“Mobile media has increasingly become the key portal for social and locative media.”
– Hinton & Hjorth (2013:121)
With increased use of smartphones, previously dissociated places are connected through location-based mobile technologies, social media platforms, and GPS devices, allowing users to inscribe places with digital information, including text and images, and locate other people in their physical vicinity (De Souza e Silva 2013:33).
Due to the rise of social, locative and mobile media, socio-cultural ideas of place have been reinterpreted in various ways. In this article, I discuss how the relationship between mobile devices and social locative media has triggered a reimagining of place by focusing on three key features: location-based social media applications, the role of camera-phones, and whether place can be global yet local at the same time. As there is a multitude of positive and negative impacts of locative social media, I can only address these specific aspects in this article. However, there are many other noteworthy facets, particularly issues of surveillance, power, and (user) privacy (see Farman 2012:57-60, Wilken 2014:1095-1098).
Location-Based Social Media Applications
According to De Souza e Silva (2013:37), “physical location determines how we read and write both the Internet and physical places”. Location-based services and mobile media have allowed for the creation of digital maps, which not only alter how users navigate space (e.g. Google Maps), but how they conceptualize it (e.g. Layer). Location-based social media applications, such as Foursquare and Yelp, blend social media and location-based services through mobile devices (Hinton & Hjorth 2013:128). They allow users to leave reviews, and share tips, photos, and comments about a particular location, as well as permit others users, who can be anywhere in the world, to access this digital information.
Furthermore, these personalized recommendations of sites to visit and avoid generate new ways in which place is shared, visualized, memorialized and experienced (Hinton & Hjorth 2013:128). For instance, depending on the applications used, people have access to different kinds of information about the same location (de Souza e Silva 2013:50). De Souza e Silva (2013:50) provides a clear example: a restaurant with positive reviews on Yelp will most likely draw Yelp users, whereas if the same restaurant received a negative review in Foursquare, it will probably attract few Foursquare users. This illustrates how locative social media not only contributes to the meaning of place, but influences how people move in place, including places they choose to visit.
Screenshots of a Foursquare review (above) and a Yelp review (below) of the same restaurant, Pat’s King of Steaks. There are similarities, in that both have photos and contact information, but differences include user comments and review ratings. Foursquare rates places out of 10, while Yelp rates places out of 5. Of course, user reviews and comments are another key difference.
This example also shows that “connecting with familiar spaces in a new way through locative social media offers the potential for physical space to be transformed into a hybrid space” (Farman 2012:61). Hybrid spaces create social situations where borders between remote, contiguous contexts are no longer clearly defined, meaning that they are usually the result of interactions between the virtual and the physical (Liao & Humphreys 2015:1421; Hinton & Hjorth 2013:126).
The Role of Camera-Phones in Re-Thinking Place
Locative social media and smartphone camera practices shape, and are shaped by, conceptions of place and locality. For instance, during Liao & Humphreys (2015:1430) study of Layer—a mobile augmented reality application—they found that users ‘tag’ characteristics about places and inject personalized narratives, signifying expertise and ownership of that place.
The capacity to take photos and upload them via mobile devices onto social media platforms is a crucial aspect of locative social media. For instance, Wilken (2014:1094) discloses that the reason Facebook bought Instagram at such a high price was because Instagram allowed for mobile photo sharing (at a time where Facebook did not have that feature). This made the ability of taking, editing, and sharing an image on social media almost instantaneous, illustrating that smartphones engage in new kinds of place-making exercises, which are emotional, electronic, geographical and social (Hinton & Hjorth 2013:131).
This is made evident by the #TweetYourTicket Twitter competition that the Philadelphia Phillies held at home games during the 2015 Major League Baseball (MLB) season. For every home game at the Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies’ had a competition where fans tweeted photos of their tickets with the hashtag, #TweetYourTicket, and the Phillies Twitter handle (@Phillies). One random fan would win a prize, and a photo of the fan with their prize is then uploaded onto the Phillies Twitter page.
Above: Examples of tweets from two different Phillies’ home game #TweetYourTicket submissions, which are also replies to the @Phillies’ competition tweet for that game.
Below: Two different examples of prizes that participants won at the game they attended. The one on the right was also the final #TweetYourTicket competition of the MLB season.
Farman (2012:56) posits that “the move to locative social media transforms the metaphor of closeness into a geographical actualization” where the “results of this emerging prioritization on geographic proximity include a sense of common space that is traversed”. This is apparent in #TweetYourTicket, as participants must be physically at game, and also require a smartphone and the Twitter application, which exemplifies the fundamental role of mobile devices in locative social media. However, while this is a localized event, these tweets are globally accessible and viewable, which leads to my final discussion point.
Simultaneously Global and Local?
