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Katerina Gnafaki 3703347 Course: Coding Culture Programme: New Media and Digital Culture Teachers: Dhr. Dr. M.T Schaefer and Nikos Overheul University of Utrecht
The explosive growth in mobile technologies and the substantial investments in wireless and location-awareness infrastructure constitute some of the indicators of an electronically enhanced physical space. The emergence of location-based mobile games such as Geocaching present instances of the integration of such technologies into the urban realm. In this paper Geocaching will be explored in terms of the technology and its design used to facilitate the game. The introduction of software, like web browsers, text-messaging as well as powerful software applications such as GPS navigation, Wi-Fi and Maps has radically increased the consumption of mobile devices and their appeal to users. The incorporation of such technologies in Geocaching’s mobile application prescribes new roles and practices to its users, invites participation and transforms traditional media practices. The aim of this article is to explore the potential of such technologies in Geocaching. The paper argues that the dispersion and diffusion of such high end mobile devices in Geocaching have induced a social aspect by inviting interaction among the users. It also analyses the affordances and the vast opportunities that are provided by Geocaching’s software mobile platform integrated on these devices and their role in contributing to participation and hybrid spaces of interaction.
Key words: Geocaching, software, technological affordances, hybrid spaces, mobile technologies
Table of Contents
1.Introduction.....................................................................................................................................4 2.Case study: Geocaching Mobile App. .........................................................................................5 3.Method of Research .......................................................................................................................7 4.Mobile interfaces as social interfaces. The social in Geocaching’s Mobile App. ............8 5.Software as a tool for encouraging Geocaching interaction ............................................ 10 6.Hybridity realized: how the software of mobile devices blurs the distinction between physical and virtual spaces ........................................................................................ 12 7.Conclusion..................................................................................................................................... 13 8.Literature ...................................................................................................................................... 15
The exploratory movements of location-based mobile technologies have led to a convergence of geographical and data space (Hemment 2006). As an emergent practice locative media constitute new ways of engaging in the world and mapping its territory. The use of location-based mobile technologies in urban settings has already begun to thrive. Users are enthusiastically responding to the technical possibilities of these technologies and integrate them to their everyday lives. Due to their inherent multifunctionality and expandability location-based mobile technologies established themselves both in work and non-work settings.
The integration of the Internet and location-awareness features in mobile technologies affords and encourages users to connect with a plurality of other mobile users on a global scale regardless of their relative physical position. In this paper, it is argued that the dispersion and diffusion of these devices have induced a social aspect which can be identified into the fabric of our daily practices. Unlike traditional information technologies such as cell phones, the Internet and location awareness integrated in current mobile phone devices appear to “seamlessly blend” into our social activities (De Vries 2009, 81). In addition, the use of software like web browsers, HTML email, threaded text messaging, and YouTube as well as software applications such as GPS navigation, Wi-Fi and Maps have radically increased the consumption of mobile phones and their appeal to users.
As the new media scholar Mirko Tobias Schäfer suggests, the technological qualities of the software represent “crucial constituents” for the emergence of participation (Schäfer 2011, 11). Interestingly, participation has become a key concept in describing the affordances of mobile technologies. Users actively participate in location-based activities, and mobile interfaces are transformed from two-way communication devices to many-to-many social collective interfaces (De Souza e Silva 2009). Within this context mobile interfaces are seen as social interfaces that reshape and intermediate communication relationships among users (idem). By promoting remote and local multipersonal communication, Internet access
and by providing powerful software applications, mobile interfaces allow users to exchange information on the go and interact with each other.
The current introduction of location-based mobile games constitutes such instances of active participation and collaboration between users. The use of mobile technologies coordinates users depending on their relative position to each other in physical space. These mobile communication devices enable users to consume, generate and circulate information and media content. Given the mobility of these communication devices, users can access and exchange digital information while being on physical spaces that change accordingly. By using the location-awareness features provided by the software design of their mobile, users can tag locations and share them with friends by e-mail, short message services, or post them on social network sites. These practices are embedded in mobile communication technologies, in the form of mobile applications, and enable users to configure urban space by connecting it to the digital space. By doing so, these technologies blur the traditional distinction between a strictly physical or a strictly digital space.
