Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space

Information Places: Navigating Interfaces between Physical and Digital Space

Katharine S. Willis (Bauhaus-University Weimar, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-152-0.ch014
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In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by information which weaves itself silently into the very fabric of our existence. Much of the time we act in the world based on recognising qualities of information which are relevant to us in the particular situation we are in. These qualities are very often spatial in nature, and in addition to information in the environment itself, we also access representations of space, such as maps and guides. Increasingly, such forms of spatial information are delivered on mobile devices, which enable a different relationship with our spatial world. We will discuss an empirical study which attempts to understand how people acquire and act on digital spatial information. In conclusion, we will draw on the outcomes of the study to discuss how we might better embed and integrate information in place so that it enables a more relational and shared experience in the interaction between people and their spatial setting.
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Telephone calls worldwide on both landlines and mobile phones contained 17.3 exabytes of new information if stored in digital form; this represents 98% of the total of all information transmitted in electronic information flows, most of it person to person.

(Lyman et al 2003)

Information surrounds us. We use information, we create information and information allows us to communicate across time and space. But to make information tangible we need to classify, to categorise, to contextualise and to define it. In organizing data we add the knowledge of the receiver which enables the exchange of meaning. This we call interaction with information. In this way information does not exist as isolated, distinct data, but as a form of communication which is constantly affected by the setting in which it is created, gathered, manipulated and retrieved. When we interact with information we do not act in a vacuum, but based on a background of experience, using memories and qualities of the real world to guide us. Interaction is a continually negotiated two way process, that has been described by Pask in this example “A painting does not move. But our interaction with it is dynamic for we scan it with our eyes, we attend to it selectively and our perceptual processes build up images of parts of it. Of course a painting does not respond to us either […] but our internal representation of the picture, our active perception of it, does respond and does engage in an internal conversation with the part of our mind responsible for immediate awareness.” (Pask, 1971, p. 78). We act so as to simplify cognitive tasks by leaning on the structures in our environment. We rely on the external scaffolding of categorised information formats; such as maps and models, diagrams and traffic signs. We learn to use the world around us to assist us, so that not all thinking is done inside the head and much of it instead takes place within the context of real world situations. To understand how we interact with information we need to include the wider scenario of a person as they act in a real-world environment, but also taking account of the fact that this is a social and spatial environment which includes records and traces of prior actions in the form of communication systems (languages), storage systems (libraries), transport systems (roads), and spatial systems (the built world) (Morville, 2005). In fact the last category is often underrated; that of the spatial quality of information. Information is often understood both in terms of where it is located and consequently how it can be retrieved or found. We navigate through information, both metaphorically and in actuality, constantly deciding on what is useful to us and what we can ignore. In this sense there is always much more information available to us in the environment than we pay attention to. Just imagine a typical street, with a person walking along traveling from one shop to another. A multitude of information is present in the environment, much of it dynamic; passing cars, flashing shop signs, visual landmarks and of course other people. We learn to read subtle messages to enable us to make decisions, whether these are generated from conscious or sub-conscious choices. Spatial categorisation is ubiquitous in our language and how we organise our understanding of the world.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Satnav: A satellite navigation system capable of receiving and displaying GPS data.

Bluetooth: A form of digital transmission which enables many devices to be easily interconnected using a short-range wireless connection.

Landmark: A geographic feature or built structure that is easily recognizable, and is often used to assist orientation.

LBS: Location based services are wireless ‘mobile content’ services which are to provide location-specific information to mobile users moving from location to location.

Mobile map: A term for a map application supported by GPS running on a mobile device.

GPS: Global Positioning System a constellation of twenty-four satellites that make it possible for people with ground receivers (satnav) to pinpoint their geographic location.

WiFi: Also known as Wireless fidelity refers to certain kinds of wireless local area networks, or WLAN (as opposed to LAN, or computers that are networked together with wires).

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