Chapter 2

Chapter 2

Ch. 2

Mapping and Representations of Space


How we represent space has everything to do with how we embody that space. Our concepts of culture, identity, and agency all spring from our understanding of bodies’ relationships to the spaces they exist in and move through. Such understandings are conceived out of the various ways space is represented and visualized. The previous chapter focused specifically on my definition of embodiment for mobile media culture. Here, I want to focus on embodiment’s counterpart: spatiality. Since embodiment and space are indelibly linked together, it is important to develop a strong understanding of our usage of the term “mobile media space.” Such an understanding is undoubtedly linked to the various ways space is represented on mobile devices, representations that a community comes to rely on to interact with pervasive computing space. In order to define the various ways space is produced in our mobile media era, I will draw on several examples that demonstrate the various ways we embody and practice space. These examples are primarily rooted in ideas of mapping: from mapping geographic regions to mapping ideas and concepts in word clouds, from mapping information and visualizations onto landscapes through augmented reality applications to mapping disaster zones through site-specific text messages. Mapping, as a means of representing and practicing space (and the cultural capital that is so intimately connected to this concept), serves as a key example in the exploration of what “space” means in our embodied practices of mobile technologies.


The Space of Virtuality

On a recent trip to Boston, after being dropped off at my hotel by a taxi, I placed my luggage in my room and stepped outside to find a restaurant. I loaded a map on my phone, hit the button that would request my location, and noticed the blue dot that located me at an intersection. I looked at the nearby street corner signs, which did not match the place that the map located me. I knew the map was representing my location incorrectly. I also knew the name of the nearest intersection. But, I had no idea where I was! Though I had barely taken a few steps outside of the hotel, I was already lost. With no one nearby to help clarify the discrepancy, I tried a few techniques to get the map to show my correct location so I could find out which restaurants were within walking distance. I did a search for my hotel and discovered that the map was placing me about a half mile from my current location. What struck me most about this situation was the feeling of displacement I had until the map lined up with my physical location. I had an odd anxiety about being lost, but couldn’t quite figure out why. It dawned on me that as I typically move through a new place, I use my mobile device to inform me of the context of my location. The “virtual” world of the mobile interface deeply affects the way I move through my everyday life. I savor the context-aware information my mobile device provides me and, when the representation of my environment on my device does not match up with the material space around me, I feel that one of my lenses to the world has been broken.

Increasingly, our experiences of virtual space are dissolving into the practices of our everyday lives. In fact, by tracing the history of the term “virtuality,” we immediately see that the intimate relationship between the virtual and the “actual” has always been historically assumed. For Elizabeth Grosz, this dissolve takes place at the level of the perceptual, noting that the most striking transformation heralded in by digital technologies is the “change in our perceptions of materiality, space, and information, which is bound directly or indirectly to affect how we understand architecture, habitation, and the built environment.”[1] Though Grosz continues to utilize the dichotomy between “virtual” and “real” space (as exemplified in her book’s title: Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space), her ultimate goal is quite aligned with my approach to pervasive computing space (as actualized through mobile technologies). By interrogating whether or not the “computer screen [can] act as the clear-cut barrier separating cyberspace from real space” my chapter parallels Grosz’s argument that “virtual objects are now capable of generating the same perceptual effects as ‘real’ objects.”[2] Ultimately, an updated approach is needed for our conceptions of how virtual and material spaces interact. Here, we must complicate “our notions of real, of body, and of the physical or historical city […] [and] what they seem to oppose.”[3]

While pervasive computing space often prompts a comparison between the “real” and the “virtual,” such dichotomies do little to inform our embodied experience of this kind of space, especially in an age when the perceptive interaction with the digital environment offers a significant embodied experience. We might even ask, what distinguishes the “real” space when a virtual interaction offers a very “real” experience. Instead, by understanding the space of the digital and the space of the material to have constant interplay and permeability between one another, distinguishing the space of the virtual from the space of the real does not inform a nuanced understanding of pervasive computing space, mobile media space, or space broadly conceived.

As I touched on briefly in the previous chapter, the term “virtual” is drawn from the Latin word virtus, which has had many meanings over the years including “virtue,” “force,” “power,” and then, in 1959, it began to be used in computing terms as that which is “[n]ot physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so from the point of view of the program or the user.”[4] This use of the virtual as that which is not physical but emulates the physical (such as “virtual memory” or “virtual machine”) gestures back to the 1600s, when people used it to refer to metaphysical ideas related to Christianity, especially in distinguishing between the physical practices of faith — such as taking communion or getting baptized — and the metaphysical/“virtual” components of faith — such as the inward belief and connection to God. Connecting the virtual to the spiritual illuminates the historic idea that virtuality is non-physical and largely about potential or a process of becoming. However, this definition of the virtual had never been opposed to that which is real. For people of faith, sometimes that which is “virtual” and metaphysical is even more real than the physical world in which they live.

