Internet Geographer

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Posts tagged Augmented reality
On how Google frames, shapes and distorts how we see the world
source http://wifflegif.com/gifs/253132-new-york-subway-new-york-city-gif

Carole Cadwalladr has written an excellent set of articles for the Observer on how Google 'frames, shapes and distorts how we see the world'. Her main argument is that because Google representations of the world shape it, we need to hold the company responsible for the information that it mediates. It cannot simply hide behind the argument that an innocent algorithm determined what information is made visible or invisible.

This is an argument Matt Zook and I have been making since the mid-2000s when we wrote a series of pieces showing how early versions of Google Maps not just represent places, but actively shape how people interact with places. As such, we need to treat Google's spatial representations as core/intimate parts of the places that they represent: a digital layer of increasingly hybrid digital/material places. It follows that if Google nowowns, controls, and shapes core parts of our cities and our everyday lives, then we need to be asking critical questions about what we should do about that.

Joe Shaw and I will have an article on that topic (drawing on Henri Lefebvre's 'right to the city' concept) coming out within a few weeks. But in the meantime, you can see our earlier writing on the topic below:

Graham, M. 2015. Why Does Google Say Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel? Slate.com Nov 30, 2015

Graham, M., De Sabbata, S., Zook, M. 2015. Towards a study of information geographies:(im)mutable augmentations and a mapping of the geographies of information Geo: Geography and Environment.2(1) 88-105. doi:10.1002/geo2.8

Ford, H. and Graham, M. 2016. Provenance, Power, and Place: Linked Data and Opaque Digital geographies. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. doi:10.1177/0263775816668857 (pre-publication version here).

Ford, H., and Graham, M. 2016. Semantic Cities: Coded Geopolitics and the Rise of the Semantic Web. In Code and the City. eds. Kitchin, R., and Perng, S-Y. London: Routledge. 200-214.

Graham, M. 2013. The Virtual Dimension. In Global City Challenges: debating a concept, improving the practice. eds. M. Acuto and W. Steele. London: Palgrave. 117-139.

Graham, M and M. Zook. 2013. Augmented Realities and Uneven Geographies: Exploring the Geo-linguistic Contours of the Web. Environment and Planning A 45(1) 77-99.

Graham, M., M. Zook., and A. Boulton. 2013. Augmented Reality in Urban Places: contested content and the duplicity of code. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 38(3), 464-479. (pre-publication version here)

Zook, M. & M. Graham. 2007. The Creative Reconstruction of the Internet: Google and the Privatization of Cyberspace and DigiPlace. Geoforum, 38, 1322-1343.

Zook, M. & M. Graham. 2007. From Cyberspace to DigiPlace: Visibility in an Age of Information and Mobility. In Societies and Cities in the Age of Instant Access. Ed. H. J. Miller. Springer, 231-244.

Zook, M. & M. Graham. 2007. Mapping DigiPlace: Geocoded Internet Data and the Representation of Place. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design. 34(3) 466 – 482.

Mapping Flickr
image

Flickr is one of the world’s most popular photo sharing websites, and represents a key way in which people form impressions about different parts of our planet. In other words it is an important part of the digital augmentations of places

Antonello Romano has been doing some great work mapping content from the site, and I’ve pulled some of his data together into this map. What we see are huge differences in the amount of images augmenting different parts of the world. To anyone familiar with some of our previous research, this will be unsurprising. But it is again perhaps the scale of some of these differences that never ceases to astound. 

I’ve shaded each country as a percentage of the USA’s total rather than as absolute numbers, so that this digital information inequality can be better visualised. You can see, for instance, that there are only five countries in Africa that have more than 0.1% of the USA’s total number of photos about them. 

These geographies of information matter: they shape what is known, and what can be known about a place. And even in our age of connectivity, large parts of the planet remain left off the map. 

