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Geocaching by Michael Anton (MA Dissertation)

Geocaching by Michael Anton (MA Dissertation)

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Published by Michael Anton
This dissertation is about a high-tech treasure hunting game called geocaching. It explores three key questions about the game concerning space and place, technology and movement and the nature of play. Drawing on the work of Yi-fu Tuan, Edward Casey and Donna Haraway this project tries to assess where geocaching can fit into geographic thought, especially the more recent strands that seem concerned with the performative nature of the world around us. The project does this in an attempt to create a greater understanding of the ‘more-than-representational’ elements of the active processes that make up geocaching. By describing and analysing varied moments, events and encounters of geocaching this project tries to highlight the importance of these elements in order to show that the ways in which geocaching is played are just as important as the representations it uses and creates.
This dissertation is about a high-tech treasure hunting game called geocaching. It explores three key questions about the game concerning space and place, technology and movement and the nature of play. Drawing on the work of Yi-fu Tuan, Edward Casey and Donna Haraway this project tries to assess where geocaching can fit into geographic thought, especially the more recent strands that seem concerned with the performative nature of the world around us. The project does this in an attempt to create a greater understanding of the ‘more-than-representational’ elements of the active processes that make up geocaching. By describing and analysing varied moments, events and encounters of geocaching this project tries to highlight the importance of these elements in order to show that the ways in which geocaching is played are just as important as the representations it uses and creates.

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Published by: Michael Anton on Sep 04, 2012
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A dissertation by Michael Anton

This dissertation has been prepared on the basis of my own work. Where other source materials have been used they have been acknowledged using the Chicago reference scheme. This dissertation is 17,742 words long, excluding material in tables, appendices and bibliography, but including quotations and references.



This dissertation is about a high-tech treasure hunting game called geocaching. It explores three key questions about the game concerning space and place, technology and movement and the nature of play. Drawing on the work of Yi-fu Tuan, Edward Casey and Donna Haraway this project tries to assess where geocaching can fit into geographic thought, especially the more recent strands that seem concerned with the performative nature of the world around us. The project does this in an attempt to create a greater understanding of the ‘more-than-representational’ elements of the active processes that make up geocaching. By describing and analysing varied moments, events and encounters of geocaching this project tries to highlight the importance of these elements in order to show that the ways in which geocaching is played are just as important as the representations it uses and creates.


Thank you Mum and Dad for making this year happen, without your constant love and support I wouldn’t even be close to where I am today.

Thank you Emma for putting up with so much and always being there for me, even when my mind was still geocaching.

Thanks Nan and Grandad for knowing I could do it, even when I didn’t.

Thanks to kennamatic, SimplyPaul, Andy, Ray.H, talkscience, the D2D team, TrainSPLOTer and everyone else who hid a tupperware box in the woods for me to find.

Thanks to the Masters of Culture for a great year.

Thanks Tim Cresswell and David Gilbert for all of their help.


Table of Contents
1 2 3 4

Prelude ....................................................................................................................... 1 Introduction .............................................................................................................. 5 My Research .............................................................................................................. 8 Literature Review................................................................................................... 10
4.1 4.2 4.3 Space and Place .................................................................................................... 11 Movement and technology ................................................................................... 21 Play ....................................................................................................................... 27


Methodology........................................................................................................... 31
5.1 5.2 5.3 My Approach ........................................................................................................ 31 Project Outline ...................................................................................................... 34 Data Gathering...................................................................................................... 35 Ethnography and Participant Observation ...................................................... 35 Auto-Ethnography.......................................................................................... 36 Mobile Informal Interviews ............................................................................ 37 Data Recording .............................................................................................. 38

5.3.1 5.3.2 5.3.3 5.3.4 5.4 5.5 5.6 6

Participant access and recruitment ....................................................................... 39 Ethical considerations ........................................................................................... 39 Limitations ............................................................................................................ 40

Preface ...................................................................................................................... 41
6.1 6.2 Writing Geocaching............................................................................................... 41 Styles and Fonts .................................................................................................... 43


Geocaching .............................................................................................................. 44
7.1 7.2 Finding my feet ..................................................................................................... 44 Dawn to Dusk ........................................................................................................ 50 iv

7.3 7.4

Hiding ................................................................................................................... 64 Meeting ................................................................................................................ 67 Place and Space ............................................................................................. 67 Movement and Technology ........................................................................... 70 Play ................................................................................................................ 74

7.4.1 7.4.2 7.4.3 7.5 8

Finding .................................................................................................................. 76

Conclusions.............................................................................................................. 77
8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 Space and place .................................................................................................... 77 Technology and Mobility ....................................................................................... 79 Play ....................................................................................................................... 80 Further Work ........................................................................................................ 81


Bibliography ............................................................................................................ 82

10 Appendix .................................................................................................................. 88 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Forum Post ........................................................................................................ 88 Dawn till Dusk Map............................................................................................ 89 Templates.......................................................................................................... 90 Logbook 1 (Northwood)..................................................................................... 91 Logbook 2 (Ruislip Lido) ..................................................................................... 92


Table of Figures
Figure 1 (Ullman, 1941, p. 856) ........................................................................................... 11 Figure 2 (Castree, 2003, p. 174) ........................................................................................... 17 Figure 3 ............................................................................................................................... 34


Chapter 1 : Prelude

1 Prelude
N51°37.130 W0°24.224
...are the exact longitude and latitude coordinates I’m standing at. I clutch hold of the small rectangular box, turning it to consult its one large screen as I begin walking down the path into the woods; I don’t know where I’m going, but it does. The screen shows a map of the area I’m in as well as two symbols, a large blue arrow that represents myself and a small brown treasure chest that represents what I’m looking for. As I move down the path so does the arrow, as I turn right into some denser woodland so does the arrow and with every step we both get closer to the ‘treasure’. I navigate with my eyes half on the screen and half on


Chapter 1 : Prelude

the path, my pulse quickens as the gap between the two symbols closes, 200ft, 100ft, 50ft. All of a sudden the machine speaks up and in a computerised voice tells me “You have arrived”. Only half an hour earlier I’d been inside my house with the screen tethered to my laptop whilst it downloaded those longitude and latitude coordinates from a webpage into the screen’s small memory. Now here I was, exactly where it had been told to go. Or not... I put the screen away in my coat pocket and start searching with my bare hands for this ‘treasure’. I look under logs, in tree trunks, under some holly and after ten minutes of getting dirt under my fingernails I find nothing. Cursing I consult the screen again, I’m supposedly 30ft out, so I start to pace around until I’m entirely sure that I’ve got that blue arrow, myself, where I’m/we’re supposed to be. Alert and excited I get down low again and 2

Chapter 1 : Prelude

start searching through the undergrowth. A muffled noise breaks my concentration and I take a quick look around to make sure no-one is observing my bizarre behaviour. I jump when my hand touches the rough corner of something artificial and plastic. That’s it! I grab hold and remove a small battered tupperware box proudly bearing the words “Geocache – Contents Harmless – Do Not Remove”. A little giddy with childish excitement I prise open the container and rifle through the assorted contents: toy figures, key rings, a bit of cable, a model airplane kit and a small notebook and pen. The slightly disappointing contents do little to dampen my pride, and I remove an item and replace it with a toy of my own. After this I open the small notebook on the first blank page and I write down my name together with a brief description of my journey. It’s the newest addition to the 20 or so it already contains. Finished with the notebook I carefully return all of the contents, seal the box and then set it back in the space it originally occupied. I’ve just found my first geocache.


Chapter 1 : Prelude

Returning home I log onto the same website I was on just an hour ago and find a page that displays the information for the box I found. Clicking a link that asks “Found it?” takes me to a page with a space to detail my experience. Again I write a description of my little journey to the geocache. I hit submit and my electronic message is added to the webpage and next to my name a line of text that appears saying “1 Found” where previously there was nothing. I feel satisfied, but I can’t resist having a quick look to see what I could find next...


Chapter 2 : Introduction

2 Introduction
This dissertation is about a ‘high-tech treasure hunting’ game called geocaching (Geocaching - Homepage, 2008). The concept behind the game is simple, there are a large number of treasure containers (or ‘geocaches’) hidden across the world and the aim is to find as many of them as possible. This is carried out using a form of technologically-enhanced exploration, the sort that was described in the prelude; it combines numerical geographic coordinates, (found at the start of the prelude), a website that provides a searchable database of geocaches and their coordinates (the source of the treasure-chest icon) and most importantly a ‘device’ to convert these numerical coordinates into comprehensible directions (the screen I carried). These ‘devices’ form a small part of the American run Global Positioning System (or GPS) formed in the 1970s under the name NAVSTAR. A number of the satellites that formed it still orbit the earth today, broadcasting radio signals 12,500 miles above the planet’s surface in such a way that at least 4 of them are ‘visible’ at any one time from any point on the globe (Spenser, Frizzelle, Page, & Vogler, 2003). This uniform availability means that any Global Positioning System receiver (or GPSr) like the ‘device’ can, with some simple triangulation calculations and a clear view of the sky, work out its position on the earth’s surface to within a few metres. However, this sort of accuracy has not always been available to ordinary users of GPS, in fact up until the turn of new millennia most GPS users found their devices to be inaccurate by at least 100 metres.


Chapter 2 : Introduction

These inaccuracies were not the fault the GPS receivers, nor were they caused by errors in the satellite network, they were deliberately induced as part of what the US government called ‘Selective Availability’ (or SA) (Zumberge & Gendt, 2001). This system of intentional signal degradation was designed to limit the full powers of GPS to the American Military whilst still providing rudimentary access to civilian and commercial users (Spenser, Frizzelle, Page, & Vogler, 2003). However, in 1996 American president Bill Clinton announced that the USA was committed to the discontinuation of SA by the year 2006 and, only four years later, on May the 2nd, 2000 he terminated the ‘Selective Availability’ scheme. In a speech that day he acknowledged how: “Worldwide transportation safety, scientific, and commercial interests could best be served by the discontinuation of SA”[and that] “this increase in accuracy will allow new GPS applications to emerge and continue to enhance the lives of people around the world.” (Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, 2000) It was, for a number of technologically minded people, a momentous occasion, indeed “this crucial moment in the history of cybercartography generated amateur curiosity and ingenuity that lay the foundation for the subsequent developments of this decade.” (Finkelberg, 2007, p. 17). For example, on the very next day (3rd May 2000), David Ulmer, an American computer consultant and technology enthusiast, decided to test the new-found accuracy of his GPSr and set out for a forest near Beaver Creek, Oregon. Once in the forest he hid a large bucket containing a notepad, pencil and various trinkets in a deep hole(The History of Geocaching, 2008). Before he left the forest he used his newly upgraded GPSr to


Chapter 2 : Introduction

ascertain the buckets exact longitude and latitude coordinates and later that day he logged on to a website called google.groups where he posted the following:
“Well, I did it, created the first stash hunt stash and here are the coordinates: N 45 17.460 W122 24.800 Lots of goodies for the finders. Look for a black plastic bucket buried most of the way in the ground. Take some stuff, leave some stuff! Record it all in the log book. Have Fun!”