This definition is only one approach to the virtual. Accompanying this approach to the virtual is the idea of the virtual as simulation. The extended history of using the virtual to stand in for ideas of simulation is traced by Adriana de Souza e Silva and Daniel Sutko and is what they term the “technological virtual.” They write, “Because the Internet was mostly accessed through fixed interfaces (e.g., personal computers) that were physically attached to a home or office space, physical spaces were perceived as independent from digital spaces. Accordingly, digital worlds, such as chat rooms and multiuser environments, were considered ‘virtual’ because they allowed people to meet in nonphysical, simulated spaces.”[5] The emergence of the relationship between virtuality and simulation is linked to a shift in computing from a “culture of calculations to a culture of simulations.” De Souza e Silva and Sutko note, “In the culture of simulations, everything is taken at interface value.”[6] The simulation as a screen representation that stood in for physical spaces has since caused a significant amount of cultural anxiety due to the potentials present in these forms of representation (from fears of children committing acts of violence after playing a violent videogame to people being so distracted by their devices that they no longer pay adequate attention to the physical space around them). De Souza e Silva and Sutko rightly trace this anxiety back to Plato’s anxiety over art as a representational form that would draw us away from the “real” world. This fear has extended into contemporary discussions of digital interfaces as spaces that threaten to become more important — and will thus eventually subsume — “actual” space. As Umberto Eco has argued, once there is a 1:1 relationship between the representation and the thing it represents (such as a map that is the exact size of the space it represents), the former will destroy the later. They are unable to coexist.[7]

These theories of virtuality and simulation fail us in important ways: they do not take into account the sensory-inscribed experience of virtuality as a multiplicity and tend to ignore the materiality of the virtual. The virtual has been experienced throughout history as not a privileging or erasing of one space over another. The virtual is instead an experience of multiplicity. It is an experience of layering and the constant interplay that bonds the virtual and the actual together is the pleasure of virtuality. As John Rajchman writes, citing Proust: “The virtual is ‘real without being actual, ideal without being abstract.’”[8] This constant interplay — without a full dissolution of one space into another — is the key to the success of virtuality. Rajchman continues: “The actual is then what manifests and effectuates the virtual, but the actual never completely shows or activates all that the virtual implies. Something always remains.”[9]

Playwright Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America, relates this kind of experience of multiplicity to the reasons that representational forms (from plays to maps) are effective and powerful. He says,

At the end of Hamlet, you think, “What was Shakespeare thinking? You have somebody die at the end of a swordfight?” Well, if you’ve ever done stage fencing you know, at the end of the fencing when he falls dead he’s just been running around the stage with Laertes waving his sword, so he’s going to lie on the stage and he’s going to be [breathing heavy]. It’s always — every Hamlet — there’s the body, bellows breathing. And yet, in a good production of Hamlet, when Horatio says, “Goodnight sweet prince; and flights of angels…” it kills you. Of course, Shakespeare knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted you to see that body breathing and to have this double experience. That’s how you understand, if you can develop that in yourself: if you can learn to read the world, if you learn to understand that fundamentalism and literalism are anemical to human progress (and, I think in a certain sense, to human happiness and to decency and justice and liberty and all sorts of good things). If you are a literal reader of texts, you’re never going to understand anything. If you don’t have the ability to interpret, you’re missing the whole point of being alive, the whole point of being alive with a brain. And you’ll be — that’s what Shakespeare says — you’ll be the fool of time, the fool of history, the fool of the world instead of being someone who can understand.[10]

The doubleness that Kushner argues for is essentially the multiplicity that is the experience of virtuality. It is experienced as a multiplicity that “can never be reduced to a set of discrete elements or to the different parts of a closed or organic whole. (This is what Bergson called ‘qualitative’ rather than ‘quantitative’ multiplicity.)”[11] Thus, as we experience the virtual through our mobile interfaces, it is vital to note that virtual space always implies a counterpart, such as Gilles Deleuze’s coupling of the virtual with the actual. For Deleuze, these are not oppositional terms; instead, they serve as counterparts indelibly linked to one another. In this view, the virtual would never fully dissolve into the actual because it is already an integral part of the ways we have always experienced the actual. From our interfaces to our imaginations, the virtual and the “realized” have historically been tandem and complementary elements of our experiences of everyday life.

Yet, the virtual and the real continue to be discussed as opposites. One reason we are so drawn to discussing space in such bifurcated terms is largely due to a significant shift in our experience of space with the advent of mobile computing, especially with internet-capable devices. The move from personal computing to pervasive computing, a shift characterized by the move from immobility to mobility, has allowed for online space to interact with material space in unprecedented ways. Smartphones allow us to go online from any place with an internet connection, a fact that is quite amazing after connecting online for years while attached to non-mobile places. By having a device (one we carry with us wherever we go) that is able to interface with the world in a way that transforms our everyday experience of space into an experience of multiplicity, the production of virtual space is with us on seemingly unprecedented levels. This experience of virtuality, it must be noted, extends Deleuze’s (and later the work of N. Katherine Hayles) idea that the virtual is a “process of becoming.”[12] Instead, the virtual better represents “being-as-becoming.” Mobile technologies’ impact on the production of space demonstrates how the virtual is always understood as a state of being that is intertwined with a state of becoming. This being-as-becoming is a present-tense experience of embodied space informed by past and future potentials. Essential to this experience of virtual space is the ways that the practice of materiality is informed by various modes of representation. Examples from mobile and locative media will demonstrate how the production of embodied space is enacted.