In light of these observations the aim of this article is to explore how the use of mobile communication technologies, as a tool for presenting information and encouraging interaction, prescribes new roles and practices, invites participation and consequently transforms traditional media practices.1 It also sheds a light on the vast opportunities that are provided by present software platforms integrated on those technologies and their affordances in contributing to interaction the urban setting. In order to show how participation arises with the use of such technologies, next chapters will focus on a popular and established location-based game Geocaching played via its mobile application
Case study: Geocaching Mobile App.
By referring to traditional media practices I acknowledge the use of cell phones or ‘feature phones’, mainly terms used to describe a modern low-end mobile phone that is not a smartphone (high-end mobile phone).Simply put, a way to differentiate a feature phone from a smartphone is to determine whether or not the device has a mobile operating system. Having less power than their smartphone counterparts, feature phones do not run a mobile operating system. These devices only support Java mobile applications, but are able to take and send pictures, play music and record/watch video clips like other smartphone devices.
On May 3rd 2002, a computer consultant named Dave Ulmer wanted to test the accuracy of his GPS device.2 He decided to hide a stash of videos, books, software and a slingshot in the woods near Beavercreek, in Oregon. He called the idea the ‘Great American GPS Stash Hunt’ and shared a note with an Internet GPS users’ group mentioning a simple instruction: ‘Take some stuff, leave some stuff’. The other GPS users would have to locate the stash by using their GPS receiver. Within three days, two different users read his note, used their own GPS receivers to locate Dave’s stash and shared their experiences online. Soon enough many other users enthusiastic about the prospect of hiding and searching stashes participated in the project. Word of mouth combined with online publicity gradually brought popularity to the project which was eventually officially tagged as ‘Geocaching’.
Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting location-based game that can be played all over the world via its mobile application. The basic idea is to place hidden containers in urban space, called geocaches, which are marked with GPS coordinates in order to be traced by the players with the use of Geocaching’s mobile application. A typical cache includes a small waterproof container hidden anywhere in the world. The GPS receiver that is attached to the caches provides the latitude and longitude coordinates that are noted and then published on the Geocaching website, accessed from the mobile application. The basic cache also coined as traditional cache consists of at least a container and a log book or logsheet. It can also include a ‘treasure’ depending on the size of cache ranging from ‘microcaches’ to large ammunition boxes. However the caches’ coordinates are not always explicitly given to players. A mystery / Puzzle cache is one of the variants of traditional cache where players have to solve complicated puzzles in order to determine the coordinates. Players attempt to find the hidden caches by their latitude/longitude coordinates entered into their GPS receiver which is integrated into their mobile phone. It is totally depending to the players’ preference on which path to take in order to find the specified cache. Once the cache is tracked and found, the player signs the cache’s logbook and trades treasure parts that are left in the container. Each cache has a two-digit rating of difficulty; difficulty to reach the place where the cache is hidden and difficulty to find it. Once a cache is found (or not), players can leave feedback of their adventure on the Geocaching website by using the web browser of the mobile application.
This section derives information from the official Geocaching website: http://www.geocaching.com/about/history.aspx
Method of Research
This paper will briefly map the discourses around the shaping role of technology, based on sophisticated software platforms inscribed on its design, to stimulate certain media practices. Such practices, presented by the location-based mobile game, Geocaching, is analysed as a case study in order to illustrate how the use of technology, accompanied by a powerful software design, encourages participation and interaction among its users and transforms traditional media practices. In addition, by exploring the social use of technology, this research will shed some light on technology’s ability to contribute to the production of social spaces. This paper will also adopt a spatial approach by highlighting the use of current mobile technologies in facilitating the formation of hybrid spaces; an approach which will be applied to the case study of Geocaching’s mobile application.
In defining the social use of technology in Geocaching’s mobile application, in chapter three, I will employ the terminology based on the concept of non-human agency. This concept derives from a critical analysis of the sociologist and anthropologist Bruno Latour, whose central notion is that machines (non-humans) also possess social dimensions. According to Latour, humans and techniques are seen as actors in “chains of associations” (Latour 1991) in which they form relations and shape each other.
