Augmented information and the reproduction of visibility
I spend a lot of time thinking about the geographies of information that augment our planet (e.g. see a paper on augmented realities and uneven geographies that I recently wrote with Matt Zook). And many people ask me why the layers of information about place really matter. Who cares if London is covered by a denser cloud of information than Lagos? Why does it matter if some places are digitally mirrored by content that omits the voices of women, minorities, the oppressed, the invisible? Why do these augmentations really matter?
It is sometimes hard to come up with tangible examples of how the layers of information over place do truly matter. So, I want to share a quick story from an interview that I conducted in Kenya last week as part of our project about how altered communications capabilities are changing East Africa. A travel agent in Nairobi was telling me how the faster internet that he now has allows him to offer more regional tours to nearby countries like Rwanda and Uganda.
I then asked for more details about what this specifically meant. What is it that he is doing now that he couldn’t before. The answer was ‘Googling many more things - faster - more efficiently.’ But I pressed the issue, what did this mean? What information was Google giving him that allowed him to learn more about new places and offer them as destinations to his clients. Well, the answer was actually Wikipedia. Google would lead him to relevant Wikipedia articles, and he would read about national parks, adventure activities and a range of other sights and then relay that information to his customers.
This may seem like a relatively trivial or uninteresting story. However, I think it nicely illustrates how geographic representations don’t just influence how we think about places, but also, in a very real sense, influence how we move through, interact with, and enact place.
(we also have a second paper on augmented realities that expands on some of these themes in more detail. I’d be happy to share a pre-publication draft if you’d like to get in touch)