Augmented Reality and Embodied Implacement

One key feature of locative media is the ways in which data can be organized and accessed with site specificity. This site specificity affords users a new window into the meaning of complex data and ideas. The transformation of complex information into manageable visual layouts is the ultimate goal of practitioners of “information visualization.” Information visualization is important to the ways that locative media utilized the convergence of material and virtual spaces. One key technology that allows for this organization and display of spatial data is augmented reality (AR). This technology, in essence, superimposes data onto an object (or person) through a mobile device. Whether the interface is eyewear, a vehicle’s windshield (as seen in the PNNL project discussed in this book’s Introduction), or simply holding a smartphone up to a building to gather information about the site, the meanings of places are augmented by data overlays. This can be utilized for commercial purposes (as is largely the case now with mobile phone AR applications, which are still in their infancy), as seen in the Layar application for the iPhone. Layar activates the phone’s camera and, by holding it up to the surrounding space, users are able to gather information about the stores, activities, real estate, and other site-specific points of interest in the immediate vicinity. These forms of visualization, according to artist Tom Corby, are able to “capitalize on humans’ natural ability to spot patterns and relationships in visual fields (cognition). This enables an intuitive identification of structures, which would not be available if presented in purely numeric form.”[13]

AR on mobile devices is also being utilized in the arts and the preservation of histories. In 2010, the Museum of London released an iPhone application called “Streetmuseum,” in which users go to a variety of places around the city that corresponded to one of the many historical photographs and paintings in the museum’s collection. Users are able to utilize the phone to overlay the historical photographs onto the material landscape. Based on location and the direction you are facing, you are able to juxtapose images from the past with current surroundings. Additionally, users can access information about the image and the historical context. For example, a user can go to the gates of Buckingham Palace and bring up a photo taken in 1914 of the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst (Figure 2.1). Holding the phone up toward the gates will position the photograph on top of the live image of the space captured through the phone’s camera. Tapping on the image offers a caption for the photograph, this one saying, “Emmeline Pankhurst arrested outside Buckingham Palace. Carried past reporters to be taken to Holloway prison, Emmeline shouted ‘Arrested at the gates of the Palace. Tell the King’. The arresting officer died two weeks later of heart failure.” Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the British suffragette movement, was arrested on several occasions during protests for the right of women to vote, is here juxtaposed with our present-day context. Similarly, if a user of the Streetmuseum application stands at 23 Queen Victoria Street, the application will bring up an image of the Salvation Army International Headquarters tumbling to the ground soon after the night raid on May 10, 1941, “the most severe attack London had sustained throughout the Blitz,” as described by the caption in the application (Figure 2.2).


Figure 2.1: A screen capture from the iPhone application Streetmuseum, overlaying an image of the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst at Buckingham Palace in 1914 onto a present-day backdrop. © 2010, The Museum of London.


Figure 2.2: The Streetmuseum application showing imagery of the Salvation Army International Headquarters crashing to the ground after a night raid during the Blitz. © 2010, The Museum of London.


While the Streetmuseum application has been well received, AR in general at the time of this writing has often been deemed gimmickry. However, AR applications like Streetmusuem demonstrate the ways that mobile technologies are able to imbue space with meaning, thus transforming a space by giving it a sense of place. Additionally, beyond the ability to implace people, mobile technologies are able to offer users new ways of visualizing information.

The transformation of space into place is linked to what Edward Casey calls “implacement.” Related to Heidegger’s Dasein (roughly understood as “being-in-the-world”), implacement locates our situated nature and our sense of proprioception with others and with objects in a space. Implacement serves as the counterpoint to displacement, which “represents the loss of particular places in which their lives were formerly at home.” This loss of place is “tantamount to losing one’s existence” for many.[14] Embodied implacement gives us the sense of direction in a particular place — direction not only in movement, but also in purpose. Implacement gives us a sense of embodied integrity in a particular locale and also answers the questions, “Which way am I going,” and “What am I doing here?” Implacement offers context for embodied being-in-the-world: “What is my history with this place?” For emerging generations, such questions no longer prioritize between material space and digital space since these spaces simultaneously inform our experience of implacement. Our lived conception of space, especially the online realm, is very much a situated experience always contextually informed.

When we use technologies as a way of developing implacement, the media specificity and materiality of the technology must be a central concern in our analysis. Here, it is important to note that embodied content is non-transferable across media and across situations; instead, as we are implaced, we give context to the information we interact with. This information characterizes our environment and our embodied engagement with that space. In other words, accessing information on Wikipedia while at your desk is quite a different experience from accessing the exact same information from a site-specific interaction with a mobile device. One example that remains memorable for me was reading a bit of history about the Oxford martyrs before one of my trips to the UK. I had read some background about Thomas Cramner, the Archbishop of Canterbury, his work to push through Henry VIII’s divorce, and his eventual renunciation of the Pope leading to being burned at the stake. I took a tour of the University Church where Cramner gave his last sermon and loaded up some of this history on my phone’s GeoPedia application. This app detected my location and I was able to read a bit about what happened during Cramner’s last sermon. The article mentioned that a portion a pillar had been cut out to create a ledge for a stage on which Cramner stood. With my phone in hand, I hunted for the cut pillar and located it. Standing where Cramner stood, I read again about his sermon in which he took back his signed confession that recanted his “heresies” against the Catholic Church. At this spot, he renounced the Pope and said that his hand would be the first to burn for signing the confession that recanted his protestant beliefs. He was pulled from the pulpit and dragged to Broad Street where he was burned. While I had read about these events prior to my trip, standing at this spot and making the walk to Broad Street while reading the details on my mobile interface transformed the content. Though the content was identical to what I had encountered at home in the United States, the medium it was delivered through and the site-specificity of the application I was using made the meaning of what I was reading completely different. Both my situation and the medium that informed that situation altered the ultimate meaning of the content. The power of site-specificity to engage us with information in an embodied way has led to a growing interest in finding ways to transform the landscapes around us into information interfaces.