The notion of ‘social’ for Latour lies in the dynamics of movement and transformation by social actors called “actants” (Latour 2005, 54). By this term, the scholar embraces both humans and non-humans which are identified as having an agency by their ability to act and “to do things” (ibid, 154). In Latourian fashion, we identify social actors in kettles or knives because of their ability to perform certain actions like cutting or boiling. In this sense, Latour suggests that machines also exhibit social dimensions while he observes that looking into “social relations without the non-humans is impossible” (Latour 1992). In addition, Latour indicates that each technological artifact has an “affordance” to encourage certain actions to occur and to empower humans to “play roles” (Latour 1994, 31). Technologies are identified as possessing social characteristics and enable the formation of social spaces.
Based on the notion of the agency of technologies by Bruno Latour, this paper will then explore the agency of mobile technologies, enabled by software platforms. In order to elaborate on this view, I will turn to the new media scholar Mirko Tobias Schäfer (Schäfer 2011) who gives an agency to software and software-based programs in stimulating participation. By adopting such an approach, chapter five will flesh out the use of software and its affordances which encourage interaction and participation among Geocaching users.
In conclusion, this paper will discuss the role of software in mobile technologies to blur traditional distinctions between physical and digital spaces. By doing so, the article will use the notion of hybridity in mobile technologies, developed by the media scholar Adriana de Souza e Silva. According to her, these technologies form hybrid spaces, mainly “mobile spaces, created by the constant movement of users who carry portable devices continuously connected to the Internet and to other users” (De Souza e Silva 2006, 262). This hybridity therefore raises issues regarding the role that these technologies play in inviting participation among the users which in turn facilitate the formation of such hybrid spaces. As Schäfer suggests, the hybrid quality features of information systems assign participatory agency to software design and pave the way for certain actions to take place which are the result of collective interactions between machines and users (Schäfer 2011). Softwarebased programs like mobile phone applications have inscribed programs of action that in turn promote participation and modify social relations.
Taking the above annotations into account, this paper focuses on the role of technology, its social dynamics, and its design in facilitating participation and hybrid spaces of interaction. Rather than adhering to one established approach, this paper will use aspects from different approaches.
Mobile interfaces as social interfaces. The social in Geocaching’s Mobile App.
Recent improvements in mobile phone technology have enabled new ways of communicating with each other. The integration of Internet access and sensor technologies like the Global Positioning System (GPS) has altered communication practices that would up
to now take place, such as meeting with colleges and friends in different locations. These dynamic technologies provide users with location-based information of each other and consequently enhance the communication experience. Users have developed tremendous capabilities for utilizing mobile devices in various innovative ways for social and cognitive activities (Tamminen et al. 2004). For instance, there have been developed various services for arranging ad hoc face-to-face meetings, playing games on the go, chatting, surfing on the Internet or finding driving directions. As Tamminen et al. suggest “context-aware technology should […] be designed to consider not only one person’s doings, but also the doings of other relevant people” (idem, 141). Context and location-aware technologies that are embedded on mobile devices can be seen as social interfaces. Mobile spaces are networked social spaces that create a new way of moving through the city and interacting with other users (De Souza e Silva 2006).
The constant improvements on mobile technologies invite participation between mobile users. In addition, there seems to be a shift brought by the technological advancements in mobile technologies, “from individual expression to community involvement” (Jenkins 2006, 7). Technological advancements in mobile technology enable “fresh actions to occur” where among them “some serve production, others consumption” (Lefebvre 1991, 73).
In line with Latour’s notion of non-human agency, the mobile phone application used in Geocaching is not a dead object. It represents a technology created by humans in order to fulfil certain actions. By using their mobile phone application Geocaching players are invited to enter their postal code, identify geocaches from the list of all the geocaches hidden in the limited physical space of the player’s selection and enter the coordinates of the geocache they selected into their mobile device. Once the player has transferred the coordinates to his mobile phone, with the use of the GPS software application, the information is then translated and projected as a dot on a map. This dot demonstrates the physical location of the hidden geocache and assist users in finding it. Without any doubt, this function can also be performed by humans themselves but as in the case of Geocaching, it is more efficient and effective to delegate it to the non-humans (e.g. mobile devices and mobile applications). In this sense, the non-human gives a prescription to the users and shapes their actions.