(sci.geo.satellite-nav, 2000) Within three days, two people had used their GPSrs to find David Ulmer’s bucket. They both signed the log book he had provided and replaced one of the original items with something of their own. A month later Matt Teague, the bucket’s first finder, began calling the number of hidden GPS located stashes that had spread across the USA by the name ‘geocaches’, the name stuck. On 02/09/08 Matt Teague and another man named Jeremy Irish opened a website called www.geocaching.com to catalogue David Ulmer’s bucket and the 75 other geocaches that had since been hidden world-wide. Significant press coverage on American news channel CNN and in ‘The New York Times’ coupled with a wide array of enthusiastic hiders and finders quickly turned the quirky experiment concerning GPS signals into a worldwide phenomena and in the process the sport of geocaching was invented.


Chapter 3 : My Research

3 My Research
On the 12th of August, 2008 geocaching.com detailed 632,519 active geocaches, this dissertation is about just a fraction of them. Consequently the research that makes up this project is not designed to provide a complete review of geocaching, instead it presents a detailed exploration and critical analysis of a small number of geocaching case-studies and specific research questions in the hope that this will establish a framework on top of which further research could be carried out. In order to establish such a framework three basic assumptions have been made about geocaching. These assumptions are that: • • • Geocaching occurs in places and spaces. Geocaching is technologically enhanced movement. Geocaching is played.

The validity of these assumption should be apparent from the introductory sections, place, space, technology, movement, and play were all integral to David Ulmer’s first geocache and still form the basis of geocaching today. Each and every geocache has a physical location in space (the coordinates) and a hiding place, a technological device then directs the movement of a geocacher to the geocache and then in order to play the game the geocacher must find it. These three aspects of geocaching have directly led to the three research questions that will form the basis of this project. They are as follows:


Chapter 3 : My Research

Where are the spaces and places of geocaching and what is the relationship between them?

How do forms of GPS technology alter movement and mobility and how does this create the process of geocaching?

Why is geocaching played and how do people play geocaching?

Before I begin to explore these questions I will do two things: First I will contextualise geocaching within academic thought paying specific attention to geographic literature, following this I will set out my research design and methodology providing justifications for nature of my research as well as its textual form.


Chapter 4 : Literature Review

4 Literature Review
The three thematic sections of this chapter each detail a different set of geographic theories, concepts and debates that have influenced my work on geocaching. The three parts that follow are presented in a descending order of scale and breathe of subject matter, a structure that also mirrors the order of my research questions. Beginning with my first question concerning the places and spaces of geocaching I outline a number of differing conceptualisations of place and space whilst considering the tensions between the two interrelated concepts and outlining a number of phases of geographic thought on these issues. Following this and narrowing in general focus I consider the more specific ways in which bodily mobility and modern technology have been theorised together through the concepts of cyborgs and amplified realities. Finally I look jointly at the ideas of ‘space and place’ and ‘technology and movement’ in order to explore the sorts of play that geocaching has created.


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

4.1 Space and Place
Written in the 1970s in reaction to the models of empty and disembodied space used by spatial scientists in quantitative revolution of the 1960s (Cresswell, 2004) Yi-Fu Tuan’s seminal work ‘Space and Place’ boldly outlined a new humanistic geography that defined place as a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Previous to this senses of place had been used in the regional geographies of the 1950s as objectified and compartmentalised ‘building blocks’ to construct rigid understandings of the world (Gregory, 2000). Geographical definitions of place had also been defined by the term’s use in Christaller’s ‘Central Place Theory’ (CPT). In CPT place was defined as a node or focus within the a grid of geometric space (Johnston, 2000). For example, in Figure 1 the term place is used to in a geographic sense but in a form that uses place as filler for the more important geometric spaces surrounding it.

Figure 1 (Ullman, 1941, p. 856)


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

Tuan’s conceptualisation of place was not an abstraction like Christaller or Ullman’s, instead Tuan identified place as a way of being and understanding the world around him. Interestingly he came to such a position, not by rejecting the notion of abstract and empty space, but by adding layers to it. In ‘Space and Place’ Tuan described how “space is transformed into place as it acquires definition and meaning” (Tuan, 1977, p. 136). In this way Tuan conceptualised space as a universal, pre-cognitive entity that existed before human attention was given to it. Once human attention was given to an area that occupied a spot within this grid of empty geometric space a place was created. Using the Mississippi river as an example, Tuan suggested that to begin with the small unknown pool that formed the source of the mighty river merely occupied a point in space. However, once scientists had concluded that this small inconspicuous pool was the original source of the river a great deal of human attention was fostered onto the body of water thus transforming the space occupied by a pool into the place of the river’s source (Tuan, 1977, p. 162). Whilst the nature of human attention was certainly important to Tuan’s differentiations between space and place, he also brought in the concepts of time and movement to further clarify his stance. Talking generally about the role of time in human existence he stated that: “Human time is marked by stages as human movement in space is marked by pauses. Just as time may be represented by an arrow, a circular orbit, or the path of a swinging pendulum, so may movements in space; and each representation has its characteristic set of pauses or places.” (Tuan, 1977, p. 198) For Tuan grids of space created the possibility of movement when there was time available to do so and together space and time created the set-up for human life, with each human 12

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

being moving from their point of birth to their point of death through a grid of space on a path that followed the flow of time. However, Tuan was not proposing an empty and linear existence that simply progressed from birth to death. Instead Tuan suggested that this journey was not a continuous flow of movement or time, but in fact a series of stages and pauses that were stitched together by such a flow. These pauses in time and space were places, moments when human beings stopped in order to become concerned with what was around them, thus Tuan defined place by its pausing and experiential nature. The significance of human experience in the definition of place has been picked up by other human geographers in a number of ways. Of particular interest for this project are the ways in which geographers have dealt with the tensions between measured space (such as the longitude and latitude coordinates of a geocache) and experienced place (such as the process of finding a geocache). Casey, in his book ‘Getting back into place’ wrestled with the differences between the twin concepts of space and place by harnessing a metaphor of nautical exploration, in it he suggested that: “To know your longitude at sea is not – not yet – to know your place there. However important such knowledge is for navigational purposes, it yields only a world-point expressed in abstract numbers...such a position is itself a cultural object. But precisely as a posit, it is not an experiential object; no one...ever experienced longitude at sea.” (Casey, 1993, p. 30) Casey appeared to define place in similar terms to Tuan, both geographers asserted that a place was defined by the unique nature of human experience, and both suggested that it was through these experiences that place differentiated itself the from space. However, 13

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

Casey’s idea of place was subtly yet substantially different to Tuans. For Tuan “place is an organised world of meaning. It is essentially a static concept. If we see the world as a process, constantly changing, we should not be able to develop any sense of place” (Tuan, 1977, p. 179). Yet Casey contradicted this sentiment by suggesting that “a place, despite its frequently settled appearance, is an essay in experimental living within a changing culture.” (Casey, 1993, p. 31) For Casey the concept of a static place was a deception that came about when the ties between culture and place were not acknowledged. For Casey place was encultured as well as experienced, thus as cultural changes occurred so too did changes to place. Casey’s encultured place was as fluid and as dynamic as the active cultures within it. This is not to suggest that Tuan ignored the role of culture, however, unlike Casey he maintained that place existed before culture and suggested that place transcended the “cultural particularities and may therefore reflect[ the general human condition” in a static and universal way (Tuan, 1977, p. 5). However, Casey’s encultured place only led to questions about the properties of culture itself. Indeed plenty of questions have already be asked about the conceptualisation of culture used within the cultural turn of the nineties and some of the answers have been rather dismissive of the term ‘culture’. For example Mitchell suggested that “there is no such (ontological) thing as culture. Rather, there is only a very powerful idea of culture.” (Mitchell, 1995, p. 102). Unfortunately there is not room here to further delve into the contentious nature of culture, but nevertheless it should be noted that defining place in terms of culture does not explain place, instead it leads into another conceptual debate over a different term.


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

Further problems arise for these conceptualisations of place when their roots are examined; in much the same way that Tuan and Casey radically redefined the concept of place from its regional and scientific roots, the concept of space has seen a massive reconceptualisation that has gone beyond the empty and geometric spaces that spawned Tuan and Casey’s experiential place. Crang and Thrift neatly sum up this change in stance during their introduction to ‘Thinking Space’, “Geography” they say “has...[moved] away from a sense of space as a practico-inert container of action towards space as a socially produced set of manifolds” (Crang & Thrift, 2000, p. 2). This shift is due (in part) to Henri Lefebvre’s seminal work ‘The Production of Space’. In it Lefebvre rejected the mathematical or geometric spaces I’ve previous mentioned and replaced it with a ‘(social) space’ that was ‘(socially) produced’ (Lefebvre, 1991, p. 26). This social space existed as, and was also socially produced by, a conceptual triad that consisted of: • Representations of Space: The conceptualised and conceived space of scientists, planners and theorists. • Representational Space: The unspoken lived space of the everyday, it was alive, and experienced in ways similar to experiential place. • Spatial Practises: The cohesive perceived space that conditioned spatial usage.

(Lefebvre, 1991, p. 38) These three aspects of space did not simply fit together like pieces of a jigsaw, instead they were dialectically produced and re-produced with each consideration of space. Likewise there was no simple way for place to be constructed from this triad, especially when what had been previously defined as experiential place already seemed to be incorporated within 15

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

Lefebvre’s representational space. Either place would need to be abandoned and left as a component of space, or a radical new conceptualisation of place was needed. Taking up this task Andrew Merrifield used Lefebvre’s triad to reconstruct the relationship between space and place; To do this Merrifiled decided that if “space is not a high level abstract theorization separated from the more concrete, tactile domain of place” then “their distinction must, therefore, be conceived by capturing how they melt into each other rather than by reifying some spurious fissure” (Merrifield, 1993, p. 520). In other words place and space should no longer be understood as a binary but as a continuously produced whole, one that seamlessly blends from socially produced space into a new sort place. This ‘new’ place was defined by two important themes, openness and connection. Motivated in part by some of technological advances that I shall discuss shortly, Noel Castree suggested that: “We must appreciate the openness of places; that is, we need what Massey (1994, p.51) calls ‘a global sense of the local’. It’s not just that more and more places are interlinked and interdependent. It’s also the intensity of these global connections that has increased...In sum the world is no longer a mosaic of places... But places still undoubtedly exist.” (Castree, 2003, p. 174)


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

Figure 2 (Castree, 2003, p. 174)

The places that still did exist were seen by Castree as switching points or nodes in a map of interconnections (Figure 2). These nodes were produced not by insular or mono-cultural ). mono experiences but from a abundance of interrelated and hyper-connected flows of meaning, connected action and material. By removing the concept of place from its bounded roots it seamless . its joins with social space could begin to be seen, both were produced through interrelation and action, neither were static or fixed and together they created a progressive reading of the world that dealt with the rapid spread of people, information and material within it it. The open and connected sense of place seems opposed to internal, experiential knowledges of place that Tuan proposed, yet if the ideas of ‘place ballet’ are introduced to the rather abstract and impersonal diagrams of Castree’s nodal places the humane nature of these diagram flows and connections are made apparent. David Seamon described place ballet i his work in ‘A Geography of the Lifeworld’ as: ifeworld’ “An interaction of many time-space routines and body ballets rooted in space… The space groundstones of place ballet are continual human activity and temporal continuity…In place ballet, space becomes place through interpersonal, spatio-temporal sharing. Human parts interperso temporal


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

create a larger place-whole. The meaning of the whole is normally expressed indirectly -through day-to-day meetings and an implicit sense of participation.” (Seamon, 1979) For Seamon ‘Place Ballets’ were flows and movement across space, but they were also the embodied flows and actions of real, everyday people that came together over time to create and sustain shared senses of place, not through what was materially there, but through what was done and performed within them. They were experienced, but they were shared and fluid in nature and relied on a multitude of actors to maintain the same ‘time-space routines’ and perform the same ‘body ballets’, such as boarding the same train each day, until their actions became an integral part of the places they occurred within. Another useful way of conceptualising place can be found in Michel de Certeau’s strategies and tactics. For de Certeau the workings of place could be understood by dividing it into two distinct yet interrelated components. Strategies were the views and constructions of places from those in ‘power’, they were made up from spatially regimented structures and were defined through strategically produced knowledges. Strategies were also: “A mastery of places through sight...whence the eye can transform foreign forces into objects that can be observed and measured, and thus control and ‘include’ them within its scope of vision.” (Certeau, 1998, p. 35) Thus strategies sought to visually consume their surroundings, labelling and researching them until they were a component of themselves. Strategies flowed outwards defining and bounding places until they become autonomous and natural.