Landscapes as Information Interfaces

In recent years, there has been a major transition in digital culture toward a focus on the importance of location. From location-aware technologies to a renewed interest in the role of proximity in online social interactions, site-specificity has gained a new foothold in the cultural and scholarly imaginary. Landscapes, it can be said, have become information interfaces much like the graphical user interface of a computer screen. The landscape around us can serve as a type of interface where data of all types can reside, from the quotidian rankings of various restaurants to the mobile mapping of crisis zones after a major natural disaster. This notion has recently been literalized in the creation of the N Building in Tokyo. The façade of the 24-story building is a large Quick Response (QR) code, which allows mobile devices to scan the side of the building and gain detailed information about what’s going on inside in real time. The QR codes on the building, which can contain larger and more varied characters than a standard UPC barcode, are able to connect to URLs and AR information. When someone scans the façade of the N Building, they are able to connect with people’s Twitter feeds that are geotagged within the building. Also, stores within the building offer real time information over an AR interface. Here, the notion of a hardscape that is an interface for information is literalized.

Our locale — which should be distinguished from “location” much in the same way that place can be distinguished from space as that which is practiced and specifically contextualized — has always served as a type of information interface long before the advent of digital technologies. Information is communicated about a space in a variety of ways, most of which are not digital. From street signs to graffiti and from statues to billboards, cities have used the urban landscape as a site of information. Our embodied interaction with a locale offers insights to the meaning of the place and our situatedness there. However, a locale’s context is limitedly known and much may remain unknown to us during our interactions with that place. As Derrida has argued,

But are the conditions of a context ever absolutely determinable? […] Stating it in the most summary manner possible, I shall try to demonstrate why a context is never absolutely determinable, or rather, why its determination can never be entirely certain or saturated. This structural non-saturation would […] mark the theoretical inadequacy of the current concept of context.[15]

For example, people can often spend most of their lives in a particular place without knowing certain significant facts about that location. Even the events that are known are understood in a limited way. Context, it must also be understood, is ongoing and never settled.

Many site-specific and location-aware technologies are addressing both the desire for further context and the engagement with ongoing contexts so that we may transform locations into locales. Therefore, while AR interfaces may not do anything revolutionary in regards to historicizing a place (someone could, for example, simply take the 1914 photograph of Emmeline Pankhurst and hold it up to the gates of Buckingham Palace instead of using a smartphone to do it for them), the major shift here is the implication of the user in the act of defining the site. By utilizing technologies that draw on a person’s location through GPS, a user is understood as being situated in relationship to technology and thus experiences the world as a collaboration between digital and material interfaces.[16] While this notion harkens back to many discussions held over the last 15 years about “what’s new about new media,” my brief reply, especially in connection to mobile interfaces, is that our embodied relationship to these interfaces uniquely structures our experience (and thus conception) of the world around us. Therefore, while holding a photograph of Pankhurst up to Buckingham Palace is one experience of that place, using the exact same photograph in the exact same place but on a digital interface like an iPhone will be an altogether different embodied experience. The same is true of reading a print newspaper and the exact same content but on a mobile device. To reiterate, the embodied experience of content is non-transferable across media. Instead, by investigating the media specificity of our engagement with cultural objects, we can see that interfaces shape our embodied engagement with space and the ways we practice space as a lived place. This extends Lev Manovich’s distinction between media and “new” media: “All existing media are translated into numerical data accessible for the computer. The result: graphics, moving images, sounds, shapes, spaces, and texts become computable, that is, simply sets of computer data. In short, media become new media.”[17] Thus, the transformation of our cultural objects into binary data, such as a photograph of a significant event in front of Buckingham Palace, also transforms our embodied engagement with these objects. Here, the “sensory-inscribed” mode of embodiment developed in the previous chapter again becomes significant. Our experience of place through mobile technologies is at once a phenomenological engagement with this particular medium and a mode of reading the significance of that mode of engagement.

Our bodies sense the world as a collaboration between material and digital spaces while simultaneously interacting with the cultural inscriptions written into the experience, such as the privacy implications of disclosing your location to businesses and other users.


Maps and Mobile Media Space

The correspondence between the material world and digital media indeed has many predecessors. An extensively practiced form of this mode of engagement is navigating a place using a map. From print media representations of place, to words scrawled on a scrap piece of paper noting landmarks, to GPS navigation systems, our traversal of space has long been understood as the correspondence between the material world and the ways we represent that world. We rely on maps to offer us an external visualization of our internal sense of proprioception. Maps give us a sense of where we are in relationship to the places around us. As Paul Jahshan notes in his book Cybermapping and the Writing of Myth, while cyberspace is a place people inhabit, we must still contend with bearings and thus “the problem of mapping is unavoidable.”[18] Such a problem becomes unavoidable because our ability to traverse space in a meaningful way is inherently tied to the mode of representation that constructs that space. The mobile map in its many instantiations is thus a key example of how representations of space in mobile technologies inform conceptions of — and interactions with — pervasive computing space.

Mobile maps, however, are very culturally situated and various maps of the same location offer us a very different sense of implacement. A famous example of this type of relationship between representation of space and conception of space is seen in the difference between Mercator’s 1569 map of the globe and the Gall-Peters Projection Map published in 1973. In the Mercator projection, used for nautical navigation, continents like Africa appear smaller in landmass than those closer to the poles, like Greenland. The Gall-Peters map sought to address this discrepancy by making a map that better visualized the landmass of each of the continents. The Gall-Peters map sought to amend the ideologies that were inherent in the representation of global space in the Mercator map. Mercator’s map projection came to be a visualization of Western supremacy by emphasizing the size and location of Europe. An everyday example for the mobile age is seen in the distinction between the overhead/aerial view of a map and the street view offered in maps such as Google and Bing. The point of view offered by these maps engages the user along a spectrum from “disembodied voyeur” to “situated subject.” Taken one step further, location-aware devices that can pinpoint a user’s location on a map and trace his or her movements through space offer a unique representation of being in a space. By distinguishing between the ideologies behind the disembodied voyeurism of the satellite view and the situated nature of the street view, both maps offer a very particular ideological stake in the status of bodies in the digital age.