Apart from their application as a location-awareness technology, the mobile phones that geocachers use facilitate their access to the Internet while constantly on the move. Geocachers can log in to the Geocaching website-via their mobile application-and retrieve information about the game, search for geocache coordinates in the spectrum of their geographical location and interact with users in the Geocaching forum. In this sense, the Geocaching website serves as another non-human actor that exhibits social dimensions.
Software as a tool for encouraging Geocaching interaction
When examining the issue of social in technologies it is wise to entail the vital role of the software in social participation and its use to transform the up to recently media practices of communication and information sharing. For this reason, this section will dive deeper into the features of the software used to assist the process of Geocaching and its affordance in facilitating participation. In order to illustrate the powerful role of software I turn to Latour and Schäfer and present their approach on this issue. The term “software” describes a digital artifact written in code that directs the computer to perform certain tasks (Schäfer 2011). Software-based artifacts have inscribed programs of action that can “mediate and transform personal and collective identity and network relations” (Boje 2002, 3). Interestingly, the use of software “reveals social values and either stimulates or represses various media practices” (Schäfer 2011, 12). The use of continuously sophisticated and advanced software in mobile technologies “creates its own affordances” (ibid, 19) which are offered on a greater scale than in simple cell phones due to the complexity of the software design. Software and software-based artifacts are designed by humans and as Latour suggests, they, too, harbour agency over their human users (Latour 1992, 2005). The design of powerful software in mobile devices, such as the integration of GPS technology, Maps and web browser affords more possibilities for presenting information than mere cell phones or mobile devices without these features.
The ability to interact and determine the course of presenting information can enhance the engagement of users with the evolving action (Beardow 2002). This has contributed to the gradual integration of software mobile applications within the interface of mobile devices. GPS technology, Maps, Wi-Fi and the integration of web browser have enabled mobile users
to access online information, determine their physical location and search for a new one as well as interact with other mobile users. For instance, in Geocaching, players can use their Apple iPhone and Groundspeak's Geocaching iPhone Application, or any other smartphone and high-end mobile phone that affords the installation of software applications such as GPS and Wi-Fi. These mobile devices use a combination of software applications that determine player’s approximate location. In addition, Groundspeak’s iPhone Application, navigates through the Geocatching website and presents a list of geocaches that are close to the physical location of the players. The Geocaching mobile application affords participation of users all over the world. For this reason it has incorporated the availability of the game application in various languages such as English, Dutch, French, German and Japanese.
Once users have installed the Geocaching mobile application into their mobile devices they are invited to take certain actions. By entering their address or postal code, a list of geocaches sorted by distance appears. By clicking on a geocache of their preference, users are taken to the geocaches detailed page where they can view the coordinates of the hidden cache, its level of difficulty as well as the date it was hidden. This page includes various options that the user is invited to select in order to get more information and enhance his experience with the game. For instance, the player can choose to view the geocaches on external map by using additional software such as Google Maps. By clicking on ‘view on Geocaching.com’ button, the user through the application’s internal web browser can access the geocache from the official website. The great potential of the software installed in Geocaching invites users to interact not only with each other on web applications, but also with the software design (Schäfer 2011). According to Schäfer digital artifacts and software “actively engage with users” and the features embedded on them assign participatory agency and generate “collective interactions between machines and users” (Schäfer 2011, 14).
In the case of Geocaching however, the software of the Geocaching’s website accessed from the application’s web browser also plays an important role in engaging users and facilitating interactions among them. While navigating through the Geocaching’s website, each of the auditory, visual and social features of the web-based platform interface affords and channels, user processes and interactions (Norman 1998). Using these features geocachers can watch tutorials, keep up with the latest news, purchase gifts and premium
memberships, share their experience and tips for future geocachers as well as connect with external online social network applications such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube, allowing and supporting an extensive, dynamic community of Geocaching enthusiasts.
