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Francesco Lapenta visualsociology@gmail.

com
Geomedia: The Emergence of Social Navigation Systems.

TAB 1: I left my studio in St Marks Pl ( 40°43′44.58″N,
73°59′18.82″W) at 09:13 and arrive at my favorite Cafe´,
Taralluci e Vino ( 40°43′44.18″N, 73°59′4.38″W) at
09:21, I take a table and order breakfast on my mobile, a
small cappuccino and a chocolate croissants. While
waiting for breakfast I start to plan my day. I first check
my live contacts on my “Locator World Map”. I see that
my wife is still at work (55°40′59.30″N, 12°34′43.00″E)
and that my brother, Maurizio, is at home twittering to his
friends about a “Futureheads” concert tonight (@ “Il
Covo” 44°30′28.24″N, 11°22′39.15″E, 11:00 pm). I check
them out on iTunes. The cappuccino and the croissant
arrive, delicious. Later today I have to meet with Dough
who is coming from Pittsburgh ( 40°26′12.96″N,
79°59′21.33″W), but I can see on my live map that his
train is just leaving now. I briefly check my e-mails, and
turn on my online status on “Locator World Interact”. I
call Eric (Arizona, Tempe 33°25′6.17″N, 111°55′59.10″W)
but I can see on the screen that he is also having his
morning coffee and I tell him that we´ll talk later during
the day. As I close the phone vibrates to alert me that John
is on my“Locator Local Map”, few blocks away, and he is
“free”. I send him my location with a “Local Invite”. I get
another bite of my croissant, and briefly go through my
RSS feeds, one more sip of my cappuccino and I am on my
“To Do List”. I could not live without my “To Do List”
and my “Locator”, too lazy to visit all the shops to find the
things I need. I just put the list on my mobile and while
walking around the city a vibration will tell me when I am
in the proximity of a shop that has items I require, things I
would like to see, people I would like to meet. It´s 09:41
and John arrives, I smile, and put my mobile in my pocket
thinking; how did I manage life before 2008? -- before the
iPhone 2.0 and the whole mobile location based WEB 2.0
evolution?

The increased computational power of portable devices such as smart phones and portable
computers, and their integration with widely available global positioning systems (GPS) are
opening the way for a new range of media applications that integrate multiple forms of digital
communication and location based information. These technologies, that I call Geomedia, are not
new technologies per se, but platforms that integrate existing technologies and media - digital media
+ the Internet + geo-location technologies - with applications that support individually and socially
maintained data exchanges and communications. Geomedia are applications that geotag and
position user generated data and information on a virtually rendered map, and coordinate their
exchange by associating these data with users´ live geographical locations.
In this article I explore some emergent communication practices and social behaviors that
Geomedia facilitate, and I engage in a theoretical analysis that supports the interpretation of the
Geomedia virtually rendered map as a new social space and organizing principle. Rather than an in
depth focus on one specific application or issue (many Geomedia applications are still developing
and the ultimate implications of their use are still unpredictable), in what follows I offer a
transversal theoretical contextualization of this significant epistemological and social shift. I suggest
that although complex and ramified, the epistemological shift that Geomedia imply can be rooted
and should be initially observed from at least three interconnected and inseparable perspectives.
One, technological, develops within the realm of the contemporary evolution of digital imaging
technologies and their fusion with existing and developing geolocational technologies. A second IT
centered perspective projects the analysis of Geomedia applications into existing media discourses
that engage with the newly acquired social functions of mobile communication technologies and
global information systems. I finally critically analyze these technological evolutions from an
historical perspective and I contextualize them within a common socio-economic discourse that
crucially accounts for a different interpretation of the functions and purpose of Geomedia based
interactions.
In the article I first use instances of digital synthesized imaging (photographic mapping) as
an example of the changing ontological function of space in representations of reality. I show how
Geomedia reinforce this changing ontology and establish a new epistemology that transforms
digital synthesized imaging from being mere representations of something into a visualization of the
identities, social relations and social interactions of the users that contribute to its composition. In
the second section, I develop this argument to describe how Geomedia change the ways in which
we organize interpersonal communications and social interactions. Here I describe Geomedia as
personalized Social Navigation Systems adopted by individuals to reduce the complexity of global
information systems to individually manageable and contextually relevant information exchanges.
Thus I understand Geomedia theoretically as a socio-regulatory system created to connect and
coordinate face to face social interactions and mediated communications and exchanges in the new
technologically enhanced social environments. In the third and last section of the article I look at
this evolution and its social significance from a socio-historical perspective. I critically argue that
the adoption of Geomedia based applications can also be interpreted as a response to the existing
deregulation of information flows and mediated interactions. In this interpretation Geomedia
represent a new organizational principle that is pushed by the same old market forces that led to the
progressive global adoption of the “Universal Standard Time”. Geomedia, I critically suggest, are to
space (virtual and physical) what the watch is to time. They regulate social behavior, coordinate
mediated interactions, and can be interpreted as a new tool to cadence immaterial labour in the new
technologically enhanced social environments, and to organize the interpersonal production and
exchanges of their new immaterial commodities, information.