New paper: Provenance, Power and Place: Linked Data and Opaque Digital Geographies

Heather Ford and I have a new commentary coming out in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. As places are ever-more augmented by digital content, and the internet becomes ever-more structured by linked data and the semantic web, we ask what this means for the ways in which people interact with everyday places. Specifically, we highlight our concern that non-specialists will have ever-less control over the cities and towns in which they live. 

image

Full citation

Ford, H. and Graham, M. 2016. Provenance, Power, and Place: Linked Data and Opaque Digital geographies. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. doi:10.1177/0263775816668857 (pre-publication version here).

Abstract

Places are not only material but are also informational. Place is made up of memories, stories, information and histories. What is Johannesburg? It is a city of trees and buildings, concrete and sand. It is also constituted by a myriad statements made by multiple actors, some of which are represented by information in books, in census reports, in tourism leaflets and photographs (Graham et al., 2015). Today, much of that information is digital and available on the Internet. Spatial information is either digitized from analogue sources or in increasingly “born digital” (created as digital data rather than scanned or translated into digital formats) and can take a range of forms such as geotagged images on Instagram, hashtags on Twitter, annotations on Google Maps and Wikipedia articles, in addition to official data from government and corporate sources.

In addition to the enhanced ability of ordinary people to contribute to the digital representations of cities (Goodchild, 2007; Graham, 2013; Hacklay et. al., 2008), we have also seen a growing centralization in the control of platforms that mediate everyday life. Silicon Valley-based Google, Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia have become the most-used websites and digital platforms in most countries, and some scholars (Introna and Nissenbaum, 2000; König, 2014; Morozov, 2013) warn of the dangers of increasing centralization and commercialization of the guiding forces of the Internet.

The power yielded by search engines, in particular, has come under increased scrutiny by researchers in recent years. Introna and Nissenbaum (2000: 1), for example, have shown how search engines “systematically exclude… certain sites, and certain types of sites, in favor of others”. Eli Pariser (2012) argues that search engines drive the construction of “filter bubbles” that only show users information that they agree with. Our increasing reliance on search engines like Google constitutes what Siva Vaidhyanathan (2012) refers to as an “outsourcing” of judgement to Google, particularly because search engines have become critical to the public health of the Internet (König, 2014). As place becomes increasingly digital and the digital becomes increasingly spatialized, Graham and Zook (2013) have shown that informational filter bubbles can manifest into material divisions and barriers.

The goal of this paper is to highlight a new problem. As digital data becomes increasingly abstracted into short data statements that can be shared and interconnected according to logics of “the semantic web” or “linked data, the concentration of power in the hands of search engines has been enhanced still further. We argue that the increased control of search engines over human knowledge has been garnered due to the loss of provenance, or source information, in data sharing algorithms. When the links between information and their sources are severed, users’ capabilities to actively interrogate facts about the world are significantly diminished. Paul Groth (2013) has noted that the loss of provenance information in semantic web projects is a significant challenge (c.f. Groth, 2013) but we explore the socio-spatial implications of this technological change by focusing on what the loss of provenance information means for how people experience and represent place.

We highlight the origins and consequences of the loss of provenance information in the context of the contemporary moment in which the web is being significant re-engineered. What first appears to be merely a simple engineering problem turns out to be indicative of the growing commercialization of the web, a problem that stems from the dominance of an epistemology that sees knowledge about the world as essentially reducible to depoliticized data that is natural and obvious, rather than what it actually is: a re-constructed representation that obscures the origins of information and, in so doing, reduces the ability of ordinary users to interrogate that data. Despite the promise of the move towards a more semantic web (Egenhofer, 2002) for more precise digital representations of place, there has been a parallel decrease in the capabilities of people to interrogate and control that data.

Further reading

Ford, H., and Graham, M. 2016. Semantic Cities: Coded Geopolitics and the Rise of the Semantic Web. In Code and the City. eds. Kitchin, R., and Perng, S-Y. London: Routledge. 200-214.