Hybridity realized: how the software of mobile devices blurs the distinction between physical and virtual spaces
The use of mobile devices, in Geocaching, integrated with GPS and Internet connection creates a dynamic relationship with the digital space, embedding it in outdoor activities. This process blurs the disconnection between digital and physical spaces. As De Souza e Silva states, the emergence of portable communication technologies allows a constant connection to the Internet “literally ‘carrying’ the Internet wherever we go” (De Souza e Silva 2006, 263). Unlike traditional media practices where mobile devices were used mainly for communication purposes, the development of technology and software has changed the way we interact with information, making it always available despite our position in the physical space.
In Geocaching for instance, cachers use mobile communication devices constantly on a GPS mode while they are seeking caches on the physical space. At that point a cache is projected as a virtual good on the map of Geocaching mobile application. Once the physical cache is found though, it ceases to be virtual and becomes physical, tangible. Without, however, the traditional distinction between physical and digital spaces where individuals could sit on their desk and access their Internet via their static desktops, a hybrid space occurs when one no longer needs to leave the physical space in order to access the digital environment (idem). De Souza e Silva’s observation on hybrid spaces seems close to the notion of “information territories”, a term adopted by the communications scholar André Lemos. According to Lemos informational territory can be described as “areas where informational flow in the intersection between cyberspace and urban space is digitally controlled” (Lemos 2008, 7). The author further explains that the act of creating tags and maps, using GPS applications integrated on mobile devices, playing location-based mobile games, controls the space and creates a new sense of place and new forms of territorialization (idem). An information territory is not the cyberspace per se; it is a moving hybrid space that it is
produced in the interrelation between digital and physical space (Santaella 2009). For players of Geocaching, the tag of the hidden cache on the map of the mobile application projects its location on the virtual space, though the tangible side of the actual cache is hidden in the physical space.
The notion of hybridity that arises from the use of mobile devices demonstrates how technological advancements transform traditional media practices of communication and alter the way we interact with information. Within these hybrid spaces, information is produced consumed and circulated both in a physical and a digital context.
Mobile technologies that integrate powerful software and software applications such as location-awareness features and Wi-Fi are seen as developing novel ways of inhabiting urban space. With the aid of software mechanisms Geocaching users and players are equipped with handheld or wearable interfaces that stream information about their relative location and transmit information to other users and players, interact with them, thus, creating a participatory environment. These interactions are not only afforded by the Geocaching software mobile application, installed on users’ mobile devices but are also encouraged by the design itself. While navigating through the software applications as well as the Geocaching’s website, which can be accessed from the mobile’s application web browser, each of the auditory, visual and social features of these interfaces affords and channels, user processes and interactions. As the scholar Marc Tuters suggests the emergence of these technologies may transform the urban space into a space full of potentially social spaces (Tuters 2004). In this paper, the analysis of Geocaching showed how such spaces can be constructed with the use of high end mobile technologies and software platforms.
As a technology-enabled location-based game, Geocaching includes several features that make it significant to understand. First, it is a location-based activity that is encouraged by powerful software such as the GPS and a web browser. Second, Geocaching’s mobile application invites users to participate not just through the consumption of location-based
experiences but also through the production of these experiences for others. Finally, Geocaching Live constitutes a distinctive example of the intertwining between physical and digital space via the use of mobile technology. Geocaching provides a new lens through which to explore the relationship between in situ and the on-line.
In addition, of particular interest in this discussion served the role of technology and software platforms to invite encourage and prescribe certain new roles and practices and eventually form hybridized spaces of user interactions. This observation then raises issues about the need of new conceptual models regarding the “design of such hybrid dynamically evolving environmental experiences” (Charitos 2006, 166). As the new media scholar Dimitris Charitos tellingly observes, the exploration of current high end mobile devices is pertinent in understanding the transformation of the city into a social arena (Charitos 2006). This certainly calls for reconsidering the use of such technologies into urban settings as well as requires a change of practices into the way we conceptualize and design urban environments.
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