The interface of each of these maps is indeed mobile — they are each designed to be portable and to function while moving through space. While print maps may have not confused the distinction between material space and its representation, the mobile interface offers us a distinctly fluid relationship between space and representations of space. In other words, we are living in a time in which the two realms of the realized and the realizing (or the actual and the virtual) do not signify themselves as exclusive spaces; instead, the interaction between these spaces continues to become mutually constructive. The reason for this transition is that the media specificity of mobile devices embodies us in a very particular way in space. The very practice of embodied space is becoming entirely reliant on the seamless interaction between our devices and our landscapes. The representation of space is not outside of the lived experience of that space. It is instead entirely incorporated into the production of embodied space. We have thus moved beyond the theorization of our mobile devices as a type of prosthetic to our bodies — an extension of ourselves out into the material world — but instead have to conceive of our devices as absolutely integral to the very foundations of embodied space in the digital age. As Jean Baudrillard noted, “The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it.”[19]

Yet, our interactions with maps often avoid the critique that we typically give other forms of representation. This is especially true with mobile maps since, as representations, they so closely mirror the material landscape we are navigating in real time. As Raymond B. Craib argues, drawing from Baudrillard’s quote above, “Jean Baudrillard’s choice of the map as an example is highly appropriate — no other image has enjoyed such prestige of neutrality and objectivity. […] The most oppressive and dangerous of all cultural artifacts may be the ones so naturalized and presumably commonsensical as to avoid critique.”[20] Thus, we tend to interact with our mobile maps without interrogating their mode of representation and the consequences. Users of maps employ them because they are reliable and only when they fail us does their interrogation come to the fore.

Another key distinction between pre-digital maps and current mobile maps is the ways in which users are able to contribute to and alter maps. User-generated content is one of the defining features of Web 2.0, and maps have also incorporated user data, imagery, and information to create new notions of spatial mapping. This is especially seen in many locative art projects that investigate this relationship between space and cartography. As Drew Hemment notes, “Digital mapping is at the core of many locative projects,” in which artists explore modes of representing embodied movements through cartography. He specifically draws on examples like Esther Polak’s Amsterdam Realtime, in which “participants roamed the streets of Amsterdam equipped with networked GPS devices, and traces of their movements were relayed to a projection screen in an exhibition space.”[21] The project demonstrates collaborative cartography that is deeply connected to users bodies and their movements through everyday space. Here, mobile devices show the lived space of the city through the bodies navigating through space. Such a map can serve to represent the lived and embodied nature of that space. Another key example of this mode of mobile cartography is Christian Nold’s Biomapping project. Biomapping offers a perfect example of the representation of space working in collaboration with mobile technologies and information visualization. The project, which began in 2004 and has thus far taken place in four cities including San Francisco, Paris, Greenwich, and Stockport, equips participants with a mobile device similar to the technology used on a polygraph machine that tracks their galvanic skin response (GSR), logs their GPS coordinates, and allows them to annotate their locations as they navigate the city on foot. As they walk, their stress is visualized on a map with each person represented by a different color wall that traces their movement and shows the spikes when they experience heightened physical experiences (Figure 2.3). In his article on the uses of information visualization in the arts, Tom Corby nicely summarizes the procedures behind Biomapping:

As part of the University of Westminster exhibition, self-selecting student volunteers were introduced to the project in a workshop situation. Each was fitted with a device and sent out on an hour-long walk of the university and its immediate environs, which includes a hospital and a densely built-up urban environment. While this was happening each student’s changing location and level of arousal were sampled every 4 seconds by the device and the data downloaded to a memory chip. This information was then fed into Google Earth and visualized as three-dimensional forms to produce, what Nold calls, an “emotion map” of the area.[22]


Figure 2.3: Christian Nold’s San Francisco Biomapping project, showing the visualization of people’s emotions as they walk through the city.


As they move (and even after the fact upon reviewing their map) participants were able to tag certain locations they note as high stress or high stimulation areas. In San Francisco, for example, a participant tagged an area with, “Noticed an ambulance and decided to follow,” which is then followed by the tag, “Could see the guy on the stretcher.” As Chris Perkins writes about the project, “There is a relationship between GSR response and emotional arousal: anger, being startled, fear and sexual feelings can all produce similar responses. Using this system it is possible to construct individual tracks and display the ridges and troughs of emotion on a map. Results can be merged into composite maps reflecting wider social responses.”[23] Corby develops the consequences of user-generated mapping and annotations in Biomapping:

These conversations allowed a number of interesting outputs to accrue. For example, consensual interpretive processes allow participants a deeper purchase on ownership of their data. By taking analysis and information-gathering out of the hands of experts, persons normally considered as “subjects” of study are enabled to construct understanding of results in any way they see fit. Thus, the work provides an alternative to institutionally directed visualization practices that is rooted in what Nold has described as social or “bottom-up” data gathering.[24]