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

On the other hand tactics were a subversive form of action occurring within the strategic spaces. A tactic was: “A calculated action determined by the absence of a proper locus...The space of the tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of foreign power...It takes advantage of ‘opportunities’ and depends on them, being without any base where it could stockpile its winnings, build up its own position, and plan raid. What it wins it cannot keep.” (Certeau, 1998, p. 37) Like place-ballet tactics existed through movement. However, place-ballet created senses of place through repeated bodily movements and actions, whereas in a tactic these places were already defined by the authoritative strategies. Place-Ballet then can be seen as a middle ground between strategy and tactics, one that exists when repeated tactics occurring within strategically defined place are somehow solidified, not into authoritative strategies, but into experiential time-space routines of shared experience. In other words Place-Ballet’s could be conceptualised as tactics that could keep the experiences that were ‘won’, and connect and transform them into a meaningful sense of place. Places would then be defined from within by a multitude of connected and shared instances of tactical movement, not from above in a predetermined rigid form, but from the actors on the street and their fluid, dynamic yet routine everyday actions. The idea of open and connected place has lead some writers such as Relph and Auge to question the placelessness and non-places of the world created by the homogenisation caused by the flows interlinking places (Cresswell, 2004). However, to see place as just connection and interrelation is simplifying the concept too greatly, what is needed is a 19

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Space and Place

definition that incorporates the open senses of place together with the personal experiences that make it intimate and unique. Interestingly it isn’t a geographer, but an art writer and thinker of place called Lucy Lippard who provides such a cohesive definition. In her work entitled ‘The Lure of the Local’ she defined place as: “[The] latitudinal and longitudinal within the map of a person’s life. It is temporal and spatial, personal and political. A layered location replete with human histories and memories, place has width as well as depth. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there.” (Lippard, 1997, p. 7) Lippard’s place encapsulates both Tuan’s experiential aspects and Castree’s connections to form a hybrid place that is nostalgic and intimate, yet forward looking and connected.


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Movement and technology

4.2 Movement and technology
As previously stated, open & connected place has been conceptualised negatively as an erosion and homogenisation of place. Part of this argument points blame at modern technological innovation and suggests that: “The growth of global information networks, the wide-spread adoption of personal computers and their related networks of everyday communication, along with pervasive reach of digital technologies in general, have led to further spatial and temporal dislocations...distance ‘annihilated’ once and for all by the instantaneous delivery of information.” (Allon, 2004, p. 253) In this way the integration of places into nodal networks of electronically mediated communication removes the spatial and temporal divides that had once separated these places into the mosaic Castree (2001) discussed. A consequence of this has been the reduced importance of movement, for, if movement is made up from time (to spend on the move) and space (distance to move across) (Cresswell, 2006, p. 4) and both are lacking in modern places then movement is severely reduced in importance and relevance. Losing the importance of movement is no trivial matter, indeed Seamon’s place ballets and Castree nodes of place required movement to exist and Merleau-Ponty argues that bodily mobility is the key to consciousness: “Consciousness is in the first place not a matter of ‘I think that’ but of ‘I can’...Consciousness is being towards the thing through the intermediary of the body.” (Merleau-Ponty, 1962 quoted in (Cresswell, 1999, p. 177). 21

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Movement and technology

In this way a human being is conscious of his/her own being because of their inherent mobility and the manipulation of said mobility, through the body, onto the material world beyond it. A modern world with a relative lack of space and time to move through would, for Merleau-Ponty, be an empty world of near unconscious people. Of particular interest to the writer Rebecca Solinit and to this project on geocaching in general is the form of bodily movement we call walking; a process that Solinit paradoxically describes as “the most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world” (Solnit, 2001, p. 1). Even walking is under threat from the pace of technological connection, Solinit laments the way in which: “The indeterminacy of a ramble, on which much may be discovered, is being replaced by the determinate shortest distance to be traversed with all possible speed, as well as by electronic transmissions that make real travel less necessary.” (Solnit, 2001, p. 10) Essentially her fear is of a ‘technologisation’ of walking. One in which the supposed ‘wanderlust’ within human nature is stripped away and replaced by the cool efficiency of machines. For Solinit aimless walking or rambling, despite its obvious appearances of being meaning- (or aim-) less, is full of obscure, powerful and complex meanings, ones that are in danger of being replaced by an in-human technological efficiency. Walking though has not been consumed by the technologies that supposedly threaten it and the world has not been replaced by a spaceless, distanceless web of instant-connections. What has occurred instead is the compression of time and space and the renegotiation of place that mirrors the advent of the railways in America during the 19th century (Cresswell,


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Movement and technology

2006) and the strolling flâneur of the grand arcades of early-modern cities (Wilken, 2005). Wilken argues that: “Rather than "liberate" us from place, these technologies arguably refocus the individual on the fluctuating and fleeting experiences of place/s and their impact on the fabric of everyday life.” (Wilken, 2005) One particular way in which recent technological innovation has helped refocus the walking individual on place, rather than ‘liberate’ them from it, is through the growth of ubiquitous, reality amplifying computing machines. These machines are designed to fill niches in the everyday lives of their users and enhance their abilities to perform tasks by enhancing their knowledge and experience of the world without distracting from it. “Ubiquitous computing seeks to embed computers into our everyday lives in such ways as to render them invisible and allow them to be taken for granted.” (Galloway, 2004, p. 384) Much like glasses or contact lenses, ubiquitous computing (or UC) is designed to be useful whilst going un-noticed. Contact lenses are needed by their users to enhance their sight and when they function correctly they do so in a near imperceptible way. Using this example the original proponent of ubiquitous computing Mark Weiser argued that computers should be designed to enhance the lives of their users without impacting on their everyday actions. The end-point for UC was the creation of a ‘mixed-reality’ in which computer technology seamlessly interacted with people, places and environments and integrated the “shifting

intensities or flows of the virtual and the actual” (Galloway, 2004, p. 402).


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Movement and technology

One way to conceptually deal with the flows created by UC is provided by feminist writer Donna Haraway. In her ‘Cyborg Manifesto’ she sets out a new way of thinking about technology and the body that states that: “There is no fundamental, ontological separation in our formal knowledge of machine and organism, of technical and organic.” (Haraway, 1991, p. 178) This differs to the idea of mixed reality because it occurs with reference to the body, not to space. For Haraway a cyborg is the fleshy and organic body of a person, the technological tools they use and the networks of connection that are created by this use. All three (body, tool and surroundings) are so closely linked that separating them is seen as a false way of deconstructing the world. Haraway even goes as far as to suggest that the modern, invisible technologies we posses are in fact incompatible with people and instead must be considered as cyborg to be understood: “Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum, and these machines are eminently portable, mobile...People are nowhere near so fluid, being both material and opaque. Cyborgs are ether, quintessence.” (Haraway, 1991) Ethereal cyborgs are remarkably similar to the users of ubiquitous technologies, both are hybrid blends of organic bodies and networked machine that come together to created enhanced environments. The difference between the two comes, ironically enough, with the more ubiquitous nature of Haraway’s cyborgs; UC is a specific sort of technology, one that is still under development and only usable by those with access to certain types of high 24

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Movement and technology

tech instruments, cyborgs on the other hand are literally everywhere, and result from all human usage of the sort technology found in a post WWII environment (such as televisions & telephones). It is worth noting that despite the ubiquitous nature of Haraway’s cyborgs she does not want to explain away all aspects of the world with one homogenous umbrella term like ‘cyborg’, instead she is concerned with “the skilful task of reconstructing the boundaries of

daily life, in partial connection with others, in communication with all of our parts” so that a
“hetroglossia” be formed that finally shows a way out of “the maze of dualisms in which we

have explained our bodies and our tools to ourselves” (Haraway, 1991, p. 181).To simplify,
we may all be cyborg, but we are not all the same. Described out of context UC and cyborgs can seem place-less and space-less, after all UC is designed to have an invisible place and occupy an hidden space whilst cyborgs are

described in universal and ideological terms with little care for the local places or the situations in which these hybrid existences are experienced. However, by using ideas of augmented and amplified realities the relationships between these technological concepts and the places and spaces they are used in can begin to be explored. The differences between augmented and amplified realities are subtle, both involve the use of advanced computing systems and both rely on altering and enhancing physical objects and places through technological means. However, “augmented reality systems are systems,

in which computer-rendered properties are superimposed on the real world” (Falk,
Redström, & Björk, 1999, p. 2) whereas “to amplify reality is to enhance the publicly

available properties of a physical object, by means of using embedded computational

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Movement and technology

resources” (Falk, Redström, & Björk, 1999, p. 3). To expand on this, augmented realities
require a certain type of computer to be accessed, whilst amplified realities use pre-existing computational components to increase the properties of reality. For example, a windscreen of a car that signals to the driver changes in the road conditions is an augmented reality, whereas an example a reality amplifying technology would be a road surface that alters itself to inform those travelling of such conditions.


Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Play

4.3 Play
Ubiquitous technologies and amplified realities have a significant role in the potential ways in which technology can interact and becomes part of the everyday world. However, this project is not just about the everyday but about play. More specifically it is about the GPS network and the GPSrs that enable the amplified and playful realities of geocaching to occur. Spaces of play are known as ‘ludic spaces’. Ludic space is the arena in which games take place, the boundaries of it are as blurred as the idea of gaming itself, but can be broadly defined as: "The systems of experience incorporating concepts of game or game play and related experiences... Ludic space also includes highly diverse non-computational game forms, including simple table-top games, live-action and table-top role-playing games, reality games and sports games. Hybrid forms include augmented-reality games and pervasive games...” (Lindley, 2005) It is these hybrid ludic spaces that are particularly relevant to this project. Currently ‘hybrid ludic space’ refers to the use of augmented/amplified realities to create hybrid forms of real/virtual play, however, this was not always the case. With reference to the Bauman’s work Clarke & Doel describe how “the flâneur’s ludic world was gradually transformed into a

managed playground”, implying that once managed (perhaps even stratified) the ludic
spaces of the flâneur were destroyed. The blame is pointed again towards the speed of modernity and the ways in which it has “appropriated the pleasures of flânerie, putting 27

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Play

them into the service of consumerism” (Clarke & Doel, 2004, p. 36). Thus consumerism can
be seen as the reason for the loss of ludic urban spaces and the transformations and stratifications that have turn ludic spaces into spaces of consumption and capitalism. However these spaces have not been totally lost, in fact they are beginning to be reclaimed and (re-)transformed into strolling, roaming, playful and ludic spaces once again. Interestingly such reclamation is coming from the tactical use of one of the “most

elaborated forms of capitalism” the satellite (Parks, 2005, p. 7). Specifically the network
NAVSTAR GPS that enables the activity of geocaching. Play of this sort can alter the boundaries between numerous concepts: “On the border between virtual and real, dream world and physical encounter, play has the ability to make these borders visible through engagement in un-intrusive everyday practices that create a space of its own inhabited by... players and technology that might be hidden behind a tangible surface of the surrounding world.” (Lindtner, 2007, p. 4) Linked up to the GPS players of geocaching are made part of a complex, invisible and ubiquitous systems of satellites that are aiding in the creation of ludic space characterised by the virtual/real betweeness of amplified realities. The items that are searched for in geocaching are examples of amplified realities because, despite not strictly possessing “embedded computational resources” (Falk, Redström, & Björk, 1999) they form integral nodes in the digitally accessed networks of longitude and latitude. Likewise, they do not form part of an augmented reality because although GPSrs are needed to find them, geocaches still physically exist independently of this technology. The playful nature of geocaching creates a hidden world behind the ‘tangible surface’ of space and place, all of 28

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Play

the components of geocaching exist within this tangible world, yet they need an instrument to amplify them in order to reach their potential existence on the boundary between real (the box itself) and virtual (the representations of the box on a GPSr screen). This interface between real and virtual is of particular interest to one of the few social theorists who has previously written on geocaching. Robin Willim’s piece entitled ‘Walking Through the Screen’ focuses on the ways in which the computed directions of GPS units are understood and put into action through geocaching as a form of locomotion. Less focused with the activity as a playful game Willim puts forward some very interesting ideas on the ways in which the screen of GPSrs relate to the places they are experienced within: “The GPS-receivers are parts of a complex system, extremely hard to grasp entirely. When we move around in our surroundings aided by GPS we are dependent on the representations shown on the screen of our device. The interface of the screen is integrated in the experience of place. Signs on the screen are compared, related to and coordinated with perceptions from the physical landscape. The screen and the technology becomes a kinetic surface which is incorporated in the experience and understanding of different places.” (Willim, 2008, p. 4) For Willim the tensions between representation and experience are key to understanding how geocaching alters bodily locomotion in ways that echo the tensions between abstract space and experiential place. Indeed it seems to Willim as if the kinetic surface of a GPSr is an interface that enables the user to interact with both abstract, regimented and strategic space whilst being able to move tactically through experiential places, all of which is wrapped within a connected technological network of invisible computers, hidden boxes 29

Chapter 4 : Literature Review - Play

and flows of bodily movement and electronic data. Willim also highlights the idea of technological dependence; the GPSr is in charge of the movements of its users, who are also dependant on the technological quirks of the GPS satellite network. Dourish suggests a number of potential problems with this dependence in his paper on place, space and technology such as the ways in which “GPS satellite line-of-sight and Wi-Fi network signal

strength are thoroughly physical phenomena” (Dourish, 2006) and that despite seeming
ubiquitous these signals can be lost and rendered inoperable by merely moving under dense tree cover. Indeed this dependence on GPS is a potential hazard for Willam and despite the new spatialities of GPS and geocaching he worries that “it may also numb us, make us

vulnerable”. Already examples of this can be found, Polson and Caceres seem unenthusiastic
about geocaching arguing that rather than refocusing senses of place through new technologically enhanced forms of movement geocaching: “Tend[s] to treat the environment as a ‘stage’ for play rather than a potentially dynamic agent with multiple features, histories, local stories etc. In Los Angles, the geocaching community has gained a reputation of being ‘geotrashers’ who have been famously accused of using parks as arenas of play with little concern of the ecological impacts.” (Polson & Caceres, 2005)


Chapter 5 : Methodology - My Approach

5 Methodology
5.1 My Approach
“Theories of technological innovation, like theories of everyday life, seem to maintain an almost contradictory sense of consistency and coherency. Part of this stems from the tendency to discuss new technologies as (representational) objects or artefacts, rather than as (performative) ‘practices, arrangements and ensembles . . . which permit certain objects to materialize or solidify and not others’ (Mackenzie 2003, 3).” (Galloway, 2004, p. 399) Geocaching is an active, on-going process, a game with no clear end point or defined structure. It is made up of technological objects and ‘dumb’ containers, as well as on-line databases and orbiting satellites, however, these components mean nothing to a geocacher unless are used together at once. Geocaching must be performed with objects through space, place and time, geocaching is not these objects in static isolation. My research project is motivated by this sort of performative thinking, it understands that there are representational objects in the world (a GPSr being an example of one), but it focuses on how these objects are manipulated by users in order to create the act of geocaching. This approach is taken in order to get to grips with the many fleeting moments that make up geocaching and to begin to understand the places of geocaching on its own mobile, active and on-going terms, rather than as a set of fixed, static and representational points.


Chapter 5 : Methodology - My Approach

It is by no means the first research project to attempt to understand the processes, performances and events of its subject matter rather than the its objects and representations. Indeed the importance of encounters and events formed an integral part of David Seamon’s ‘Life Worlds’ in which he suggests that by “exploring the nature of

encounter [it] leads to a better understanding of how human beings attentively meet the places, spaces and landscape that are their surrounds” (Seamon, 1979).
More recently there has been a push in cultural geography to get to grips with performances, events, affect and the controversially named ‘non-representational’ aspects of human interaction with space and place (Latham, 2003, p. 1902) (Nash, 2000). If we take ‘non-representational’ to be “concerned with the ways in which subjects know the world

without knowing it, the ‘inarticulate understanding’ or ‘practical intelligibility’ of an ‘unformulated practical grasp of the world’” (Nash, 2000, p. 655), then the sorts of
‘articulated understandings’ that GPSrs bring to understandings of space (understandings that negate inert ‘practical intelligibility’ and replace it with a dependence on a ‘preformulated and computer constructed grasps of the world’) would lie out of the remit of ways in which non-representational theory can handle the “performative ‘presentations’,

‘showings’ and ‘manifestations of everyday life” (Nash, 2000, p. 655).
Whilst this project will be informed by Nigel Thrifts non-representational theory and seem in tune its approach will be more similar to Hayden Lorimer’s sense of being ‘more-thanrepresentational’. Lorimer’s point is that the: “Multifarious, open encounters in the realm of practice matter most... The focus falls on how life takes shape and gains expression in shared experiences, everyday routines, fleeting 32

Chapter 5 : Methodology - My Approach

encounters, embodied movements, precognitive triggers, practical skills, affective intensities, enduring urges, unexceptional interactions and sensuous dispositions. Attention to these kinds of expression, it is contended, offers an escape from the established academic habit of striving to uncover meanings and values that apparently await our discovery, interpretation, judgement and ultimate representation. In short, so much ordinary action gives no advance notice of what it will become. Yet, it still makes critical differences to our experiences of space and place.” (Lorimer, 2005, p. 84) With such a focus I hope to explore the ways in which the ‘practise’ of geocaching effects senses of space and place, is altered and transformed by seen and unseen technological networks and is played and enjoyed by those who partake in it.


Chapter 5 : Methodology - Project Outline

5.2 Project Outline
This project covers 71 different geocaches that were visited over a five month period from the 23/02/08 to the 31/07/08. Of these geocaches, 65 of them were found, 3 of them weren’t, 2 of them were my hidden by myself and 1 of them was an ‘event geocache’. They cover a polygonal area of roughly 300 miles square in the southeast of England as shown in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3


Chapter 5 : Methodology - Data Gathering

5.3 Data Gathering
The methods used to answer my research questions are inductive. By this I mean that they are designed to amass and gather numerous particulars about geocaching in order to provide more general answers to research questions and create a framework for further work on geocaching in geography (Lindsay, 1997, p. 7). More specifically this project harnesses a mixed methods form of inductive investigation that integrates ethnography, auto-ethnography and participant-observation with a hybrid form of mobile and informal interviewing in order to record and analyses the various people, spaces, places, moments, emotions, movements, thoughts, feelings, actions and objects that make up geocaching.

5.3.1 Ethnography and Participant Observation
“Ethnography can be defined as ‘the study of people in naturally occurring settings or ‘fields’ by methods of data collection which capture their ordinary activities, involving the researcher participating directly in the setting, if not also the activities.’” (Brewer, 2000, p. 189) In the simplest terms this project will be researched by geocaching. I will actively engage with the activity in its ‘naturally occurring settings’ by hiding and finding numerous geocaches as well as joining and participating with the activities of other geocachers whilst simultaneously observing the ways in which they/we geocache. The result will be a form of participant-observation in which I will hold the middle ground between being an active geocacher and being an observer of geocaching.


Chapter 5 : Methodology - Data Gathering

This ethnographic process will help created situated knowledges through ‘thick description’, fixed to the persona of the researcher, the location of research and the time-span of said research (Taylor, 2002) that will be essential to comprehending the more-thanrepresentational aspects of geocaching and the effects it has on the use and experiences of space, places and technologies. Ethnographic methods such as these also acknowledge that the abstract viewpoint of the natural sciences are unobtainable, and that information gathered through research is not a mirror onto the world, but the very way ‘through which

it is constructed, understood and acted upon’ (Cook & Crang, 1995, p. 11).
My aim will be to present an ethnographic account that illustrates how geocaching is constructed, understood and acted upon with reference to my research questions on space/place, technology/movement and play. In order to achieve this aim a certain sort of ‘radically empirical’ ethnography will be used, one that is greatly inspired by Paul Stoller’s work ‘The Taste of Ethnographic Things’. Stoller’s book is a call to ethnographers to embrace the unseen aspects of the cultures they study and for them to write with a sense of ‘radical empiricism’ that treats all sensory experiences with equal importance and leaves behind Eurocentric ‘visualism’ (Stoller, 1989). Whilst Stoller’s text explores tastes, magics and sounds I shall try to incorporate the equally ‘unseen’ ideas of UC, cyborgs and GPS into my ethnography so that “the un-seen interpenetrates with the seen, the audible fuses with the

tactile and the boundaries of literary genres are blurred” (Stoller, 1989, p. 153).

5.3.2 Auto-Ethnography
“Authors use their own experiences in a culture reflexively to look more deeply at self-other interactions. By writing themselves into their own work as major characters, 36

Chapter 5 : Methodology - Data Gathering

autoethnographers have challenged accepted views about silent authorship, where the researcher’s voice is not included in the presentation of findings.” (Holt, 2003) Elaborating on my own role as a researcher/geocacher I will incorporate elements of autoethnography (Reed-Danahay, 1997) into my explorations of geocaching. The reasons for this are twofold: First is my own desire to avoid presenting my project as a definitive or objective view of geocaching, it is neither of these things and instead it will be presented with respect to the subjective voice that my authorship, editing and material organisation brings about. Secondly geocaching is at times a solitary activity, and whilst attempts have been made to give various other geocachers a voice, it is my own experiences of geocaching that are the most detailed and relevant.

