Forlano, “Making Waves”

Forlano, Laura. (2013). Making Waves: Urban Technology and the Coproduction of Place. First Monday, 18(11). http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/4968/3797.

Forlano re-considers the role of urban technology to co-produce concepts of place. Traditionally, “our understanding of cities in the twentieth century was primarily shaped by architectural notions of space in urban environments that focused on that built environment and technological infrastructures while excluding the socio-cultural practices of their inhabitants” (2). Such traditional theorizing of the production of place make a clear distinction between the physical and the digital; however, Forlano argues that “physical objects are embedded with digital information and interfaces and connected to the internet in what is known as the ‘internet of things’ and physical spaces in cities are layered with digital networks and infrastructures” (2). However, she further challenges the metaphor of “the layer” because it continues to underscore “the notion of discrete categories rather than more organic intertwined systems” (2). ). Further, notions of the third space likewise make spaces like home and work distinct without considering the ways such spaces are now blurred given wireless technologies mobility between and among these spaces. Given the ways such distinctions are made in theorizing the production of place, as she writes, we must consider “a new lexicon for discussions of media and the city”, one that considers the hybrid forms of the digitally material. Forlano begins to articulate this new lexicon by considering the ways that the digital materiality of urban technology is made visible and built through lived experience and imagined bonds.

When discussing the co-production of place, Forlano discusses the distinctions between chracteristics of space (access, proximity, and movement) with characteristics of place (interaction, discussion, intimacy, ownership). As she writes, “place is understood to be a sociotechnical practice that embedded space with interaction, meaning and lived experience…compatible with Japanese and other non-Western concepts that emphasize the importance of human habitation in order to create meaning and significance” (3). IN other words, a sense of place is facilitated by different media technologies. And likewise, we can further breakdown media technologies by time-biased and place-biased: “All media could be identified as either time-biased or space-biased. Time-biased media such as oral tradition assert their control over the maintenance and preservation of ideas in time while space-biased media such as paper expand the reach of ideas for the purposes of control” (3). Wireless networks are both space-biased and time-biased media: “while wireless networks allow people to connect to the internet and reach out across the globe to communicate, they are also located in bounded physical and digital spaces where people often gather” (6).

However, “in contrast to the depiction of digital networks of pervasive and seamless layers, this project illustrates that digital networks do in fact have specific shape, structure, and materiality, which can be visualized. The materiality of the network and the practice of making it visible along with its unique gaps and seams, is important in order to better understand the socio-technical nature of place in urban environments” (5). When we visualize (expose) the seams of mobile technology and augmented realities—such as incorrectly placed or incorrectly labelled tags—we can better inquire into the ways such technology can disrupt our lived experience, but also offer new possibilities.

A key component of these hybrid spaces is the use of tacit knowledge and how such knowledge is put in combination with digital tags “in order to navigate the physical environment using the application. …Rather than being a seamless experience, this matching process exposed the disjointed nature of linking digital information with physical place. As a result, participants co-created their sense of place using a mix of socio-technical understandings including physical cues in the world around them, tacit knowledge in their minds, and digital information residing as tags on mobile devices” (7). Navigation within these spaces involves the use of tacit knowledge. But further, such tags can make visible tacit knowledge—that is often invisible to visitors—allowing people to access such knowledge.

 

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