Interfaces

Place is no longer a singular contextual experience, as it becomes infinitely accessible online in multiple locations by anonymous audiences. As described by Patton, public places are where all individuals have the right to be present in (182). In each space there is an expected protocol of behavior enforced by the present audience; in other words, the experience of being seen informs how we act.  Digital surveillance inhabits physical spaces, creating unknown and unseen audiences. The anticipation of these watchers alters both the site and the actions of its inhabitants (“watchers,” referring both to participants and curious users and to those in control of online surveillance technologies).  Public and private spaces blur as digital data documentation methods proliferate (Pink 2017). In addition to location data tracking, the influx of personal, handheld recording devices has truly erupted social surveillance and spatial detachment practices. Social media emulates the intertwining of sousveillance and surveillance capturing methods; "in an age where copying information can be done infinitely and exactly, the very act of documenting and sharing something can be a threat to privacy: once data is shared it is almost impossible to destroy all the copies, and anyone who has a copy can effortlessly broadcast it to the world at will" (Shirky 55).  

Additionally, entering digital platforms segregates our conscious presence and inhibits engagement with our current surroundings. The layering of place occurs through mobile devices: how we understand where we are, how we choose and get to where we are, and the data collected based on that location and transactions carried out on digital applications. “Users lose the sensory experience and presence of walking in the streets; they become linkers of locations rather than walkers of spaces” (Kalin 49).  Didem Ozkul analyses Smartphone users in London to understand how mobile technologies change social and spatial practices of everyday life. Particularly, why are people reliant on their phones in urban spaces to disclose their location information? Ozkul discusses mobility’s influence on placeness, place detachment, and sense of place. She argues that location information is an important attribute of a place, influencing place-making and our understanding of places. To investigate this question further, she asks 30 smartphone users in London, how people identify their physical locations within their daily activities and, in what ways do they refer to, or evoke, place while using mobile information and communication technologies. From these interviews, Ozkul finds that participants who use location-based social networks to navigate the city have a greater attachment to place. In closing, Ozkul recommends scholars studying place-behavior look at the broader spectrum of location-aware technologies and the detailed interactions of users on the interfaces to fully understand our perceptions of place.  

When using Ozkul’s argument of our experience of technology, I agree that the applications we use to find place and location impact our memory and attachment to a space. However, I think Ozkul fails to recognize who, in addition, is affecting these experiences.  If these applications are affecting our perception and emotional attachment to place, how is this being used against us and how are our experiences being manipulated and filtered to us?  

I try to understand these influences and the layering of space as I experience and inhabit it, using my work to illustrate these spaces and their fluid nature, and connecting them as simultaneous activities. I splice and layer images from numerous sources such as Google maps, Google street view, local surveillance video cameras, street debris, photographs from walks, and studio objects. I then print, project, copy and reformat these collected images again, mimicking the multilayered mixing and re-contextualization permeated through data collection and social media outlets. This back and forth process bounces from digital to physical realms in a continuous loop, until the origin is lost in a delirium of cutting, scaling and copying.   

Geographer and Social Scientist, Doreen Massey described space as a multidimensional construct of social relations (10). She gives the example of time zones; while she is in London in the afternoon, some of her friends across the globe are yet to awaken and others may be just sitting down for dinner (“Doreen Massey”). We are all sharing the same dimension of space constructed with different perspectives and narratives. She stresses that it is essential we understand space as not a flat linear surface, but the “dimension of things existing at the same time, of simultaneity. It is the dimension of multiplicity” (“Doreen Massey”). This social dimension of space is a construct of our relations and connections to one another. Furthermore, each dimension of social space is “going to be filled with power. So, what we have is a geography which in a sense is the geography of power. The distribution of these relations mirrors the power relations within the society we have” (“Doreen Massey”). It is important to understand this, to question power relations established through different dimensions of social space. Globalization conveys that we are all part of a linear timeline. Specifically, the terminology ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries suggest we all have the same future, rather than a multiplicity of perspectives, narratives, and future trajectories, happening all at once. Space in this case is, “not about physical locality, so much, as the relations between human beings” (radio). How can this be related to online spaces? 

Jason Kalin argues digital technologies and “mapping mashups” will never fully take the place of experiencing the city streets. Using the example of the flâneur, he expands. Mapping applications cannot “capture the hidden spaces, the thicks and thins, the actual contours of the city spaces...The flâneur is an observer that observes with all his senses” (61).  In referencing the flâneur, Kalin misses the cultural complexities of physical space and the possible positive nuances provided in digital space. The flâneur was first described by Baudelaire as “an observer and navigator of Parisian street crowds” (60). Moreover, in order to have the freedom to stroll the streets, the flâneur, was usually a person of substantial income and privilege, meaning the stroller has no agenda as to where they are going, no responsibilities as a working person or restrictions disallowing wandering without harassment. However, the digital space can still be connected to its humble beginnings as an accessible space for all (Clark). For example, there is a significant amount of violence online, however it still offers space and voice for those who may not have it in physical places. Online spaces offer alternative communities providing acceptance and safety, and are possible outlets for those who cannot wander the ‘city streets’ with ease. However, unlike the example of the flâneur, these sites can be corrupted and unequally distributed. If, then, location-based information is not equally distributed, whose experience of place is being negatively affected compared to the other occupants in the same space?

  

Additionally, Ozkul argues location-based information is beneficial to users, specifically for navigation, if they or someone they are looking for is lost. However, would the user be lost if they were not reliant on the technology to navigate in the first place? I am curious if Ozkul’s findings are more related to our reliance on technology to locate ourselves rather than gaining a deeper attachment to place. Do we need these applications in order to understand our location, or do they mask a plausible physical understanding of place? 

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Both the physical space and digital space reflect our culture and society. Physical and digital spaces influence each other, neither is wholly negative or positive. They are complex, intertwined and, arguably, indistinguishable.