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Augmented Realities and Uneven Geographies

by Research Fellow at Oxford Internet Institute on Sep 24, 2011

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People have always placed great weight on the ways in which places become fixed though depictions, names and representations (e.g. Basso, 1996). Fixings of place in names, story, song, books, ...

People have always placed great weight on the ways in which places become fixed though depictions, names and representations (e.g. Basso, 1996). Fixings of place in names, story, song, books, newspapers, videos, and other media matter because those stabilizations, in turn, become the basis for how we understand, produce, reproduce, enact and re-enact the places and cities that we live in. Places are now increasingly defined by dense and complex layers of geocoded content and interactions, accessed via digital technologies and filtered through opaque lines of coded algorithms. New media outlets ranging from free encyclopedias to micro-blogs to social networking platforms present a constantly shifting narrative about different parts of our world, while software and social-sorting systems, embedded into both the devices used for access and the online platforms that host content, serves to sort and prioritize the small slice of material about places that people are capable of absorbing.

This digital geospatial information is layered throughout our urban landscapes; it is invisible to the naked eye, but is a central component of the augmentations and mediations of place enabled by hundreds of millions of mobile devices, computers, and other digital technologies. We not just produce, access, and use all of this geospatial information about place, but also access it whilst we are in those very places. Moreover, due to advances in mobile technology, many people now quite literally have access to this information in the palms of our hands. But far from uniform and ubiquitous, these digital dimensions of places are fractured along a number of axes such as location, language and social networks.

This paper analyzes how these fractures differ across space and language to both highlight the differences and begin the process of explaining the factors behind them. While some of the disparities conform to longstanding offline patterns, others highlight the changing fortunes and positions of places in a globalizing economy and highlight the increasingly finer scale of differentiation in which understandings of places are constructed.

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