Graham, M. 2015. Why Does Google Say Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel? Slate.com Nov 30, 2015

Graham, M. 2013. The Virtual Dimension. In Global City Challenges: debating a concept, improving the practice. eds. M. Acuto and W. Steele. London: Palgrave. 117-139.

Graham, M. 2012. The Problem with Wikidata. The Atlantic Apr 6, 2012.

Pokémon Go and the Need to Critically Consider Augmented Realities

Pokémon Go is currently taking the world by storm. The game uses smartphones to overlay the material world with digital elements, encouraging users to travel around to different places in order to progress in the game.

The addictive gameplay has led to police departments warning people that they should be more careful about revealing their locations, players injuring themselves, finding dead bodies, and even the Holocaust Museum telling people to play elsewhere!

But I think the game is also worth noting because it offers a nice illustration of some of the themes that Matt Zook, Andrew Boulton, and I wrote about a few years ago in the following piece.

Graham, M., M. Zook., and A. Boulton. 2013. Augmented Reality in Urban Places: contested content and the duplicity of code. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 38(3), 464-479. (pre-publication version here)

In the piece we note that there are four kinds of power that manifest in the coming together of material and virtual spatialities:

Distributed Power: The power of a distributed group of actors to influence what is and isn’t present in our augmented world. In other words, the augmented world is created in the way that it is not because of the decisions of a single actor, but from a network of people (often in opaque and untraceable ways). 

Communication Power: The fact that some actors have more power than others to control and use the digital layers of place. A street takes on very different meanings for those with and without access to digital content. 

Code Power: The ability for code and algorithms to impact how our augmented world are produced and brought into being. 

Timeless Power: The flattening of time. Because of the ways that many augmented digital layers are constructed, time in augmented spaces takes on different temporalities. Some digital layers are relatively static and timeless; others are live. 

These ways of thinking about power and augmented realities are important because digital augmentations are never imposed onto any sort of socially neutral space. There are existing social, economic, and political contexts that influence how people use these augmented spaces. Think for instance, of whether minorities might feel safe in all areas the game leads them to, or - for similar reasons - whether women can augmented their worlds in the same ways men can. 

As ever more of the world becomes augmented, and as ever more people augment their lives with digital content, I hope that we can use (and improve) these ways of thinking about the power-laden practices we bring our augmented worlds into being with.

The addictive gameplay has led to police departments warning people that they should be more careful about revealing their locations, players injuring themselves, finding dead bodies, and even the Holocaust Museum telling people to play elsewhere!

But I think the game is also worth noting because it offers a nice illustration of some of the themes that Matt Zook, Andrew Boulton, and I wrote about a few years ago in the following piece.

Graham, M., M. Zook., and A. Boulton. 2013. Augmented Reality in Urban Places: contested content and the duplicity of code. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 38(3), 464-479. (pre-publication version here)

 

In the piece we note that there are four kinds of power that manifest in the coming together of material and virtual spatialities:

Distributed Power: The power of a distributed group of actors to influence what is and isn’t present in our augmented world. In other words, the augmented world is created in the way that it is not because of the decisions of a single actor, but from a network of people (often in opaque and untraceable ways). 

Communication Power: The fact that some actors have more power than others to control and use the digital layers of place. A street takes on very different meanings for those with and without access to digital content. 

Code Power: The ability for code and algorithms to impact how our augmented world are produced and brought into being. 

Timeless Power: The flattening of time. Because of the ways that many augmented digital layers are constructed, time in augmented spaces takes on different temporalities. Some digital layers are relatively static and timeless; others are live. 

These ways of thinking about power and augmented realities are important because digital augmentations are never imposed onto any sort of socially neutral space. There are existing social, economic, and political contexts that influence how people use these augmented spaces. Think for instance, of whether minorities might feel safe in all areas the game leads them to, or - for similar reasons - whether women can augmented their worlds in the same ways men can. 

As ever more of the world becomes augmented, and as ever more people augment their lives with digital content, I hope that we can use (and improve) these ways of thinking about the power-laden practices we bring our augmented worlds into being with.