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This book offers a critical analysis of the effect of usage of locative social media on the perceptions and phenomenal experience of lived in spaces and places. Drawing on users accounts of location-based social networking, a digital post-phenomenology of place is developed to explain how place is mediated in the digital age.



1. Introduction

The research underpinning the analysis and argument of this book originated from my interest in how technology interfaced with everyday life in science-fiction. I cannot think of any book that has such an influence on my perspective of the world as Neuromancer, the canonical novel of cyberspace and hackers by William Gibson, published in 1984. The book and the world that Gibson created in Neuromancer fascinates not just for precedence, but also for the uncomfortable, uncanny feeling that the present is reworked in a manner that estranges familiarity (see Kitchin and Kneale, 2005). Gibson’s vision is of a world where human beings and networked digital technology co-exist and perception of the world is dependent upon the co-existence and use of computational devices. The co-existence often borders on the hostile, but is also a way of understanding the how the world is made sense of by the characters in the book in a world imbued with and dominated by information, data and computer technology.
Leighton Evans

2. A (Brief) History of Understanding Space and Place

The primary consideration of this chapter is how maps and other location technologies are representations of how humans have considered territory over time, and as such a reflection of how place has been understood over time. The purpose of this chapter is to offer a selective outline of the historical development of mapping systems and technologies from early ancient maps of the pre-Socratic Greek era to the development of Ordnance Survey maps in Great Britain, Global Positioning System technology and databases of places. In doing this, the stages of cartography are contrasted and paralleled with dominant expressions and forms of knowledge and understanding of the world that dominated both formal and lay epistemology at those times. As such, the map and technique of mapping becomes an extension of (although not a causal extension) of forms of knowledge that are dominant at a particular time — a cartographic biopower, to borrow from Foucault, referring to the regulation of subjects through mapping techniques. These changes over time are articulated in the aims and objectives of mapping projects, in the scope of the maps proposed and in the methods used to create maps, from military organised programmes to the open digital mapping and crowdsourced mapping that occurs today with location-based social networking.
Leighton Evans

3. The Phenomenology of Place

This chapter provides a brief exegesis of understanding of place in Heidegger’s philosophy from the equipmental spatiality of Being and Time, the danger of modern technology and technicity to understanding place through the role of “the thing” as a gathering entity through its “thinging.” The purpose of this is to support the contention that the use of things in the world is critical to the understanding of place in contrast to the “industrial” or modernist notion. This account moves across the philosophical thinking of Heidegger, and in doing so acknowledges the change (more famously “the Turn”) in Heidegger’s thought regarding place while retaining elements of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology in Being and Time in an overall account of how people understand place through the usage of things in the world.
Leighton Evans

4. The Mobile Device as a Thing: The Gathering of Place Digitally

This chapter focuses on the thing, in this context the “computational device,” and how it is capable of revealing place as place in the digitally mediated world. LBSN can be a “thing” (Das Ting) in the sense that Heidegger employs the word, as a world-revealing entity that gathers the necessary elements together to understand world (and place) in an event, and therefore following the theoretical position established in Chapter 3 allows for a dwelling-with technology. Heidegger’s Thing is not considered sufficient to explain the feeling of place, however, in the context of two important aspects of the digital world: firstly, the interaction and practices of interacting with the computational device and code, and secondly in explaining the presence of data and information in the digital world. As such, this chapter develops a post-phenomenological theory with Heidegger’s notions of care, mood and situated attunement at the base, but integrating a sense of the body in place and the digital atmosphere. This goes beyond Dasein (and hence avoids the possibility of a world-projecting being) by contextualising being-in-the-world as embodied in action in an information-infused environment while retaining being-there as key to understanding the different senses of place that users of LBSN may have through using the technology (and therefore avoiding technological determinism).
Leighton Evans

5. Sharing Location with Locative Social Media

To understand the use of LBSN in everyday contexts and how this affects users’ experience of place, a substantial and original body of research on user experiences needed to the conducted. This chapter will detail he methods and techniques used in that research process, and will detail the practices and behaviours of using LBSN that are indicative of a deep understanding of place as a meaningful existential locale.
Leighton Evans

6. The Social Capital of Locative Social Media

The accumulation of capital through being somewhere could seem, at first, an odd concept. Humans are always “somewhere” and, as such, what is being proposed here is that this necessary and unavoidable facet of being human may be a commodity to be traded. Of course, from one perspective a link between commoditisation and location is obvious; the use of programmes and applications that accumulate data on where you are, what you are doing, who you do this activity with, how often you do this, and what times of the day you do this at sounds like gold to advertisers, and a political economy approach to the use of location-based social networking would concentrate on this aspect of the commoditisation of space. This chapter takes a different approach; the focus here is not on how value as a financial commodity is extracted or created for places in their encoding in databases of places that are used by LBSN, but instead on the practices of users that frame places as a particular kind of commodity. That commodity is social capital, the result of the use of LBSN to create an impression on other users, connections, friends or acquaintances that is positive or that is perceived positively by others. This is not revealing place as place; this is revealing place as resource.
Leighton Evans

7. Conclusions

This book has proposed a digital post-phenomenology of place or post-Heideggerian phenomenology where the key notions of placehood in Heidegger’s work (care, attunement, situatedness) are embodied in practices to attune to an information-infused world. These are all necessary conditions for the feeling of place, but no single one is sufficient; the digital post-phenomenology requires a particular mood or towards-which and situatedness, and the condition of a computational environment for this kind of attunement and understanding of place. In the ethnography, mood was found to be the critical element, as users revealed place technologically or dwelled with technology in a Sloterdijkian sphere to reveal place as place poetically. This awareness of place is dwelling (Crandall, 2011: 50). These world-revealing moments arise as users use the device and LBSN in their lives as a means of moving through and navigating the world and the device becomes a focal point for practices in the average everydayness of the user. As a final comment from the ethnography, consider the following:
I know that my friends frequent a certain place even though I’ve never bumped into them there. (FS0510201030)
The use of LBSN allows this user to know where their friends are. In making this comment, the user’s knowledge of their friends location — in real-time — means that they are aware of the social experiences of their friends and have an idea of what occurs in that place despite not “being there” at that time.
Leighton Evans


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