In Biomapping, the stark contrast between the aerial map and the visualizations of the participants’ emotions demonstrates the equally harsh juxtaposition between the indexicality of the map (especially one that utilizes satellite or aerial photographs) and the notion that maps are ultimately lived and changing representations. Returning to Craib’s argument that maps are so commonsensical that they avoid critique, the notion that a photograph, particularly a map that utilizes a photograph, could be wrong is easily dismissed by many. Here, satellite imagery, since it is removed from a human agent that takes the photograph, is often deemed as an accurate representation of a place at a particular moment in time. As I have argued elsewhere, though photographs have undergone scrutiny in the digital age, and their reliability as indices of reality is continually questioned (since photographs can be so easily manipulated with digital technologies), the satellite map has not undergone equal scrutiny.[25] Instead, maps are seen as static representations of reality. One key reason for this is that the technologies used to capture map images like these are disembodied technologies, such as the satellite which does its work silently in our orbit without being manned or without a hand snapping the shutter closed. Because of the satellite’s automation, there is no human subject implicated in the act of taking the photograph. The disembodiment associated with this mode of representation makes it seem more reliable, since human error or manipulation isn’t woven into the process of creation. This false imaginary associated with satellite mapping is undone in Nold’s Biomapping. What we are given in conjunction with the satellite map is a visualization of human movement throughout the mapped space, thus demonstrating that the space itself is constructed by human movement, not by disembodied technologies.

Our sensory-inscribed experiences of geographic space are always informed by the ways we represent that space. Here, Biomapping gives a representation of what it means to be a pedestrian in a crowded urban environment. We can immediately associate the city with the process of being embodied by the space. The map in Nold’s project represents a lived locale, the practice of space that transforms it into lived place. These representations go far in dismantling the separation of the sensory body in space and the cultural inscriptions of that space. The map and the body are unified in a sensory-inscribed experience of the urban space.

The fact that Biomapping utilizes mobile technologies as its primary interface is significant in transforming the site of the map into a sensory-inscribed mode of implacement. The collaboration between the mobile device and GPS satellites positions the human body within space, yet it is the experience of that space coupled with a reading of the location that imparts meaning to the space. To elaborate, the act of walking through San Francisco offers one mode of sensory-inscribed engagement; to walk through the city with a mobile device provides further levels of implacement and signification. That is, while using a mobile device to trace my exact movements through a city and chart my emotional state, I experience my body in the city as being inscribed by the technologies that locate me. With these technologies, users are able to precisely know their location in space and time through GPS satellites. Simultaneously, users have to contend with the fact that they are being surveilled constantly, not only by the satellites but also by the people monitoring their emotional state through the GSR device and by passersby who inscribe the user’s interactions with the mobile devices with certain significance (usually trying to “read” what you’re doing and why you’re there). This mode of sensory-inscribed engagement is very pronounced when people engage in location-based games, which I discuss in detail in the next chapter.

Another striking art project that works to redefine the uses of maps and representations of space is Paula Levine’s San Francisco ßà Baghdad, which is part of her series Shadows from Another Place (see Figure 2.4). This project overlays a map of the city of Baghdad onto a map of San Francisco and, at each place where a bombing occurred in Baghdad, Levine maps corresponding points onto coordinates in San Francisco. Once these corresponding nodes have been created, Levine places a geocache container at each location. Her goal, one that resonates throughout her work as a whole, is to make the foreign something that is familiar. She writes, “Collapsing ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’, these maps bridge local and global, and allow walkers/viewers to experience spatial and narrative contiguity between separate and distant locations.”[26] This interplay between maps is drawn from the work in psychogeography by the Situationist International (SI), especially in the work of Guy Debord. Debord would encourage a wandering throughout the city (or, derive), in which a wanderer would use a map from one city as the guide for another. The disjunction between the two would “contribute to clarifying certain wanderings that express not subordination to randomness but total insubordination to habitual influences.”[27] Debord continues: “A friend recently told me that he had just wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London. This sort of game is obviously only a feeble beginning in comparison to the complete creation of architecture and urbanism that will someday be within the power of everyone.”[28] This reimagining of the relationship between wandering the city and the representation of the city space allowed for new embodied relationships to form between the wanderer and the urban landscape. As Mary Flanagan notes, “One of the significant intentions behind psychogeography, as Debord described it, was to be mindful of space in the method’s open-ended, deliberately vague mission of encouraging people to explore their environment, usually the streets of the city.”[29] This mindfulness serves as a resistance for the inscriptions written into urban planning and design. Instead of following predetermined paths, which create predetermined relationships as prescribed bodies in space, the work of psychogeography seeks to find strategies to reimagine our relationship to urban space.


Figure 2.4: The map of Paula Levine’s San Francisco ßà Baghdad project, showing the overlay of Baghdad on to San Francisco. The dots are the locations of bombing sites in Baghdad. At these sites, Levine placed a geocacher container with a list of military personnel who had been killed in the war. © 2010, Paula Levine,


Levine’s San Francisco ßà Baghdad project, while offering a new mindfulness of the city, simultaneously subverts the militaristic foundations of GPS. By using a tool created by the United States military to critique the military, Levine’s work allows participants to reimagine the uses of mobile and locative technologies and the ways we understand our representations of place. By mapping the city of Baghdad onto San Francisco using a mobile device, people engage the tension between embodied space and the tools used to signify place. Engaging this project also forces users to participate in an embodied way with the historical conflict between maps and empire. Here, subverting the map by using the very technologies designed by the power structures that typically draw the map, the grounded nature of the map as a static signifier comes into question. As Matthew Edney has argued in Mapping an Empire, “Imperialism and mapmaking intersect in the most basic manner. Both are fundamentally concerned with territory and knowledge.” He continues by noting that the “maps came to define the empire itself, to give it territorial integrity and its basic existence. The empire exists because it can be mapped, the meaning of empire is inscribed into each map.”[30] In Levine’s project, the map critiques the imperial agendas of the war in Iraq instead of reinforcing the power structures behind the map.

