Location and Mapping…Why?

streetscape-1In the span of geologic time, humans just recently discovered that the planet is spherical, and not the flat, two-dimensional plate we thought it was. With the technology of today, we have access to an even more detailed picture of space and location, and almost anywhere can be pictured or videoed, and uploaded onto a platform for public viewing. This kind of technology is called Locative Media, and quite a bit of time has gone into exploring this faction of technology.

But first of all, what is locative media? According to Wikipedia, locative media is a “media of communication functionally bound to a location… applied to real places and thus triggering real social interactions.” It seems to me that locative, or location-based media, attempts to map a particular geographic area and send that information to a portable media platform, which is then utilized by people for a variety of reasons. Locative media can be accessed through our phones, laptops, or other electronic devices that allow it. One obvious example in my mind is GoogleEarth, the amazingly complete image of our planet,  allowing us to look at anyplace on our globe from any location. Or Global Positioning System (GPS), the technology we take for granted which has the ability to lead us anywhere, geographically, we wish to go. The purpose of locative media in these examples is easy to understand: aiding in our transportation from point A to point B, or offering a picture of our physical environment in a format that makes sense. However, what about other forms of locative media? What are their purposes and intentions? And what about this “social interaction” aspect?

The finished Britglyph creation

I came across Britglyph, a project spearheaded by Alfie Dennen, a British “creative technologist.” The project, which took place from 2008-2009, entailed the participation of 61 people transporting stones to certain locations on a map, taking pictures of themselves with the stones at the location, and uploading the photo evidence onto a website. The result was a nationwide art piece in the shape of a time instrument, which was inspired by John Harrison’s Marine Chronometer H5 (the tool which was invented to help ships navigate longitude for at sea). I watched a video and read some articles about this project, because at first I didn’t understand. Taking pictures of yourself and rocks? But now I understand that the purpose was to create art through the use of a kind of locative media. Taking a picture of yourself and uploading it onto a kind of social media platform provided the social aspect of this technology. It was interesting because I watched a video in which Dennen was walking to a location to place a stone himself, and promptly got lost trying to find the spot. He asked a person on the street to help him with directions, and then remarked, “See? That’s what happens when you’re over-reliant on technology: you miss the world around you.” It is interesting how much we use technology, like the GPS on our phones, however we still rely on human interaction because technology can only be so effective. Projects like this certainly show how the field of art has changed with the opportunities from more technology. But was this project really necessary? Eh, probably not, but it is an excellent example of location-based media in action.


San Fransisco Bio Map

I came across another locative media project called Bio Mapping, a project conducted by Christian Nold starting in 2004. Essentially, Nold developed a device that measures a person’s Galvanic Skin Response and instructed participants to wear this device while walking the streets of several cities. The skin response is an indicator of emotional arousal, so the data collected explains the level of emotion an individual attaches with a particular geographic area on their walk. The participants are also asked to explain their emotional reaction to particular places in words, and then all the data is complied and put into the form of a map. The one at right is the bio map of San Fransisco, and the color corresponds with emotional response: areas in lighter and brighter red carry more significance for people than areas in dark red and black. Where is the social component here? I think that comes from the little annotations that are written across the map. They say things like, “really big hill with beautiful view” or “truck blocking the sidewalk, we had to walk into traffic.” These reactions give thoughts and feelings to geographic areas that don’t immediately predict certain emotions or experiences, and I think that is the human connection part of this project. This is cool, but why should we care about these maps? Nold’s project does give us some interesting data and a new way to look at the spatial arrangement of an area, but beyond that I see little necessity for them. Although, don’t get me wrong, I do find the maps intriguing.

So locative media allows us to visualize space without actually occupying that space, but is this really a critiacal tool? Because my mind often jumps to criticism, and thinking of worst-case scenarios, I automatically think about locative media trying to replace people’s need to leave their homes. Why would I need to take a walk in the park if I can just look up a picture of the park (besides reasons of wanting exercise)? I know this sounds strange, but this is where my mind goes. It also reminds me of the settings you can have on treadmills these days where they let you watch an animated path of a forest so it looks like you are running along a tree-lined trail. Why don’t we just run outside with the real trees? This concept is a little off topic from locative media, but the point here is again about necessity. Is this form of technology useful? Yes. But is it essential? I’m not as sure.


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