An unexpected sense of place?

In Great To See You. Just Not Around Here (full article), Jan Chipchase outlines the darker, edge effects of location-aware technology. In summary, the advertisement of location destroys anonymity – not just one’s own, but others’ as well.

Chipchase gives an example of wanting to spend time at a small, local bar, a place where no one knows him, no one knows where he is, and where he is certain never to bump into someone he doesn’t really want to see. (The article implies a long-over relationship.)

This expectation of anonymity is peculiar to dense, urban places. It should not be mistaken for the isolationism of the outback or countryside, nor the genericness of the suburban wastelands; urban anonymity is a protective shield against the pressure of a lot of people in a little space. In a dense city like Tokyo, a part of survival is being able to walk a block or two away and be in a different social universe.

But the boundaries of these separate universes have been slowly dissolving, due to the two heralds of this century: the mobile phone and the digital camera. The massive popularity and rapid evolution of those devices, along with the synthesis with the modern computer in the guise of the iPhone, as well as satellite GPS and cell tower triangulation, is to add another sense to the panopticon: the sense of place.

Now we can all see the nearly flicker-free stream of documentation of our lives, mediated through the Internet cloud of texting, blogging, and photostreaming.

In the early 1990s, I lived in San Francisco and participated in the early rave scene. One reason the scene held my interest was a sense of mystery and play. Obscure flyers advertised the dates and featured DJs, but often the printed directions led one only to the ‘map point’; once you found yourself there, you’d receive directions to the actual location of the rave. Sometimes that was around the corner, in a dark warehouse in the old industrial district; sometimes it was all the way across the bay in a complex of connected houses in Oakland.

Today, a single geocoded Twitter message could give the whole game away.

Published in: on 27 July 2008 at 10:02 am  Leave a Comment  

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