Checking in at the Urban Playground: Digital Geographies and Electronic Flâneurs

Checking in at the Urban Playground: Digital Geographies and Electronic Flâneurs

Martin Berg (Halmstad University, Sweden)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-338-6.ch009
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Taking its point of departure in a critical discussion of the imagined dividing line between physical and digital spaces, this chapter demonstrates a socio-spatial turn in Internet studies and sets out to explore the meaning of locative technologies as an illuminating example of how such spatial boundaries increasingly collapse. Being empirically grounded in an analysis of twelve qualitative interviews with users of the applications Foursquare and Gowalla, this chapter focuses on the interplay between what is termed electronic flâneurs and digital geographies, and demonstrates in what ways the use of locative technologies provokes changes at two levels in the social realm: first, by adding a communicative digital layer to the spatial organisation of physical space, and second, by adding a spatially bound layer to interactions in digital space.1
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Ever since the early days of Internet studies, a problematic detachment between physical and digital spaces has been a recurring theme, often conceptualised in ontological rather than practical terms. Even though the conceptual division between “online” and “offline” could plausibly refer to the practical conditions of social interaction (which is how it is used in this chapter), it has often been understood as designating a difference between “virtual” and “real”. Having operated as the dominant assumption for several years, predominantly through the trope of “cyberspace”, this imagined dividing line is nowadays rarely regarded as a feasible construct. On the contrary, it has become a widespread assumption that physical and digital spaces increasingly merge thus blurring the boundaries between online and offline modes of interaction, which in turn renders the overused dichotomy between “real” and “virtual” terminally obsolete. The last few years have witnessed significant changes in the nature of online communication, not the least because of the proliferation of (mobile) social network sites (SNS) which points at the de-domestication of Internet use as well as a fundamental intertwining of physical and digital spaces. Taking these changes seriously and further elaborating an understanding of their social implications, this chapter considers the emergence of what could be termed the “socio-spatial turn” in Internet studies. Particularly focusing on the possible relationship between digitally mediated social interactions and physical (urban) space, the initial parts of this chapter deal with earlier perceptions of the Internet as a facilitating factor in the articulation of identities and social relations without necessary interdependence on either temporal or spatial boundaries. As will be demonstrated, the previously prevailing era of online anonymity and thereby associated corporeal absence was altogether forgotten and substituted by a regime of personally centred networks by the early 2000s. Significantly, in 2006, Time Magazine tapped into these processes of change when awarding “You” the honour of being the person of the year (Han, 2010). This example from popular discourse does not only suggest that the era of anonymity had ended but also, in consequence, that the Internet had gone through a fundamental make over. Much has happened since the birth of “the social web” and nowadays, traversing the informational highway is no longer confined to take place from the security of domestic spaces but is increasingly performed through mobile devices. In conjunction with the increment of mobile Internet access, the development of “locative technologies” and the use of “locative mobile social networks” (de Souza e Silva & Frith, 2010; de Souza e Silva & Sutko, 2009) have experienced a nearly immeasurable upsurge which has troubled predominant perceptions of interactions in digital space profoundly.

As of today, there are a handful of locative technologies and among these, Foursquare and Gowalla are the most widely used.2 Substantially, these are mobile applications that allow users to engage in location-based interaction by means of mobile devices through which place-specific information can be created, consumed and shared. Although these applications are different regarding graphical user interface and basic functionality, they are both promoted as a facilitator of interaction through a communicative layer intimately bound up with physical spaces and places. Foursquare as well as Gowalla are said to make it possible for users to share their location with friends by “checking in” at digital spots (i.e. a digital representation of places), provide commentaries on others’ locations and urban activities while at the same time receiving rewards of different sorts. Their basic functionality is thus a question of adding different forms of metadata to geographically identifiable places for distributing social interaction in digital spaces to various sites in physical space and vice versa. Locative technologies such as Foursquare and Gowalla are often depicted as providing a platform for exploring the city, establishing interpersonal relations and keeping up with current events in the urban landscape.

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Table of Contents
Francesca Comunello
Francesca Comunello
Chapter 1
Sorin Adam Matei, Robert J. Bruno
This chapter discusses the emergence of social media, especially wiki environments, as collaborative knowledge tools that function within a given... Sample PDF
Individualist Motivators and Community Functional Constraints in Social Media: The Case of Wikis and Wikipedia
Chapter 2
Jenny Kennedy
This chapter proposes the concept of “networked spaces” as a strategy for resolving the problematic binary of online and offline. Networked spaces... Sample PDF
Conceptualizing Social Interactions in Networked Spaces
Chapter 3
José María Zavala Pérez
The rise of individualism and the enhanced prominence of subjectivity that challenge inherited identities and references entail the achievement of... Sample PDF
Registry Culture and Networked Sociability: Building Individual Identity through Information Records
Chapter 4
Romana Andò
One of the latest developments in audience research deals with the analysis of the views and opinions that individuals express in the social media... Sample PDF
The Challenge of Audience Research on Web 2.0: The Possibilities, Problems and Perspectives of Sentiment Analysis
Chapter 5
Miriam J. Metzger, Christo Wilson, Rebekah A. Pure, Ben Y. Zhao
A deep understanding of user social interaction in social network sites (SNSs) can provide important insights into questions of human social and... Sample PDF
Invisible Interactions: What Latent Social Interaction Can Tell Us about Social Relationships in Social Network Sites
Chapter 6
Sonja Utz
This chapter compares the SNS use of Dutch students across time and platforms. Between 2009 (n = 194) and 2010 (n = 212), many users migrated from... Sample PDF
Social Network Site Use among Dutch Students: Effects of Time and Platform
Chapter 7
Bernadette Kneidinger
This chapter discusses the potential of social network sites (SNS) as sources for both social feedback and trial platforms for social behavioral... Sample PDF
Sociability in Social Network Sites: Facebook as Trial Platform for Social Behavioral Patterns
Chapter 8
Geraldina Roberti, Alberto Marinelli
Such processes seem to be emphasized by Social Network Sites; in this chapter we analyze a sample of posts published on Facebook by fans of... Sample PDF
Branding Identity*: Facebook, Brands and Self Construction
Chapter 9
Martin Berg
Taking its point of departure in a critical discussion of the imagined dividing line between physical and digital spaces, this chapter demonstrates... Sample PDF
Checking in at the Urban Playground: Digital Geographies and Electronic Flâneurs
Chapter 10
Thomas J. Johnson, Shannon L. Bichard, Weiwu Zhang
This study uses an online panel of Internet users to examine the degree to which those who visit U.S. political websites and blogs practice... Sample PDF
Revived and Refreshed: Selective Exposure to Blogs and Political Web Sites for Political Information
Chapter 11
Barbara K. Kaye, Thomas J. Johnson
This study examined the influence of motivations for, and reliance, on social network sites on selective exposure (purposely seeking agreeable... Sample PDF
Net Gain?: Selective Exposure and Selective Avoidance of Social Network Sites
Chapter 12
Alessandro Lovari, Lorenza Parisi
The aim of this chapter is to describe how the use of social media, especially the use of social network sites, is influencing public communication... Sample PDF
Public Administrations and Citizens 2.0: Exploring Digital Public Communication Strategies and Civic Interaction within Italian Municipality Pages on Facebook
Chapter 13
Paul Emerson Teusner
This chapter offers a contribution to the ongoing research into networked individualism in late modern society from the perspective of religion... Sample PDF
Networked Individualism, Constructions of Community and Religious Identity: The Case of Emerging Church Bloggers in Australia
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