5.3.3 Mobile Informal Interviews
Although technically a component of my participant-observation I want to specify my reasons for wanting to conduct mobile interviews whilst engaging in geocaching. I am inspired a great deal by Jon Anderson’s methodological article on using walking to inspire senses of place and identify for research participants, in it he explains how: “[Talking whilst walking] can successfully tap into the non-mechanistic framework of the mind and its interconnections with place to recall episodes and meanings buried in the archaeology of knowledge... This practice of talking whilst walking is also useful as it produces not a conventional interrogative encounter, but a collage of collaboration: an unstructured dialogue where all actors participate in a conversational, geographical and informational pathway creation. As a consequence, the knowledge produced is importantly 37

Chapter 5 : Methodology - Data Gathering

different: atmospheres, emotions, reflections and beliefs can be accessed, as well as intellects, rationales and ideologies.” (Anderson, 2004, p. 260) The knowledge produced by Anderson’s wandering, ambling interviews fits very well with the ‘more-then-representational’ encounters, experiential places and practised playing I’ve previously discussed. Further to this engaging in interviews on the move, rather than distracting from the topic of discussion, would only further focus the flow of conversation if the aim of the walk was to find a geocache. Thus I am proposing to direct parts of my participant-observation into goal-orientated mobile interviews. However, care must be taken to ensure that these interviews remain ‘as informal a face-to-face encounter as

possible so that it appears almost like a natural conversation between people with an established relationship’ (Brewer, 2000, p. 33) so as not interfere with the ‘playful’ nature of

5.3.4 Data Recording
Data for this project was recorded in a number of ways. Ethnographic data was gathered through a research diary which updated after every geocache find with impressions and details of the trip. Photo and video recordings were also made of these trips where practical. Further to this when engaging in mobile interviews a dictaphone was strapped to a bag, creating a hands free way of recording the interview and enabling me to geocache without restriction.


Chapter 5 : Methodology - Participant access and recruitment

5.4 Participant access and recruitment
For this project I will gather participants from three main sources: 1. Auto-ethnography and the study of friends and family who have accompanied me whilst geocaching. 2. Through a request posted on the online geocaching forum. 3. From ‘bait’ geocaches containing an invitation to join my research project. More traditional concepts of ‘gate-keepers’ (those in a position of power within the community with the ability to provide further access to participants) (Cook, 2005) and ‘snowballing’ (using pre-existing participants to gain more contacts) (Valentine, 2005) will still be relevant to my research. However, I may end up creating my own ‘gates’ in the form of the ‘bait’ geocaches, and snowballing may occur online as more people find my forum post or read the logs for my geocaches.

5.5 Ethical considerations
Of primary importance to this project is ethical obligation I have to research participants. As such all of my ethnography will be ‘overt’ in nature. Simply, this means that I will, at all times, let those I am ethnographically researching know that I am doing so. All recordings of audio-data will be taken with the express permission of those being interviewed. In addition to this research participants will be referred to by their publically available usernames as specified on www.geocaching.com, not by their real names.


Chapter 5 : Methodology - Limitations

5.6 Limitations
As previously stated, this research is intended to create a framework on top of which a larger more detailed study of geocaching could take place. Understandably as a Masters dissertation this research is limited in a number of ways:

The time scale for this project is small, covering only a period of a few months, as a result it will not be able to explore geocaching through the seasons or provide more than a snapshot of geocaching in 2008.

Likewise the breadth of this study is also restricted to the areas I was able to travel to and thus centre around a small section of south-east England.

This project will focus on the physical processes of geocaching, and subsequently though it may involve discussion of the online and other spheres of the activity, it will not focus on them.


Chapter 6 : Preface - Writing Geocaching

6 Preface
6.1 Writing Geocaching
The results and analysis section of this dissertation are combined into an ethnographic account of my research process. This account takes its stylistic inspiration from Stoller’s radical empiricism and Dan Roses’ ‘ethnographic manifesto’ that states: “The future of ethnography will be a polyphonic, heteroglossic, multigenre construction and will include: 1. The author’s voice and own emotional reactions. 2. Critical, theoretical, humanist mini essays... 3. The conversations, voices, attitudes, visual genres, gestures, reactions and concerns of daily life of the people with whom the author participates, observes and lives will take form as a narrative and discourse – there will be a story line. 4. Poetics will also join the prose. 5. Pictures, photos and drawings will take up a new, more interior relation to the text – not to illustrate it, but to document in their own way what words do in their own way. 6. The junctures between analytics, fictive, poetic narrative and critical genres will be marked clearly in the text.” (Rose, 1990, p. 57)


Chapter 6 : Preface - Writing Geocaching

Thus my report will incorporate my own subjective progress as well as the voices, actions and movements of the people that I engage with. Further to this there will be a number of sections that pull away from the ethnographic narrative to tie the ‘plot’ to theories and concepts that have been previously discussed in this dissertation. Photographs and video stills will also accompany the text. These images will be chronologically synchronised with the text surrounding them however, they will not be overtly acknowledged or discussed within it. This analysis will expresses my own subjectivity through the use of a 1st person present tense narrative that is not without its drawbacks; it is argued that the artificiality with which time is frozen within the present tense removes such events from context of the past, providing a woefully incomplete view of society (Sanjek, 1991). I would argue that such a ‘freezing’ of the present serves to maintaining the fleeting and ‘more-than-representational’ elements that make up geocaching. The present tense also provides the opportunity to expose the inter-subjectivity of the research within the field by neither tying his/her actions to a past moment, now irretrievable, nor some future abstract, unobtainable, but to the ‘now’ felt within ethnographic process (Hastrup, 1992) (Davis, 1999). These stylist choices are designed to try and provide an answer to the following question: ‘Is the encounter at the heart of fieldwork ultimately unspeakable? Impasses, silences and aporias... These are the points at which language find its limits, where cultural geography, having so keenly theorized representation, comes upon matters that mark the end of representation: things, events, encounters, emotions and more that are unspeakable, unwriteable and, of course, unrepresentable.’ (Laurier & Philo, 2006, p. 353) 42

Chapter 6 : Preface - Styles and Fonts

By closely combining ethnographic narratives, together with interview data, photography and video recording I hope to get closer to the ‘things, events, encounters, emotions’ that make up each instance of geocaching.

6.2 Styles and Fonts
In order to clearly mark the differences between the voices in my results section I will use numerous fonts and styles. Text describing personally gathered ethnographic data such as my own movements, thoughts and interactions will be shown in this standard Calibri font. Mini essays that provide a more objective considerations of the research will be shown in this bold font and quotes from research participants will be shown through dotted boxes.

Finally geocache coordinates will be shown in courier new.


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Finding my feet

7 Geocaching
I’ve found one geocache so far, I own a GPSr and I use it to find hidden boxes around the country, so I guess that makes me a geocacher. Obviously though I need to find more, in fact I want to find more and I want other people to experience it with me. The section that follows details a number of geocaching vignettes that occurred during my initial forays into the activity. Mirroring the activity of geocaching each vignette provides a map and a set of coordinates, following this is a small personal description of the journey taken to the geocache, then at the end of each trip is small ‘cache’ of information analysing how this journey may fit into broader themes.

7.1 Finding my feet
N51°35.769 W0°25.586

...is where my and I sister stand, a geocache is about a hundred metres in front of us according the GPSr I hold in my hands. We’re eager to find it but between us and it is a train-line. One that is invisible to the satellites and my screen but not to us standing, forlorn, at the fence separating us from our


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Finding my feet

goal. Of course we’re on the wrong side of the tracks. It’s really frustrating, I feel tricked by the gadget, there’s so little space between us and it, but it’s such a long way away. There seem to be some incompatibilities present here between the spaces that the GPRs represents and the lived spaces that I need to move through. The barrier between myself and my goal is present only in lived space, the representation of space present on the GPSr omits the train line. This sense of jarring frustration at the mismatched senses of space highlights the delicate nature of map based GPSrs (by this I mean the graphical interface provided by the GPSr that shows my location as a symbol on a dynamically scaled map, see page 1 for an example). Whilst the GPSr is still providing me with accurate coordinates the technology is interpreting and representing them in an inaccurate way. My position on the map is updated in near ‘real time’ but the map is a static unchanging representation that lacks up-to-date contextual detail. Another way to look at this would be to classify the representational space of the GPSr as a strategic view from above, one that maps out the earth’s surface according to the parametres of the makers of the device and my actions at as an




movement through it.



...is on the very edge of Moor Park golf course and practically underneath a humming electricity pylon. I watch as 45

Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Finding my feet

my Mum pulls out a white ice-cream tub from a hollow tree stump. The walk here was easy, straight accross an empty field to a small wooded areas, but we struggled once we got there spending twenty minutes or so looking in completly the wrong place. We had help though, every geocache comes with a ‘hint’ and I’d written it down on a scrap of paper, it read:

“Inside the bottom part of the oak tree alongside the ditch that borders the fairway.”
Moving a little closer to the fairway, and keeping our eyes peeled for a hollow oak tree it became obvious where it was. It felt a little a little bit like cheating, but if we hadn’t we’d still be over by the wrong tree and we might have never found it. This doesn’t make it any less of a find, does it?


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Finding my feet

Geocaching is, as I have already discussed, a treasure-hunting game that is played in order to gather ‘finds’. There are no strict rules dictating the ways in which it can be played apart from the self-policing notion that the log book must be signed to prove the geocache was actually found. Certainly this instance of geocaching falls in these boundaries, yet despite the hint being provided by the official website there are feelings of ‘cheating’ or ‘cheapening’ the geocaching experience.



...isn’t where this geocache is, I’m sure. Even though those coordinates are exactly where the GPSr reckons we are. We’ve been looking for about half an hour now. I’m not sure how much I trust the machine though, if we go under any really dense tree cover it loses all but one bar of reception. Maybe we’re nowhere near it, maybe we’re lost, maybe it got us lost. We’re traipsing through brambles and stinging nettles, looking under every log that fits the description given in the hint, but we find nothing. We go home a little gutted and I register my first ever DNF. Just as there are no defined rules in geocaching, there are no strict winners or losers in the game. The closest sense of losing that geocaching has is a DNF or a ‘Did Not Find’ log. This is where a geocachers registers that, although they attempted to find a geocache, they could not locate it. In this case I try to blame the GPSr machinery, and whilst tree cover 47

Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Finding my feet

does certainly effect GPS signal, this feeling may be more to absolve my own lack of geocaching skill than a true failure of technology. Regardless it is clear that in this case there are difficulties that clearly separate any sort of cyborg hybrid identity and reform it as ‘broken machine’ and ‘lost person’.



