If we live in a big city, chances are we own a smartphone that wakes us up every morning. The same smartphone that we use to listen to music on our way to work while we read the news of the day online or simply check our social networks. Through platforms like Facebook we stay in touch with people whom we have met throughout our lives, even if they are a thousand miles away, even if we do not directly chat with them, we still know where they are and what they are doing thanks to their newsfeeds. Twitter and RSS feeds bring us news from everywhere in the planet. Smartphone applications such as Google Earth and Google Maps allow us to literally look at almost every corner in the known world only with a touch of our fingers. Human communication is no longer bound by voice’s physical limitations or distance, and knowledge is not only the product of the paper and ink (Coleman, 2007). Instead, electronic media is converging all in one device; in one screen where people share not only documents but sounds, video, images, films, games and words. It has been a while since mobile phones were only useful to make and receive calls. Mobile phones are now part of our lives. They are always with us and they are always on. The latest smartphones go much further than voice or text communication, are multimedia devices with capabilities of portable media production which we use when we share photos and videos on social media. Nowadays mobile phones have brought “a new dimension to social media” because we can engage with it anytime, anywhere (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). We are not longer restricted to sign in from a computer and more important we can share our location while we use them and offer almost real time updates of our lives and experiences.
The core concept that I aim to explore in this article is how Social, Locative, and Mobile media can be used as a lens to rethink place and create new forms and different contexts for the expression of intimacy. As Hinton & Hjorth write, “mobile digital devices now frame and mediate our ability to traverse, experience, share and conceptualise place”. Mobile phones not only give us the ability to “take” our social media with us but also to narrate and attach meaning to places.
Social Network Sites (SNSs), are turning into an essential part of our new media culture and contributing significantly to build audiences’ self-representations by being a space to share, communicate and form a networked public. Networked publics are defined as “simultaneously a space and collection of people.” (Boyd, 2011). As mobile media converges with SNSs and locative technologies “new forms and practices are emerging that are especially focused on developing social connections”.
In the case of backpackers, which were the target audience of my campaign, mobility and place are inherent to their social media interactions and connections. Backpackers make a consistent use of new media while on the move , not only for searching travel tips, maps or joining backpacking virtual communities but also to share photos (Mascheroni, 2007). By sharing photos of their journey, they are sharing places constantly. Sharing images and commenting about places using locative based services create different ways of experience and record travel and also “create an impact upon how place is recorded, experienced and thus remembered” (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013).
Travellers nowadays not only travel with the internet, they also travel on it. By sharing their photos and captions while on the road on social network sites such as Facebook or Instagram, not only their families and friends but also total strangers can follow their journeys by searching by hashtags or places. This means these travel images can be “multisensorial” by creating a “sense of movement through an ambience of place”( Pink 2011 as cited by Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). Instagram images for example are not only visual but they also touch other dimensions by being captioned, geotagged and hashtagged.
Figure 1. Screenshot of The Colombian Backpacker Instagram account.
For example the above image employed on The Colombian Backpacker’s social media campaign is not only visual. It is also geographically tagged and users can click on the location to see a map and other photos taken there. It has popular hashtags such as #travel and #australia which position it in a specific category of images. Finally it has a caption with a quote that evokes emotion and intimacy. It is multisensorial. The image is also conceived, produced and consumed in movement.
Mobile media technology allows multiple layers in the established notions of place by adding interactivity, hypertextuality and mobility to a still image of a place that physically exists. “In location based services we see an overlying of place with the social and personal whereby the electronic is superimposed onto the geographic in new ways”(Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). The overlap of space and digital environments create new ‘hybrid’ spaces that are mediated by technology itself (Gordon and de Souza e Silva, 2011 as cited by Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). In the case of our example, users might not be physically with the travel blogger but they are following its journey and are able to observe and communicate in real time with her.
In the specific case of travelling these hybrid spaces filter and mediate the travel destination and traveller experience. Touristic representations become more negotiable and ready for immediate transmission and sharing (Young & Hanley 2011). Nowadays travelers or future travelers are not restricted to a copy of Daily Planet to plan, find and enjoy destinations. One click in a travel blog or following an Instagram account could mean a complete travel itinerary with an add-on of intimacy that users seem to crave. If we look at some of the most popular travel Instagram accounts, they are owned by individuals whose posts are full of motivational quotes and personal details (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Screenshot of ‘Yoga Girl’ Instagram account
Their followers love them and engage with their personal lives. This is something I tried to include on my campaign. Locative media gives bloggers the tools to frame images with “the continuities of everyday movement, perceiving and meaning-making”(Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). The opportunity to access this spaces with only the touch of our fingers on our Iphone’s screen also embodies a sense of ‘visual intimacy’ as described by Daniel Palmer (2012).
In conclusion, the ‘holy trinity’ of Social, Locative and Mobile media has created a whole new world of meaning and visual intimacy and a new concept of place. Images posted online by travelers are the perfect example of it and campaigns such as The Colombian Backpacker can contribute to develop on the theory of place and hybrid spaces on social media. The question remains about how more complex this hybrid spaces will become as technology advances. For example, will it be a moment in which virtual reality will be as accessible as photo and video sharing? Can you imagine bloggers being able to provide 360 degrees interactive posts and videos to their followers? The line between the online and the offline worlds seems to be getting thinner and thinner.
Boyd, D. (2011). Social network sites as networked publics: Affordances, dynamics and implications. In Z Papacharissi (ed) A Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites. New York, Routledge, pp. 39-58.
Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding Social Media. Sage Publications, London.
Farman, J. (2012). Locative Interfaces and Social Media Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media (pp. 56-75). New York: Routledge.
Young, T., & Hanley, J. (2011). Virtual Mobilities: Backpackers, New Media and Online Travel Communities. The University of Newcastle. Retrieved from https://www.tasa.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Young-Tamara_-Hanley-Jo.pdf
Coleman, J. (2007, June 30). Welcome to the Jungle. Salvo. 3. Retrieved from http://www.salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo3/3coleman.php
Mascheroni, G. (2007) „Global Nomads‟ Network and Mobile Sociality: Exploring New Media Uses on the Move‟, Information, Communication & Society 10(4): 527-546.