While mobility is vital to the social construction of space, the locative interfaces that users connect through are dependent on practices of reciprocity (Farman 2012:61). Reciprocity is the mutual, non-monetary exchange of goods and services that range from immediate exchange to delayed exchange (Parry 1986:466-468; see also, Sahlins 1972, Mauss 1990). Users need to acknowledge and be acknowledged by each other on social media platforms, and this ranges from “liking” a Facebook post or picture on Instagram, to helping each other out in online social networking games (e.g. Farmville), to just accepting a friend request (Farman 2012:57).
Farman (2012:52) finds that while most social media platforms “engage users in reciprocal relationships across vast geographic distances, the emerging form of social media is shifting that paradigm to instead focus on social proximity”. Social proximity can be both physical and virtual, and online and offline, and this dynamic is most clearly executed though the Los Angeles Kings’ #TweetsOfTheGame. Throughout the 2015-2016 National Hockey League (NHL) season, the “Best Tweets, Instagrams and Highlights” of every home game at the Staples Center were compiled into an article, and published on the Kings’ official website and Twitter page (@LAKings). Each #TweetsOfTheGame article is divided into sections, such as pregame, each of the 3 periods, and postgame, and there are various tweets from fans who were both physically at the game, or following the game (from anywhere in the world). These articles include an array of photos that were taken at the game, by fans watching at home (such as of the score or play on the TV), and of generally related photos (e.g. memes). This demonstrates how camera-phone images are “overlaid onto specific places in a way that reflects existing social and cultural intimate relations” (Hinton & Hjorth 2013:131).
Four samples of #TweetsOfTheGame from the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Los Angeles Kings game held at the Staples Center on January 2, 2016.
Above left: A multimedia tweet from a fan who was physically at the game, and took the photo with their smartphone before uploading it to Twitter.
Above right: Two geo-tagged fan reaction tweets of a goal scored by a Kings player. The top tweet is by a person tweeting from El Cerrito, which is part of Northern California (Los Angeles is in Southern California). The lower multimedia tweet, which was tweeted by someone in Los Angeles, has a photo of the goal scorer, but the image is a “general” one that was not taken at the game.
Below left: A multimedia tweet of a video from a fan who was watching the game on their computer, capturing a moment on a smartphone, and uploading it to Twitter.
Below right: Two fan reaction tweets of a save made by the Kings’ goaltender. The top basic tweet has no geo-tag or multimedia, but just a hashtag. The lower multimedia tweet has a photo of a moment from the televised game (aired by Fox Sports), indicating that this fan was watching the game on television. Note that the “tweeter” is quote-tweeting the original multimedia tweet (which is the text between the quotation marks), showing engagement between fans.
All of these tweets represent the different aspects of the role of mobile media in locative social media in inscribing a place with emotion, both for the physical and virtual community members.
Moreover, this example exemplifies the interplay between the global and local: the event occurs at a geographical place, yet social interactions take place both at the Staples Center and all around the world. As a result, smartphones take part in these emotional, electronic, geographical, and social place-making exercises (Hinton & Hjorth 2013:131). Additionally, Hinton and Hjorth (2013:132) discuss Pink’s idea that camera-phone images are “multisensorial” in that they are not only visual, but overlay information, such as place, with emotion. This is a key part of #TweetsOfTheGame because the articles are filled with various reactions and experiences from fans, which they themselves are sharing on social media. This denotes that smartphone-taken photos shared on locative social media are personal and public, temporal and spatial, remembered, and redistributed (Hinton & Hjorth 2013:132-133).
What Does This Mean?
In summary, locative social and mobile media offer new ways to map and create place. As Hinton and Hjorth (2013:134) state, “the growth of locative media is having significant impact upon cultural practice, place-making and relationships”. This concept of reimagining place, along with the execution of my social media campaign, helped me understand how to more effectively increase user participation through social media, such as through geo-tagging, employing specific hashtags, and linking the virtual and physical worlds (which I did by promoting a physical event on social media). This signifies that this concept has practical uses, such as providing ways to engage one’s target audience on social media, as well as urge people to think about the socio-cultural meaning of space.
De Souza e Silva, A. (2013). Mobile Narratives: Reading and Writing Urban Space with Location-Based Technologies. In N. K Hayles & J. Pressman (Eds), Comparative Textual Media (pp.33-52). University of Minnesota Press.
Farman, J. (2012). Locative Interfaces and Social Media. In Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media (p.49-61). New York: Routledge.
Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2003). Social, Locative and Mobile Media. In Understanding Social Media (pp.120-135). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Liao, T & Humphreys, L. (2014). Layer-ed places: Using mobile augmented reality to tactically reengage, reproduce, and reappropriate public place. New Media & Society Online, 17(9), 1418-1433.
Mauss, M. (1990; first published in 1950). The Gift. New York & London: Routledge.
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