...is in the middle of a small park, just down the road from where I’ve lived for the past twelve years. I’ve never been here before, though I must have driven past it hundreds of times, and honestly I don’t think I ever would have set for in this place if it wasn’t for the geocache pulling me in. Me and Emma walk off the beaten track and into a clearing surrounded by trees, we’re only minutes from the high street and half a mile from my house, but it still feels like an adventure to the middle of the country-side. The space of this small park has always been spatially present, I’ve acknowledged it in other forms of spatial navigation (e.g. driving past it), however only through the action of geocaching has it become a place I have been to, rather than a space I have moved past. My experience of this place may have been initialised by the spatial coordinates used by my GPSr to direct me there, but it is my personal experience of this event that now defines my knowledge of this place. 48

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I think I’m starting to get the hang of geocaching, you need to use the GPS, but not totally depend on it, it’s temperamental and can only ever guide you quite close to the geocache before you have to rely on intuition to find the it. The places of geocaching seem to be similar too, obviously they are all at different spatial points, but so far these have all been within wooded and secluded areas with hollow trees and logs providing hiding spot. What I need to do is branch out a bit and see how other people geocache. My first attempt to gather research participants was via the online forum attached to www.geocaching.com. In the UK section of the message board I posted an entry stating my research proposal, aims and a request for interested participants to contact me via email (See Appendix 10.1). Eleven people responded with emails and forum posts highlighting their willingness to participate in the research process. Unfortunately their geographic spread was very wide and I did not have the resources to include them all but one email in particular caught my attention; it was an invitation to join a whole group of geocachers who were planning on walking an eighteen mile route around Maidensgrove in an attempt to find over fifty geocaches between the hours of 11pm and 9am, I couldn’t turn it down (See Appendix 10.2 for a map).


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

7.2 Dawn to Dusk
N51°35.702 W 0°58.459
...is the Five Horseshoes pub and I’m currently standing outside of it, feeling a stomach churning mix of excitement and apprehension about the whole thing. I’m not really sure quite what I’m getting myself into... I enter the pub, it’s small cramped and full of men in walking gear. I think I’m in the right place. I introduce myself to the person by the door and ask whether or not this is the ‘geocaching meet-up’. It is. We talk a little before a slightly awkward silence descends. I break it by confessing that I’m not a ‘real geocacher’, but a fake who’s here to do research. It causes a bit of a stir, some people seem interested in what I’m doing, some are dismissive of the fact that I’m out here researching what they’re doing for fun. Someone else lets me know that I’ve certainly ‘jumped in at the deep end’, this is going to be one long stint of geocaching. I get a drink and join in with various conversations about geocaches others have found, some of them certainly sound more exciting than then ones I’ve been used to. Some are hidden up trees, under bridges, the sides of mountains, suddenly I feel a bit inadequate with my ten easily found caches.


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

It’s getting close to 11pm so we drink up and people begin to migrate outside, fitting head torches and turning on a array of GPSrs. SimplyPaul is the guy who organised the meet up, he stands out with his bright yellow florescent jacket. He gets everyone together for a group photo and a head count, there’s twenty two of us in total and after briefly outlining the route (18 miles in three expanding circuits) we’re off! There’s a constant crunching of footsteps and spatter of conversation as we walk down a small country road patchily lit up by circles of torch light. It’s so dark that I’m not entirely sure who I’m talking to, but I ask about the logistics of so many people all geocaching at once and I’m told that, basically, it’s done for us, with so many experts here tonight we won’t have any trouble finding these caches (people seem to be dropping the ‘geo-’).


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

There’s a strange sense of camaraderie as we make our way to the first geocache of the night. I don’t know anyone’s real name and I’ve only known these people for an hour or so but the fact that we’re all out here together in the middle of the night walking through the woods to find hidden boxes tickles some sense of childish excitement in me. We find our first geocache in a bit of a blur, there’s a sort of puzzle to work out, but someone knows the answers, so we skip some steps and go straight to where the geocache is hidden. Without much of a search someone gets hold of it and signs the book “The D2D Team”. I find it a little odd that no one even suggests taking something out to replace, it seems that these sorts of geocachers only want to ‘find and sign’, the geocaches contents aren’t that important. Next we head into the woods, we walk in single file down a narrow path and once it opens up we huddle together torches shining at SimplyPaul’s luminous jacket. We’re looking for firetacks, he says, they’re tiny little pushpins with a reflective cats eye at the end. We spread out on the hunt. Someone finds one and shouts, all beams illuminate a tiny pinprick of light in the bark of a tree twenty or so metres away. We follow them, like breadcrumbs until we hit a tree with two dots of light. Supposedly that means the geocache is hidden there...


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

[A man digs in the roots of a tree looking for a geocache, he doesn’t find anything.] Him: “Have a dig in that one then.” [A woman next to him starts looking and instantly finds the cache. She removes a black film canister from the tree roots.] Her: “Bloody micros. I hate micros.” Him: “35 feet out, oh I’ve gone down to 17.” Off Camera: “Who set this one up?!” [laughter] Off Camera “You didn’t find the decoy then?” Off Camera “Nope they didn’t find the decoy.” Her: “No we’re experienced geocachers you see... have you got a pen?” Him: “You’re an experienced geocacher and you haven’t even got a pen?!” [Laughter all round]


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

The next few geocaches follow the same pattern, look for firetacks and follow them until we hit a tree with more than two pinpricks of light. One of the caches we find is set back off the path that we’re on. One of the other geocachers pushes me forwards, saying that I really should go find one myself. Feeling confident I walk up to the large conspicuous looking fallen tree in front of me and start searching. I find nothing. Not wanting to hold everyone up I call out to SimplyPaul, this is one of his. He joins me but can’t even find it himself! Feeling relieved he leaves a replacement he had in his bag and we set off again. I know we’re following a large circle that has been taking us away from the pub and that will eventually lead us back, but honestly I’m lost. People know where they’re going, but only from cache to cache, I’ve got no idea what part of the county I’m actually in, or where I am in relation to...well anything. We enter a clearing and a helicopter flies low overhead. SimplyPaul informs the group that, technically he thinks we might be trespassing. We all laugh a little nervously, but we carry on regardless finding a few more caches, they’re all pretty straight forward, little black film canisters hidden at the bottom of tree or in notches in stumps, micros they’re called, and all they contain is a slip of paper to sign. For our sixth of the night, about an hour and a half into the trip we get something a little harder. This one is actually a plastic apple hidden inside a giant bush, tied high up on a branch...


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

From inside the bush: “Are you going in?” From outside the bush: “It’s hanging up.” From inside bush: “Got it.” [Cheers by those watching] [The sound of a large branch snapping, and shouts/laughter from the crowd.] “Yeah well we have got another 23 to find...before three thirty!” “There’s always the option of-“ “Getting a move on!” “This is six right?” “What’s the time?” “Half twelve.” “Half past the witching hour.” [The group suddenly quietens] [to me] “Silence descends as everybody does their logging.” [me] “Yeah you can just hear the little clicks and taps.” “That’s six in an hour.” “We’ve averaged 1.4.” “Six in an hour is bloody good!” 55

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Spirits are high, we’re not on track to hit SimplyPaul’s high estimate for the night, but we’re certainly not finding them too slowly. We get the next ones in quick succession. SimplyPaul has hidden a few with some amusing twists, he sends someone off to get one hidden down a dip towards a march, the container is a flake plastic severed hand, it gets a large laugh. On the walk to the next location I start chatting to ‘Dr Solly’, he’s someone who has helped SimplyPaul organise the event and helped hide half of the geocaches we’re finding. He asks about the project and I outline some of its themes. In return I ask him how he got started geocaching. He replies with an anecdote: on an orienteering trip he managed to lose his compass in a field, annoyed he went out and bought a GPSr as a replacement. Curious as to what he could do with his new gadget he stumbled across geocaching.com and soon after he found his first geocache, suddenly he was hooked. I ask him about what he likes about geocaching and he answers with a sentiment that is echoed by quite a few other members of the D2D team that I’ve talked to so far; he likes the walking and the exploring, but he prefers a sense of purposeful movement much more than aimless rambling. With a geocache at the end of a path he can set out for a walk and have a goal to achieve, a geocache to find. This sense of accomplishment is what motivates him to get out into the open air, he gets pleasure from the experience of the places and spaces he moves through, but without that end-point, without a find, it all feels a little pointless. Our next cache is one that SimplyPaul and Dr Solly didn’t actually hide, but someone has the clue and it’s up a tree...


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

[A man is halfway up a tall tree looking for a cache he thinks he has spotted] Off Camera: “Whoa, you’ve got sharp eyes!” [Laughter and rustling as he fishes the geocache out of the hollow centre of the tree.] Man: “Here you go, I’ll stay here then.” [He passes the geocache out of the tree and waits in the tree to replace it after it has been signed.] Man: “Pen please guys.” Off Camera: “Pen?”


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

We carry on finding a few more simple micros and then we have a short break. The next cache is by far the longest trek we’ve had to do yet. It’s getting close to 2am and the group is hushed, we all seem tired and we know we’re walking away from our route as we follow the long fence searching for a tiny firetack. I take a moment out to pause and watch everyone walk towards me, it is a truly strange sight, a dozen head lights bob with the steps of geocachers hidden by the dark. Eventually we find it, sign it and carry on with the rest of this first loop. A few geocaches later we’re done and we’re only a few hundred metres from the pub. SimplyPaul stresses the fact that if anyone feels like they’ve hit the wall then they should head home, geocaching is supposed be fun, he says, and if it’s no longer seeming that way people should


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

just head back. About half of the group call it a night Myself and eleven others persevere and set off on the next loop... It goes quickly. Halfway round our second loop dawn begins to peak over the top of the hills as we take our second break in a small clearing next to a sty. I crack open yet another can of redbull, my teeth feel fuzzy, my feet throb and my head has lost track of just how early, or late it is. SimplyPaul and the two women in our group discuss how far they’ve gone for a geocache. SimplyPaul seems to have organised quite a few trips to find the ‘extreme’ UK geocaches; he’s taken people as far as St Kilda in Scotland, they make this trip sound easy. Rested we walk on once more, there are only two more of this series but they’re about a kilometre apart each and we trek in the quiet dawn line in straight lines towards the geocaches. Once we’ve got both of them we huddle together again to assess how far we 59

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are. We’ve done this loop, and any more we want to find will take us away from the pub. It’s getting close to the very early morning and at this point me and three other people decide to separate from the rest of the group and go a different route, one that will take us past just four more geocaches but will do so in a way that almost directly leads back to the pub. The four of us slowly trek over the softly sloping hills. There’s a choir of birdsong starting as the sun rises to our left. I chat to a guy named Andy as we reach the home stretch, he tells me that he can’t believe that this is what he spends his free time doing, hunting for tupperware boxes in the woods. We all laugh, it’s a numbers game one of them says, you find your first 50, then you want 100, then you want 500 and your goal keeps escalating until you get bored or you find all the geocaches in your area and you get fed up travelling miles to find them. The two others have come all the way from Cornwall just to get this set, 60

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they’d found another twenty before we started, and they’re driving home straight after this to get some well earned rest. We reach a steep hill, the pub is on just the other side. The others get out the GPSrs to work out exactly where we need to go. Andy suddenly works out that, if we take just a little detour, we could squeeze another four geocaches in. The two from Cornwall don’t sound too enthusiastic. It will get you to 30 for the night, he tells me, and I feel myself wanting to go, to push myself towards a bigger number. Andy and I say our goodbyes and then head off for on the final leg. It’s a struggle, not only because we’re shattered, but it’s all uphill and cross-country. We wrestle our way up a muddy slope and through thick nettles, but we find them all, including one just next to the car park that had been placed on the night. Finally back to the cars I say 61

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goodbye to Andy, we’ve done 30 geocaches tonight, I ask him how he’s going to spend his Sunday, he’s off to do just a few more nearer home, he wants to break 50 today... In this trip space is primarily defined by pre-ordained organised movement and lack of visibility. To the geocacher space appears as empty container for his/her activity, for instance, on this trip very little attention is paid to the route (or space) walked through, the focus is almost entirely on the geocaches that the group is moving towards or the points they decide to rest in. These places are experienced in ways Tuan would conceptualise as place, each one is a pause defined by human experience, yet they are, with a few notable exceptions, uniform and unremarkable. Each place functions as a container, this time for the geocache, which itself is a container for the all important logbook. Thus the places on this trip become brief points in space, marked, recorded and then left, replaced with the desire to find ‘the next one’. This could be due to the connected nature of these places, individually each geocached place on this trip is of little consequence to the team, they are to all intents and purposes another number in what will hopefully be a high tally for one night. However, meaning is given to the places collectively by their connections, not just to the online and satellite networks that enable the group to find each place, but to each other through our shared experience of all-night walking. Certainly the technology is important in our experiences of these places, but the excitement a more noticeable characteristic of the event, one that was created by the ‘obvious and obscure’ action of placing on foot in front of the other and finding so many geocaches in so little time.


