Graham & Zooke, “Augmented realities and uneven geographies”

Graham and Zook, again, look at augmented reality, but specifically consider the ways that the content created in the geoweb is uneven and likewise creates uneven geographies.

As the authors write, we need to consider how place is often defined through the content people create in digital, augmented realities: “Places are increasingly defined by dense and complex layers of representation that are created, access, and filtered via digital technologies and often opaque lines of coded algorithms” (77). “These digital layers are invisible to the naked eye, but form a central component of the augmentations and mediations of place enabled by hundreds of millions of mobile devices, computers, and other digital technologies” (77-8). The geoweb refers to the “ever increasing amount of online information [that] is geotagged to material places” (78). The rise of the geoweb is concurrent with two parallel phenomena: the rise of mobile services and the rise of user-generated information. Both of which contribute to the increasing visibility of the geoweb and the power of the geoweb in how it contributes to people’s enactment of virtual-material place. In other words, people can access and edit information from their mobile devices.

Given this context, Graham and Zook consider both the degrees of availability and visibility of geoweb content: “the first issue, of availability, is concerned primarily with question sof which places are being annotated and who is participating in this processes. The second revolves around the mechanism by which this content is created, chosen, sorted, and prioritized as a particular representation of place” (79). Namely, the authors position these questions within the idea that “the power of the network society is communication power” (see: Castells). So, in other words, we can approach these questions of availability and visibility by looking at communiation practices and the ideological questions inherent. “those capturing, recording, annotating, and representing place digitally exert a very real control and passion over those places…’Naming is one of the ways space can be given meaning and become place’ and the high density of augmentation in some places such as North America or Western Europe compared with a corresponding lack of reference to their places, such as sub-saharan Africa, echoes 19th century maps with ‘interior unknown’ labels on central Africa” (79).

The processes and tools used to aggregate and interface the geoweb can often play into the hand of supporting certain kinds of representations of place, and this process is often hidden from viewers: “Online search results are already influenced by one’s previous searches and preferences, language usage, and geographic location, and are increasingly tied to the preferences of one’s online social network” (80).

Given these factors, the authors attempt to answer some questions:

  • What are the geographies and densities of augmentations of material place? (density: the quantity of information layered over (or augmenting) a place). As the authors find, “Western Europe and North America are characterized by the highest amounts of augmented content per capita: with much of the rest of the world covered by only a sparse amount of information” (83). When broken down further, there is a clear distinction between urban and rural areas (urban areas overwhelming have high density of augmentations).
  • What are the spatial footprints of different languages in the geoweb? Here, the authors (1) explore the visibility of different languages in different regions and (2) explore how different languages augment the same places. Toward the first point, they found that often dominant languages often annotated into regions even under political control of a different language-speaking government (e.g. Hebrew in Arabic-speaking population densities). The implications of which include how the geoweb “empower dominant groups by mediating representations of places that reflect many underlying imbalances and patterns in availability of content” (90). Toward the second point, we can see the “audiencing of augmentations” that speak to both the local groups who inhabit the area (such as Spanish in Spanish speaking regions) as well as a global outlook (such as including English or German in tourist areas of a Spanish speaking country). What the authors found was that certain languages are valued in tourist sections while others are excluded (such as Arabic). And more, when searching with words in different languages, different results show up.


To conclude, the authors write that “these uneven linguistic geographies, in turn, influence the many ways in which place is enacted and brought into being” (95). They also make an important argument about everyday writing: “contributions of spatially relevant information to online platforms can, in many cases, appear trivial, playful, and apolitical, but in all cases those contributions shape the informational ecosystems overlaying material places. Tweets, restaurant reviews, Wikipedia articles, placemarks listing protest sites, and all the myriad ways in which people are annotating their environments become part of the indeterminate, unstable, context-dependent, and multiple realities that emerge and are brought into being through the subjective coming togethers in time and pace of material and virtual experience” (95).



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