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Tag Archives: location awareness

You probably have heard about Facebook Places, a feature that brings the site up to speed with other location-sharing services like Foursquare and Gowalla that allow users to document where they are, as well as potentially who they are with and other comments about that location.

The term “augmented reality” is often used to describe the layering of digital information onto the physical world [examples of where it is now, and where it might be going]. However, I have argued that augmented reality can also refer to our digital profiles becoming increasingly implicated with the material world. If the early days of the web were about going online as anyone you wanted to be, today, our Facebook profiles are more anchored in the reality of those we know in the physical world -and now are further enmeshed with physicality given these new location-based services.

New technologies –most prominently the sensor-packed smartphonemake possible our cyborg-like lives in an increasingly augmented reality [theorist Donna Haraway is especially important here]. More than just the augmentation of our digital profiles with physical-world information, we should also think about the ways in which digital documentation impacts our everyday, offline lives. With documentation in mind, do we alter our behaviors? Is it possible that we might experience a place differently when we are documenting it using a service like Facebook Places? Might we even change what place we go to? Or asked differently, to what degree can the tail of digital documentation come to wag the dog of lived experience? ~nathan

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by nathan jurgenson

Tim O’Reilly coined the phrase “Web 2.0”, and while the term has been differently used, I have boiled it down to the recent explosion of user-generated content (thus the focus on prosumption). This past summer, O’Reilly has declared another new era, what he calls “Web Squared”:

“There’s […] a qualitative change happening as the Web becomes more closely integrated with the real world via sensor-based smart phone applications. Web Squared is another way of saying “Web meets World.”

Wikitude3We can boil this phrase (if one wants to even preserve it) down to a fundamentally important trend: the increased blurring of the digital and material worlds. This trend has been discussed in some of my previous posts on “geotagging” and “location awareness”. These tools, often used via “smart”, GPS-enabled mobile phones, track and display users’ geographic locations in many different ways, such as on one’s Facebook or Twitter accounts. I have argued that (1-macro) these technologies are the further intrusion of capitalism into increasingly intimate aspects of our selves and lives, and (2-micro) the documentation of one’s location is a new task of performing the self and identity, fueling the ‘digital culture of narcissism’.

In addition to “geotagging” and “location awareness”, another important trend is that of “augmented reality”: the merging of material reality with digital information, as well as the augmentation of digitality with materiality (note that this later trend is not focused on by either O’Reilly or the Wikipedia article). Google’s Street View gives us this implosion, and real-time versions of this already exist, as evidenced by the video below. Google’s Picasa can now recognize billions of people’s faces and tag them automatically. Video games have been trending towards the addition of materiality, most dramatically when the Nintendo Wii took the market by storm by making the digital game play less about pushing buttons, and more about traditional material-world movements. Sony has announced that it will also release a “motion controller” for the Playstation 3 system and Microsoft is creating a motion controller for the Xbox 360 that will also incorporate a camera, depth sensor and a microphone, creating a video game experience where one does not have to push any buttons at all.

This speaks to a fundamental way of conceptualizing and theorizing the Internet specifically, and spaces and places generally: that digital and material realities dialectically co-construct each other. For example, social networking sites (e.g., MySpace, Facebook) are not separate from the physical world, but rather they have everything to do with it, and the physical world has much to do with digital socializing. No longer can we think of a “real” world opposed to being “online”. Instead, we need to think with a paradigm that centers on the implosion of the worlds of bits and atoms into the augmented reality that has seemingly become ascendant. ~nathan

by nathanjurgenson

Apple-iPhone-001Recently, this blog [note: this was originally posted over at Sociology Lens] has focused on the labor of the crowds. I have posted that the “prosumers of the world should unite” and have continued to write on the topic. Bmckernan expertly handled the topic when discussing “light” capitalism and more recently pj.rey convincingly demonstrated that prosumption is a structural force at play in the death of old media. This post is driven by the recent announcement that Facebook, now nearly the size of the United States, has become profitable (or “cash flow positive“). This re-ignites the debate around companies profiting from increasingly personal and intimate information about ourselves and our lives.

As prosumers on Facebook (that is, we both produce and consume the content on the site), we display ourselves and our socializing with others, and it is precisely this data, this digital goldmine, that Facebook leverages for profit. Another trend of intimate data being shared has to do with “geotagging” and “location awareness” tools.

Location awerness simply refers to tools -often utilizing “smart” mobile phones that are GPS-enabled and always in our pockets- that track and display one’s geographic location. The Loopt iPhone app does just this by keeping track of where the user is and helping them share the information with others. Yahoo has the Fire Eagle service, Google has Google Latitude, and Twitter has also begun to “geotag” tweets with their geographical location. Given these technologies, we can share our past and current geographical locations with ourselves and others by plotting them on maps, posting them as our Facebook or Twitter statuses and so on.

In these examples, we see that the very titans of Web 2.0 capitalism are set to profit (or at least try to) from another intimate source of data: where one is physically located at any given moment. The degree to which these tools become ubiquitous is the degree to which our very lives become a source of ‘intimate profit’. To this point, and I’ll leave with a question to tackle in a later post: does it matter that companies profit from increasingly intimate user-data regarding their self/their socializing/their very location if users find these tools useful? ~nathan