Digital technologies are becoming increasingly intertwined with everyday life at all scales. As a result they are having significant and often multiple impacts on the everyday geographies of many people. It could be said that in today’s world, many of our daily practices involve, if not rely upon, the use of internet-enabled digital technologies.
Increasingly this tethering of digital technology and practice is mediated through the mobile devices that we carry in our pockets or bags. When in use, these devices (primarily the popular smartphones and tablets available) make little distinction between what we once considered the ‘online’ and the ‘offline’ world. In effect, they are being used to mediate the material and the virtual in everyday practice.
Fundamental to my research is examining how these coming-togethers of the material and the virtual have affected a sense of place. I am particularly interested in how this digitally-mediated nexus affects a sensuous experience of place, which I suggest is inextricable to the assemblage(s) that constitutes place. My primary aim is therefore to explore how digital technologies augment everyday sensory experiences of place.
Technology has always been used in one way or another to augment our experiences, and therefore our sense of the world. I would however argue that digital technologies offer something novel in the way that they come to augment everyday life. I suggest that unlike previous technologies, those emerging today facilitate immediate access to a dense layering of dynamic information, to be retrieved from any location with cellular or WiFi connectivity. Noting the ‘real-world’ impact that access to this information can have, my research will examine what affect(s) this may have on a sense of place.
To be more specific, my research focuses on how the use of popular geo-spatial and geoweb technologies (which are embedded within most mobile devices available today) have come to augment everyday practices of navigation, way finding and exploration. Perhaps the most well known of these is mobile mapping applications, and as such questions addressing how mobile mapping applications have come to affect a sensory experience of place will feature heavily throughout this research. What does it mean, for instance, to experience the world through the lens of GoogleMaps, BingMaps, OpenStreetMap etcetera, and what bearing does that have on a users sense of place? Questions such as these will be used to address another of my research’s aims; that is to examine the impact that geo-spatial technologies may have on the sensory geographies of everyday spatial practice, and how these affect everyday place-making.
In carrying out this research I will to use a ground up, long form ethnographic methodology. Participants will be drawn from a broad range of cultures, the aim being not to provide any generalisations of society but instead to produce snapshots of how life is being lived in the so-called ‘digital age’. By exploring how geo-spatial technologies are affecting the intricacies of everyday practice in this manner, my research aims to provide an alternative to the ‘big data’ driven studies currently dominating this field of research.
By Mike Duggan (PhD Candidate)