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Dawn to Dusk

Indeed the groups’ mobility and perseverance was more greatly discussed during the night than the technological items that were also ‘working hard’. Occasionally GPSrs were debated and qualities from one held up against another but at no point were they discussed as more important or as more useful than an individual’s sense of exploration or geocaching sensibilities. In other words, the geocachers on this trip were not hybrid cyborgs using ubiquitous technologies to pinpoint locations and traverse distances, instead they all seemed like humans clearly divided from their tools. GPSrs were used in obvious fashions to gauge general directions or proximities to geocaches, and then turned off or stowed until they needed to be consulted again. This division was particular apparent during the intervals between locating the position of a geocache and its actual finding, the inaccuracy of GPSrs rendered them useless during this phase of the activity and only human ingenuity and effort actually created a find, the GPSrs merely got the finder close enough for this to happen. Undoubtedly this is an extreme example of such geocaching designed to test the abilities of the geocachers on it, yet there were numerous occasions where the playful nature of geocaching was stressed. Despite the sometimes difficult conditions most participants remained jovial, joking with other geocachers and exchanging stories and tips. Later on in the trip when fatigue began to take its toll SimplyPaul repeatedly told the group that if it no longer seemed fun then there was no point in carrying on just to find more geocaches.


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Hiding

7.3 Hiding
My next stage of my research it to see what it is like hiding some geocaches of my own. To get started I go to Tescos and pick up some supplies: two small tupperware boxes, log books, pens and trinkets from the ‘party bag’ section to fill it with. design and print two labels to inform people who find them about my project (see Appendix 10.3). Now I need a place to hide them. Emma and I choose Ruislip Lido woods as the location for the first one. It’s a place that we both fondly childhood, remember from and

surprisingly it hasn’t got many geocaches in it yet. We wonder through the woods, looking for a suitable hiding spot, it needs to be something that sticks out and there also needs to be a hole big enough for the box. After a few


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Hiding

failed attempts to wedge the geocache in ill-fitting tree stumps and roots we find a oddly branched tree that just so happens to have a perfectly sized hole at the bottom. We slide the geocache in, take the coordinates a few times by walking around in circles and then write down the

coordinates shown on the GPSr. The next cache I hide on my own. I’ve had the spot picked out for a while, it’s in the centre of the

Northwood, a small suburb of London

close to where I live. The spot is perfect. It’s a tiny little

wooded corner just 10 by 10 metres big but is only a minutes walk from the tube station. My idea is for people


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Hiding

to hop off the train, find the geocache, and carry on their way. Finding a spot that will hide the box is a little tough, but eventually I settle for a small dry log. Making sure that no-one can see one I’m doing I stash the container and take the coordinates. I get home and add both geocaches to the website, the process is fairly simple, you provide coordinates, names, descriptions and hints for each cache, hit ‘submit’ and the geocache is then reviewed and (if it meets the standards of geocaching.com) is added to their site. I do this for each cache and send them off. I’d checked before to make sure I’d hidden both caches in acceptable areas (generally as long as it’s not a sensitive area of historical or environmental importance and the area is free to enter this is deemed ‘acceptable’), yet the Lido cache was still rejected. Disheartened, I emailed the reviewer, and others who had hidden geocaches in the same area. It seems there had recently been a change in the process, and permission now had to be granted for all ‘national nature reserves’ by the local authorities. Repeated emails to the council were acknowledged, but not replied to for a month. It seems there’s some hidden layer of bureaucracy somewhere within the workings of the site. However, once permission was granted the geocache finally went live.


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Meeting

7.4 Meeting
I’m now reaching the mid-point in my research, beginning to accumulate enough of my own data that I feel confident to start interviewing other people. However, there isn’t enough space to detail every encounter individually so what will follow are brief snatches of conversation taken from my varied mobile interviews organised thematically by my research questions.

7.4.1 Place and Space
Talkscience: I went to a conference and rather than get straight back on the train and go back home it’s so nice to see some of the place you’re in. Go nearby and find one. Me: Like have a little explore? Talkscience: Yeah exactly, so, for instance, I found one at oxford station. There’s this big statue of a big brass bull and I found one just underneath that, it gives you a feel for a place you don’t normally get. Me: Yeah, I wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t for geocaching. Geocaches seem to draw geocachers to them, creating experiences in place that might have otherwise been ignored. Talkscience’s experiences of geocaching are about expanding his own understandings of the places he travels to through the more detailed exploration that geocaching seems to provoke. By postponing leaving Oxford to find a geocache he feels he is having a more authentic experience of the place. Again the nature of experiences seems to be at the forefront of a geocachers mind: 67

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Simplypaul: “It is about the experience, I mean yes it’s nice to find a little box of treasure, but I’d prefer something that takes me a little bit beyond my comfort zone, to do something a bit different.” SimplyPaul, the organiser of the D2D event is focused on using the experiences of geocaching to push himself and the other people who go on his trips to bodily and locational extremes. No longer content to find a ‘box of treasure’ SimplyPaul’s mantra for geocaching is that unless it physically takes you somewhere interesting it’s not worth doing. Whilst his D2D trip may have been relatively unconcerned with the places it occurred in, for SimplyPaul the nature of the experience was paramount, seeing the sunset and the sunrise was the ‘place’ he wanted people to get to. SimplyPaul: Climbed Snowdon that was 2004, 2005 climbed Ben Nevis. Me: So there are caches at the top of them? SimplyPaul: M-Hm Oh yeah, climbed that as part of an organised group and found the caches up there which was cool. 2006 having done Scotland and Wale’s highest points I want to do England’s, so I organised a trip of my own to go up Scarfield Pike, which we did.”... “I did another event a St. Kilda, that was the following year 2007, which is a little Island away from in the North Atlantic, sort of 45 miles out, 100 miles from the Scots mainland...which was quite an adventure.” The word ‘adventure’ is the key here, with it SimplyPaul combines differing senses of locational exploration together with feelings bodily exertion and the unique experiences gained from each find. 68

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The geocachers I interviewed were most animated when talking about their own hides, rather than their experiences of finds. Indeed with all of them there was a definite pride expressed in their choices of location, creative hiding techniques and ways in which others had come to enjoy the places that they had chosen. Me: So what made you put a geocache here then? Kennamatic: Honestly? Well I have no idea actually, other than, I would drive round this area on work quite often. And I thought ‘actually that would be a really good place’. I’ve been caching since 2001 so I’m one of the ‘earlies’ and, what you used to do, I mean, it was always the rule then that you would place a cache where it was going to be interesting for people to come to. So I worked on the fact it was Runnymede, a historical site, which would bring people in, good views, you’ve got the air-force memorial, which is really interesting and it just seemed a good place. Finding and creating a ‘good place’ is key to hiding a geocache for Kennamatic, yet it is a cornerstone of geocaching that he thinks has been eroded by the continual growth of the activity and consequent saturation of the country’s ‘good places’. With relatively few geocaches around in 2001 people took time to ensure that each geocache they hid provided what they considered a valuable experience, nowadays a convenient hiding place at least 200 metres from the next geocache is the only enforced requirement. SimplyPaul acknowledges the loss of locational importance with modern geocaches and describes a system of checking geocaches are to ensure that are old and therefore will be ‘decent’. Yet he admits that:


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SimplyPaul: It depends what kind of experience you want to give to people with it. Sometimes you want to send them on a long walk, send them to an unusual location, or you know, there are ones near motorway junctions that are done so people can break up a journey. There are different intentions for different sorts of caches. The places of geocaching may be becoming more uniform, less unique and more predictable, yet this may be what geocachers now desire. For SimplyPaul and Kennamautc these geocaches are slightly worrying, they lack the senses of adventure that they desire, but they both understand the appeal of quickly gaining finds and acknowledge that they are free to simply avoid them and concern themselves with more ‘interesting’ geocaches in ‘better’ places.

7.4.2 Movement and Technology
Purposeful movement enhanced by GPS technology was commonly cited by various research participants as one of the driving factors in their continued geocaching, people seemed to enjoy the ‘free’ nature of walking, but felt unmotivated without a physical endgoal to achieve. Ray.H sums this up neatly: Ray.H: Walking is fine. Fine for trying to get more exercise, but this just gives me a reason to go off and do something interesting while I’m doing it. The health benefits of walking alone were not enough to convince him to continually leave and traipse around new areas, yet with the introduction of his GPS and his discovery of geocaching he has suddenly found himself wanting to do just this. Now he finds himself engaging in the sort of purposeful walking that geocaching creates whenever he has the 70

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spare time, indeed he’s doing more walking that he ever used to, or ever thought he would. Ray.H: I think I waited a few weeks after finding my first one then went again. It was mainly on my way home from work, cause I’d have a few hours to kill in the morning, and from there [pause and laughter] it escalates, you know. The drive to continue geocaching is talked of in terms of addiction, he is powerless to stop chasing his next find as his desire to add more to his tally escalates. Conversely for Talkscience geocaching is not a hobby he is becoming addicted to, but it is just as much research for him and it was for me. Talkscience: I’m actually going to Barcelona to present a paper on the differences between meat-space and cyber-space, but my work is on how you can use the internet to encourage walking. Me: Wow, that sounds really interesting! Talkscience: ... Yeah it’s about using those technologies to actually encourage youth, particularly teenagers. I work for the national walk to school campaign for a charity called Living Streets.” ... “In January we got some money towards secondary school kids, and obviously they aren’t going to be happy with a just sticker and a badge, they’re so much more web-literate. I wanted to make sure that whatever I did was web-lit. I started looking into what’s out there, stuff that can get more people walking through the web. Talkscience’s work revolves around attempts to amplify and augment the realities of school children in a way that will encourage them to walk to school, in particular he is 71

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interested in how the online capacities of geocaching encourage geocachers to walk in areas they wouldn’t have otherwise. The problem he faces is that these sorts of technologies are tough to forcefully integrated into the lives and routines of people. Technologies like GPS can seem ubiquitous to those that both understand and want to use them, yet to those that don’t they can be a significant hurdle. Indeed most geocachers tend to be people who already have a predisposition to new technological advances: SimplyPaul: Quite a lot of people are into technology one way or another, engineers, lots of people who work for airports, people on a sort of technical bent because of all the technology used to do their jobs. This is not to suggest that all geocachers integrate seamlessly with their technological counter-parts like Haraway’s cyborg, as I have already discussed there are plenty difficulties and tensions in the relationship between a geocacher and his GPSr and not all of them are the fault of technological hiccups or inaccurate readings, as Kennamatic discusses: Kennamatic: My favourite leg of geocache was to do with Hyde park and it was called safari...one of the clues said, ‘count the number of stripes on the zebra, and it was by the gate they put up for the queen mother and it’s got all the royal animals on it. So I’m going up there, the thing hasn’t actually taken me there, but I’m thinking it’s got to be close, it’s got to be the gate. Can’t see anything relevant, so I go back to exactly where the GPS says and I’m thinking ‘where the hell is it?’ when I realised I was actually stood on the island of a zebra crossing!