As seen in projects like San Francisco ßà Baghdad, Biomapping, and Amsterdam Realtime, there are obvious correlations between representations of space and power structures. Maps are not simply representations of ontological reality; instead, they signify space in a very particular way that is designed to be read to fit with the current cultural hegemony. With mobile technologies, the ways that space is represented is a practice of lived space. The movement through space and the collaboration between material environment and representations of that environment inform an embodied meaning of space.

What these projects also demonstrate is that our experience of space is inherently tied to intersubjective modes of embodiment. Space is not only an individually lived experience, but is always produced as a social experience. The sensory-inscribed body is developed out a reciprocity that embodies the self as spatially related to others and also as inscribed as a particular body by others (as the self also inscribes the spaces and bodies around him or her). In fact, many of these spatial visualizations only find their true nexus when used by a community for a collective revisioning of lived space. Thus, there is a need for mobile mapping projects to move beyond the individual-centered design and begin to imagine the space of the mobile interface as a site for collaboration. Liqiu Meng, for instance, argues that, “In mobile usage context, however, a geocentric map can hardly remain usable due to the following reasons: What a large target group needs is often much more than what is necessary for an individual user.”[31] To streamline the design and usability of a mobile map, it seems, it must be tailored for the individual. Again, such an approach prioritizes the mobile interface as designed for an individual and not as a community space. While this is understandable given the size and common usages of the mobile interface, such a statement overlooks the important ways that mobile devices and mobile maps can engage a community and become a space of dialog.

For example, when a massive earthquake hit the island country of Haiti in January of 2010, most emergency response organizations were unable to navigate through the destroyed landscape since many of the roads in the area had not been adequately mapped by major mapping distributors like Google. The cartographers using the crowdsourced mapping tool, Open Street Map, responded to the need for emergency organizations to have maps that were not only accurate of the area (many roads, for example, were either not mapped, mapped incorrectly, or were no longer there) but could also be tailored to this situation. At that time, there were nearly 200,000 cartographers contributing to the Open Street Map project, many of whom worked directly with the Haiti earthquake crisis.[32] The use of mobile phones for the mapping process after the earthquake allowed for rapid crowdsourcing of various information. For example, people would send Ushahidi, a volunteer organization that responds to global crises through digital technologies, a text message about emergencies and the status of roads. Ushahidi volunteers would then translate that information into visualizations on the Open Street Map of Haiti. One thing that is remarkable about this crowdsourced mapping project is how the stream of information involved people across vast geographical distances in a visualization of Haiti. The typical trajectory of one of the emergency SMS messages looked something like this: an SMS message is sent to Ushahidi’s emergency number, 4636, that says “I am with someone who was hit in the head. They pass out from time to time. Where can I find a neurologist? He’s in Delmas 44, by the church Altagrace, which is across from the Texaco and the market Monsieur Henri.”[33] This message, however, was sent in Creole to the Ushahidi volunteers in Boston (none of which spoke the language). Thus, Ushahidi mobilized many volunteers from the Haitian diaspora to translate the text message from Creole to English, to help categorize and rank the emergency, and to help locate the emergency on the map based on their knowledge of their homeland. The translated text would be sent back to Ushahidi, who would then send it on to the appropriate response groups such as the Red Cross or the Coast Guard.

As crowdsourced maps continue to emerge using mobile devices, it becomes evident that the mobile interface can become a collaborative space. Here, users can work together to create mobile representations that inform the lived space they traverse. In doing so, the digital space of the mobile device corresponds and permeates material space in meaningful ways. Likewise, as those identified as part of the Haitian diaspora, through interacting with these emergency maps, they are able to identify with a community that is geographically distant from them. They re-embody their former homeland, and by remembering the spatial relationships between landmarks, they can help create a visualization of the area that will help those on the ground in Haiti bring emergency relief to those in need. Here, we see that the phenomenologies of the imagination serve to embody our relationship to a place we consider home, no matter how distant, as well as link our body to the body of the community.


Producing Information Landscapes

Our representations of place using mobile media demonstrate the ways that mobile interfaces are transforming the information landscape around us. Our interactions with the landscape as an information interface is still in its infancy; however, some technologies are pointing the way to what future instantiations of mobile technologies could look like. Recently, I had my graduate seminar make a collaborative map showing all of the surveillance cameras on our campus at the University of Maryland. They formed four groups and split the campus into quadrants. Most of the students in the class had never created or altered a map before, so I hoped that the processes of cartography would provide them with a different embodied relationship with a space they perceive as commonplace. As the students began compiling their images with location data and camera type, I was (somewhat foolishly) shocked at the number of cameras on our campus. Pulling back to take in all of the pinpoints layered on top of the digital campus map offered a very different visualization of the space of our university. The assignment was designed to allow students visualize the space they move through on a daily basis in a different way and thus transform their very sense of embodiment in that space. The production of this map by this group of students provided a clear example of the sensory-inscribed body: by inscribing the space as a space of inscription (through surveillance), their sensory perceptions collaborated with the various modes of inscription that are involved in the production of embodied space.

