Internet Geographer

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Posts tagged geography
There is no such thing as 'offline' or 'online'

This is a topic that both I have other have written about for a while, but wanted to write a quick update with links to two relevant papers for conversations being had at AOIR. 

I was in a session beautifully titled 'When does IRL matter?', and the papers in it adopted a range of stances about digital metaphors and the spatiality of the digital. This was refreshing to see because in the conference some papers seemed to imply that the 'online' has some sort of ontologically real status: that it is place that you can transport yourself into. But papers in this session, such as those by Tim Jordan and Kat Braybrooke, rather discussed the hybrid ways that digital experiences intersect with lived practices (for instance by bringing in Doreen Massey's notion of 'power-geometries').

So I wanted to use that discussion to link to two papers that I've published on the topic. In them I argue that our relationship with geography is never 'online' or 'offline'. Any time we use digital tools and technologies, we are augmenting our world with data or algorithms. Or we are mediating our activities through digital tools. But there is never any 'space' that we can transport ourselves into that is 'online'. Imagining the world that way - with such unhelpful spatial metaphors - distracts us from the grounded material ways in which the digital is embedded in daily practice, augments and mediates spatial practice, is always 'real', but never allows us to transcend the messy politics of everyday life.

I articulate this argument in much more detail in these two pieces:

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.

Graham, M. 2013. Geography/Internet: Ethereal Alternate Dimensions of Cyberspace or Grounded Augmented Realities? The Geographical Journal 179(2) 177-182.

See also:

The problem with “cyberspace”
 

 

'Digital Labour' - our new publication

New forms of digital work have emerged which, in theory, can be done from anywhere. Does this mean that geography no longer matters to digital work? Not exactly. My new chapter with Amir Anwar draws on our empirical research into digital labor to outline how geography still matters, and who it matters for in a world of increasingly digital work. The contemporary geography of digital labor can be used to exploit workers, but we also argue that it opens up distinct possibilities for digital workers to recreate their own worlds of work.

You can access a pre-publication version of the chapter below as well as a few paragraphs from the conclusions.

Graham, M. and Anwar, M.A. 2018. "Digital Labour" In: Digital Geographies Ash, J., Kitchin, R. and Leszczynski, A. (eds.). Sage. London.

Conclusions

The networking of the world has not rendered geography irrelevant - far from it. Clients now have access to a globally-dispersed pool of workers tethered to their homes because labor-power does still have to go home every night. This state of affairs presents a worrying and precarious situation for digital workers. In this chapter, we have argued that a spatial division of labor has been constructed in which digital labor is traded as a commodity at a global scale by placing workers into competition with one another in way that undermines the power of workers.

However, the geographic landscapes of digital labor that we see are not an inevitable outcome of the spread of digital technologies to every corner of the world. This chapter also argues that possibilities exist for what Herod (2001) refers to as ‘labor geographies’: spatial fixes created by and for workers that challenge the idea that atomized competition is an inevitability. Two very different ontologies – ‘digitally distinct space’ and ‘digitally augmented space’ - can be used to build those strategies.

This is not just an argument about semantics. Workers, unions, and regulators are all using outdated concepts to try and make sense of a contemporary world of work. If we are to build a fairer world of work, we are going to need new language and new concepts for networks, processes and organisations of digital labor, for strikes, for picket lines, and for coalitions of, and collaborations between, workers. These concepts will shape how we understand digital labor and how we envision ‘paths to the possible.’

Strategically deploying those spatial ontologies reveals sites at which the proactive geographical praxis of workers can reshape the geographies of labor. Workers do not necessarily need global campaigns to match the global reach of platforms and clients – instead, they need to understand the nodes at which the local can influence the non-local. Workers carry the power to dismiss the idea that digital labor represents a final hegemonic spatial fix in which they have no agency due to atomization and the commodification of work. Reconceptualizing the geographies of digital labor and digital labor geographies reveals remaining possibilities for collective action, for labor’s own spatial fixes, and for a reshaping of the very landscapes of digital work.

 

Philip Leverhulme Award: Internet Geographies

I am extremely happy to report the news that I have been awarded one of the 2016 Philip Leverhulme prizes!

I hope to use the resources offered by the Leverhulme Trust to extend my research into information and internet geographies.  This line of research asks who and where is made more powerful and given more voice by the new digital layers of place that augment the places that we live in, and who and where tends to get silenced and excluded. In previous research we have seen some of the ways in which the digital can amplify and strengthen those already in global informational cores. But, as ever more people get connected to the internet, we need to know more about what sort of change we’re seeing over time.

Going forwards, this will mean hiring a postdoc trained in some flavour of computational social science/ GIS/ big data/ quantitative geography to work with me  I’ll be posting a job ad soon, but in the meantime please get in touch if you’re interested in working with me on such topics.

It really is a massive honour to have this award and to have the opportunity to use it to further some of our ongoing work. None of this would have been possible without the help of some of my brilliant and  smart collaborators over the last few years. As part of the immediate group of researchers that I’ve supervised at the OII, I’ve had the luck to work closely with Sanna Ojanpera, Nicolas Friederici, Amir Anwar,  Isis Hjorth, Alex Wood, Chris Foster, Stefano De Sabbata, Ralph Straumann, Heather Ford, Joe Shaw, Nisa Haji Ibrahim, Devin Gaffney, Charlotte Smart, Caludio Calvino, Ahmed Medhat, David Palfrey, Richard Farnbrough, Ning Wang, Tessy Onaji, and David Peter Simon: all of whom have played an important part in designing, carrying out, and publishing our scholarship. I also have a broader network of collaborators that I’ve also had the fortune to directly research and publish with: Matt Zook, Monica Stephens, Taylor Shelton, Ate Poorthuis, Bill Dutton, Bernie Hogan, Vili Lehdonvirta, Helena Barnard, Tim Waema, Charles Katua, Casper Andersen, Shilad Sen, Andrea Ballatore, Grant Blank, Scott Hale, Taha Yasseri, Illhem Allagui, Andrew Boulton, Jaz Choi, Han-Teng Liao, Felix Akorli, Grace Illah, Claude Bizimana, Havard Haarstad, Ralph Schroeder, Greg Taylor, Matt Wilson, Jeremy Crampton, Stann Brunn, Sean Gorman, Eduardo Lopez, Iginio Gagliardone, Emmanouil Tranos, Jim Thatcher, Dorothea Kleine, Richard Heeks, Padraig Carmody, and Rina Ghose (apologies if I have missed anyone out).  

Just typing out that list of names made me realise how truly incredible the last few years have been, and what a privilege it is to get to work with so many people from such a diverse range of backgrounds. And this list doesn’t even include all of the other people who have helped along the way (such as the ever-helpful support staff at Oxford).

I didn’t intend for such a long post about this award, but once I started to write it became clear that there is no way to say ‘thanks’ for this award without thanking all of the people in my network who actually made it possible.

Mark

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.