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Me: Ahhhh.... Kennamatic: Just that little knowledge, you know, can be a dangerous thing , you know if I’d just listened to the GPS and just read the clue, it would’ve been obvious. Trusting his own eye for geocache clues Ken ignore the instructions of his GPSr, only to feel foolish when he realised that it was right all along. This mistrust of GPSrs is fairly well integrated into the activity of geocaching, so much so that improvements in the technology may radically alter the ways in which it could be played. SimplyPaul: It’d be nice if the accuracy of GPS’s meant you got very close to a spot, but then a cache that was hidden 10 years ago, with what will be by then much older technology, will be wildly inaccurate, every cache would have to be updated. There will always be an element of it’s here...somewhere. I mean in some ways it would be better for the environment if it got you to a more exact point because then you’d be doing less damaging hunting around, it’s not good form to be trampling everywhere. The inaccuracy of the satellite signals currently stands on an uneasy threshold, describing a geocachers positions with enough accuracy to get them close, whilst still leaving them with (in most cases) some form of challenge before the trip is successful. Greater accuracy would, SimplyPaul admits, be useful and possibly more environmentally friendly, but SimplyPaul hopes that the inaccuracies of this era’s locational technology will remain in the game for future geocachers.


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7.4.3 Play
SimplyPaul: They say people play it in a way that suits them and it’s absolutely true. There are people, that don’t want to go out every day and that only find say 5 or 10 in a year, but there are other people that make it their goal to find 1 every day. There’s a guy who found one every single day for 200 days or more, it’s quite an achievement really because it takes you further and further from home every time you do it, and just the petrol, it’s quite a financial investment as well. Flexibility is an essential characteristic of geocaching, as SimplyPaul suggests the game can move at various paces for its participants. With no clear goals or end-points participants are free to carry out as much or as little geocaching as they wish, moving the boundaries of their ludic spaces whenever they feel the urge. Geocaching is also a reciprocal activity for a number of geocachers, they take pleasure from it, but also give back to the activity by hiding geocaches of their own. Me: Do you enjoy hiding them more than finding them? Ray.H: It’s different, it’s nice to think that people have come off the tracks and out of their way to find something you’ve hidden. I think it’s just a way of putting back into what you get out of it. Me: Yeah I suppose every cache is hidden by someone. Ray.H: Well yeah there was only 2 or 3 in the area where I lived, and that’s been changed now.


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Meeting

Me: Oh by you and other people? Ray.H: Nah just by me, I wish it was other people, give me something else to find. Geocaching is a community created activity, every geocache has been hidden by another player, thus hiding geocaches is seen as just another way of playing the game. Ray.H goes on to explain how he has to dedicate days to maintaining his hidden geocaches, ensuring that they do not become waterlogged or damaged so that other people can continue to find them. Indeed a large portion of pleasure in geocaching comes from its detached sociality. SimplyPaul: “And there is something of the shared experience in that as well, you look back through the photographs and go yeah you see how the different weather and the different light and the different family groups, people caching alone, you do feel part of a bigger thing, just by being brought to a specific point on the surface of the earth.” Being brought together through place, even at different times, helps create a virtual sense of community that links up every geocacher that has found a certain geocache through online and physical records of their experiences. In this way the ludic space of geocaching can be seen to spread out through multiple times and experiences of place over both physical and virtual space.


Chapter 7 : Geocaching - Finding

7.5 Finding
I understand the pride SimplyPaul, Kennamatic and Ray.H had about their own caches much more when I eventually return to mine. The contents have changed less than I thought they would and most of the trinkets I placed in them are still there, but the log books are beginning to become filled with the people who’ve taken the time out their days to come to the places I’ve chosen and find the geocaches I made. One in particular stands out, it very briefly details a family from Canada who have been in Northwood so their children can view where their mother grew up. The fact that they then decided to visit my geocache is a little touching. With other logs I feel equal senses of pride and accomplishment, these geocaches obviously work and like Ray.H said it’s rewarding to give experiences to other people after you’ve gained so many from geocaches hidden by others. (Full Logs can be found in the Appendix 10.4 & 10.5). They are still there...

N51°35.278 W0°25.214 N51°36.743 W0°25.428


Chapter 8 : Conclusions - Space and place

8 Conclusions
My research process ends here and, to bring some closure to the process, I will present some preliminary conclusions to my research questions. I have not stopped geocaching though, and neither have the geocachers I’ve met and the many more I still haven’t. This project has attempted to capture some of the fleeting moments that made up just a brief period of the game of geocaching. It is a game that is still evolving and changing, growing and spreading and as such these conclusions should be read as starting points to further research, not as definitive summations of geocaching as a whole. They are the concluding remarks of my own considerations about a very small section of geocaching.

8.1 Space and place
Where are the spaces and places of geocaching and what is the relationship between them?
The spaces of geocaching are the areas travelled through during geocaching, they are paths, roads, forests, fields, cities and towns that geocachers traverse in order to reach their desired place. They form part of the ‘adventure’ that the activity creates, but they are not central to the experience of geocaching in the ways that places are. Instead space’s role in geocaching is representational; the GPSr interprets the satellite signals as spatial data and creates a representation of the space around it on its display. The representations are then used by geocachers in order to discover the places of geocaching, without spatial representation the places of geocache remain hidden.


Chapter 8 : Conclusions - Space and place

The places of geocaching are, in practical terms the circular areas of satellite signal surrounding each geocache that GPSrs interpret and represent as being close to said geocaches longitude and latitude coordinates. They are places because of the emotional experiences geocachers have within them such joy at finding a cache, disappoint at not or adventure during the process. Like the ‘more-than-representational’ concepts that inspired the writing of my ethnography, the experiences of place in geocaching are not fleeting and momentary, but they are instead captured in text and images within logbooks (both physical and online). It is this logbook that defines the nature of the places of geocaching, they are to other geocachers a proof of experience, each log written within the book solidifies a journey through space to place into a verifiable ‘find’. What differentiates geocaching from other forms of exploration is the amplified/silent duality of these places the sort Falk et al discussed in the literature review. Each place is hidden, or silent to the average passerby unless they possess the correct information and technology. However, using such aural terminology is problematic with such a visual activity, certainly new a conceptualisation needs to be drawn up that reconsiders the multi-sensory nature of the hidden technologically mediated places of geocaches.


Chapter 8 : Conclusions - Technology and Mobility

8.2 Technology and Mobility
How do forms of technology alter movement and mobility and how does this create the process of geocaching?
GPS technologies facilitate a purposeful sense of movement that enables geocachers to reach designated spots on the earth’s surface with unparalleled accuracy. Together with online databases of locational information stored at geocaching.com these technologies amplify or, for want of a better word, intensify the experiences of place for the geocacher, providing him/her with access to physical objects in their environment that are practically invisible and unreachable to those without the abilities to move and consume data in this way. On their journeys geocaches use GPSrs to plot the courses that they want travel, however, their movements are not dictated by their GPSrs and in most cases the relationship between a geocacher and his/her GPSr is fraught with mistrust and tension. That is not to suggest that GPSrs are not valued in geocaching, but that they are still very much seen as a tool, one with imperfections that must be overcome and limitations that are unavoidable. Thus the activity of geocaching can be seen to be created by the uneasy relationship GPS technology has with bodily mobility. Geocaching may be dependent on NAVSTAR and locational technology, but it is constantly in tension with the inherent technological limitations present, namely the erratic accuracy of GPSrs. Due to these inaccuracies geocachers are only brought close to their geocaches, not directly to them. This 79

Chapter 8 : Conclusions - Play

interaction between technologically mediated movement through space followed by ‘human’ and physical searching generates the sense of fun, play and adventure that creates the ludic space of geocaching.

8.3 Play
Why is geocaching played and how do people play geocaching?
This ludic space of geocaching occupies a point in between de Certeau’s strategies & tactics, place-ballet and amplified reality. It combines over-head strategized views of spaces that have are represented on GPSr screens with tactical movement through these spaces in secretive ways to hidden places know only to other tacticians. Through these oft-repeated tactical movements place-ballet is created, formed from the activity and gaming that makes up the geocaching network. Geocaching is played for two primary and interrelated reasons: enhanced understandings of place and experiential collecting. Geocaches draw geocachers towards them, giving them reasons to explore and ‘get a feel’ for places they would otherwise have ignored. In addition to this there is a quantitative sense of achievement gained for each place that is experienced. Together these enriched understandings of place and the desire to increase one’s geocache tally motivates geocachers to continue pursuing their hobby. The ways in which geocaching can be played differ great from person to person. The nature of the game is entirely flexible, allowing geocachers to dictate when and where they will engage with geocaching on their own terms. Yet there also seem to be a number of unwritten


Chapter 8 : Conclusions - Further Work

rules about where geocaches can be hidden, the systems and criteria behind these rules certainly needs further exploration.

8.4 Further Work
This project was always designed as an initial foray in the nature of geocaching, these conclusions need to be assessed by a longer more detail exploration of geocaching that would go beyond the brief case-studies that made up this project to consider the wider global scale of geocaching. The three research questions that have run through this project are not comprehensive variables on which all geocaching can be understood and there are numerous variations and aspects of the game that were omitted from this report. What I hope this project has done is stress the ways in which geocaching can be recorded, portrayed and analysed. It has combined visual, aural and visceral data to construct a ‘more-than-representational’ snap shot of this game that hopefully will lead to new considerations of place, space, technology, movement and play in ways that harness, rather than represent, their unique qualities.


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Chapter 10 : Appendix

10 Appendix

Forum Post

I'm a current masters student at Royal Holloway University doing a course in Cultural Geography. As part my degree I am planning on carrying out some research on geocaching for a dissertation I am writing.

The project has only just started, but it's overall aims are to explore the ways different places and spaces get used by people whilst out geocaching.

To do this I'd like to interview a wide range of active geocachers, from seasoned veterans to those new to the sport, preferably whilst out finding or hiding some geocaches.

If this sounds like the sort of thing you would be interested in, or if you would like to know more about the project or tell me your ideas and thoughts you can reply to this thread or email me at m.d.anton@rhul.ac.uk . I live in the north London area, but would be willing to travel around the UK.

Thanks for your time,

Michael Anton


Chapter 10 : Appendix


Dawn till Dusk Map


Chapter 10 : Appendix




Chapter 10 : Appendix


Logbook 1 (Northwood)


Chapter 10 : Appendix


Logbook 2 (Ruislip Lido)


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