The students’ responses were varying and fascinating. One student’s reaction was similar to the many frustrations people feel about the age of participatory surveillance we are living in (a topic that I will cover in the next chapter). She said, “Though we are mapping these cameras, they don’t necessarily represent the current threats to privacy with so much data surveillance, personal information on Facebook, and everyone having a camera in their pocket on their cell phone. It worries me because I feel helpless trying to identify where the power structure is located these days.” Another student noted how odd it felt to take a picture of another camera, especially how that act was “read.” This moment for her was very much a sensory-inscribed moment of watching the self being watched and documenting that process. This sensory-inscribed experience was heightened when she and another student decided to go into the bank on campus and take pictures of all of the surveillance cameras inside. This led to another student coming to the realization about what the cameras were being used for in the first place: “While the cameras are being placed under the guise of protecting people on campus, they aren’t there to protect us. They are there to protect the University’s assets and infrastructure. When we decided to see what the camera’s were actually looking at, we noticed that they were focused on areas of the campus with a large number of computers or highly sensitive research equipment.” For this student, this realization transformed his conception of the campus as a surveilled space: it wasn’t necessarily the disciplinary structure that Foucault described as a means to create citizen subjects, but instead becomes about protection of assets. The embodied relationship to this space emerges, therefore, as always in relationship to commodities. Bodies are not of worth in the lens of these cameras; instead, bodies can only be potential threats to the assets of the University.

These moments exemplify the transformations that can take place through interactions of sensory-inscribed bodies with mapping technologies. Whether it be discovering the purposes of surveillance cameras by mapping them, connecting a historical image and moment to our current experience of that location, or the community mapping of a city (such as the emotion maps of San Francisco or the crisis maps of Haiti), the ways we experience these spaces has everything to do with the representations we interact with of those spaces. Developing information landscapes — especially spaces we can collaborate in and contribute to — demonstrate that context is never grounded, but is instead lived, ongoing, and enacted. The role of these context rich environments in transforming landscapes into information interfaces also demonstrates the role these visualizations play in our experience of community space as sensory-inscribed. This phenomenology and cultural inscription of community space is elaborated in the next chapter, in which I investigate the role of the sensory-inscribed body in location-based social media.


[1] Elizabeth Grosz, Architecture from the Outside: Essays on Virtual and Real Space (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2001), 76.

[2] Ibid., 88, 79.

[3] Ibid., 86.

[4] “Virtual, adj. (and n.),” OED Online, March 2011,

[5] Adriana de Souza e Silva and Daniel Sutko, “Theorizing Locative Technologies Through Philosophies of the Virtual,” Communication Theory 21 (2011): 25.

[6] Ibid., 26.

[7] Umberto Eco, cited in de Souza e Silva and Sutko, “Theorizing Locative Technologies Through Philosophies of the Virtual,” 29.

[8] John Rajchman, “The Virtual House,” Constructions (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998), 116.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Tony Kushner, “A Conversation with Tony Kushner,” Dean’s Lecture Series, University of Maryland, College Park, February 22, 2011.

[11] John Rajchman, “The Virtual House,” Constructions (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998), 116.

[12] Gilles Deleuze. Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

[13] Tom Corby, “Landscapes of Feeling, Arenas of Action: Information Visualization as Art Practice,” Leonardo 41, no. 5 (2008): 462.

[14] Edward Casey, Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009): 36-37.

[15] Jacques Derrida, “Signature Event Context,” in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 310.

[16] Though I am distinguishing here between digital and material spaces, this is more of a gesture toward the relationship between digital information and hardscapes. The digital must be understood as material since the infrastructure that makes it possible and the interfaces that allow us to interact with data are always material.

[17] Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2001), 25.

[18] Paul Jahshan, Cybermapping and the Writing of Myth (New York: Peter Lang, 2007), 53.

[19] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation. Trans. S.F. Glaser (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1994), 1.

[20] Raymond B. Craib, ‘Cartography and Power in the Conquest and Creation of New

Spain,’ Latin American Research Review 35, no. 1 (2000): 8.

[21] Drew Hemment, “Locative Arts,” Leonardo 39, no. 4 (2006): 349-350.

[22] Tom Corby, “Landscapes of Feeling, Arenas of Action: Information Visualization as Art Practice,” Leonardo 41, no. 5 (2008): 465.

[23] Chris Perkins, “Community Mapping,” The Cartographic Journal, 44, no. 2 (2007): 128.

[24] Tom Corby, “Landscapes of Feeling, Arenas of Action: Information Visualization as Art Practice,” Leonardo 41, no. 5 (2008): 465.

[25] Jason Farman, “Mapping the Digital Empire: Google Earth and the Process of Postmodern Cartography,” New Media and Society 12, no. 6 (2010).

[26] Paula Levine, “Shadows from Another Place,” Proceedings of the Media in Transition 4 Conference,

[27] Guy-Ernest Debord, “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography,” The Situationist International Text Library,

[28] Ibid.

[29] Mary Flanagan, Critical Play: Radical Game Design (Cambridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 2009), 195.

[30] Matthew Edney, Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British

India, 1765-1843 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 2.

[31] Liqiu Meng, “Egocentric Design of Map-Based Mobile Services,” The Cartographic Journal 42, no. 1 (2005): 7.

[32] Christian Heipke, “Crowdsourcing Geospatial Data,” ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing 65 (2010): 550-557.

[33] This SMS message was sent to Ushahidi on January 23, 2010 and is chronicled, along with the English translation and the pinpoint on the Open Street Map at: