Place and Space within SNS
Carrie Pluta – 470247714 – MECO 6936 Thursdays 9-12
Place and space are two concepts in social media that sound very similar but actually refer to quite different levels of intimacy. “Place is not only a space with geographic contours, it is a space that operates across many levels: imagine and lived, social and physical” (Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L., 2013, page 126). Hinton and Hjorth are referring to the many layers that place takes on. It is not just a physical location on the map – which is what we refer to as space, but it is the complexities of what occurs in that space that turns it instead into a familiar place. “Maps link space with place, where place is the concept of a space that has meaning ascribed to it” (Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L., 2013, page 126).
“While maps give us one sense of space, they are incomplete in conveying the complex and often competing cartographies of place” (Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L., 2013, page 127). An obvious illustration of space and place comes in with locative mobile games. These games use location based services, and “in LBSs we see an overlaying of place with the social and personal whereby the electronic is superimposed onto the geographic in new ways” (Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L., 2013, page 128). Pokemon Go for example transforms ordinary spaces into places by taking something like a street corner and making it into a PokeStop. Using our phone to find these locations and play the game shows us how much game play is changing our physical environment, our space. “Mobile devices do not just extend the number of places that you can use social media; they bring social media to those places and, through the LBS, contribute to the construction of new cartographies of space” (Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L., 2013, page 134). The maps of the Pokemon world are overlaid on the maps of the offline world which in turn gives the offline area an embedded meaning which previously didn’t exist, they are “multisensorial in that they evoke more than the visual; they overlay information (such as location) with emotion” (Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L., 2013, page 132). This leads academics to wonder whether space and place are bleeding into the same thing through these locative games. Richardson and Wilken argue, “The meshing of located place and networked space creates crucial questions, especially around whether mobile media ‘collapse the space-place distinction, or enable “space” and “place” to be simultaneously present’” (Richardson and Wilken 2012 as quoted in Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L., 2013, page 129). I believe that we will continue to see the lines of space and place blurred when it comes to social networking and mobile locative games. As Hinton and Hjorth explain, “the increased ubiquity of locative media through devices such as the smartphone will undoubtedly transform the way in which place and mobility are articulated” (Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L., 2013, page 134).
The aspect of space and place in social media that I find most interesting though lies outside of the typical location based service game. I’ve found space and place to play a really interesting role in our other social media networks. I especially love how clear the two are within the app Snapchat. On Snapchat you can send direct snaps, which disappear immediately after they are viewed, to whomever you choose, or you can create a Snapchat story which any of your followers can see and rewatch as many times as they please for up to 24 hours. I believe that a Snapchat story is a prime example of space in social media. It is our less private, less personal selves that we present on our stories. It shows the space of our lives, that is, a conceptualization of us that is crafted and fine-tuned for our many viewers (not unlike Instagram posts). When we send direct snaps we are typically composing these for the specific person they are being sent to. “If space is rather a simultaneity of stories-so-far, then places are collections of those stories, articulations within the wider power-geometries of space” (Massey as quoted in Hinton and Hjorth, 2013, page 127). It is in fact the specificity and articulation of these direct snaps that is not exposed in a snap story that makes them a “place”.
Recently Instagram and now Facebook have added the disappearing photo/video feature that mimics Snapchat to their platforms. Aspects of Facebook already could be considered a “place” before adding this feature. I believe that the way private messages are used would definitely qualify as a place, whereas writing on someone’s timeline is typically more constructed and available for anyone to see and is therefore a space. Instagram functions almost exclusively as a space. The exception to this is their private messaging system that allows users to send other Instagram posts that they see to one another privately, thus opening up a more intimate conversation about what you saw with someone else. This can add a layer of being on the “inside” of joke because it is being personally called out as being relevant to you. Otherwise Instagram is largely a space. Users customize their profiles to create the image they want to present to the world, but it often seems to be clearly fashioned to portray the exact appearance that the person wants to project. By adding the disappearing photos, even though they aren’t direct on Instagram or Facebook like they are on Snapchat, they are transforming an area of the platform more into a place than a space.
Interestingly, I think that the adaptation of this feature highlights how increasingly important it is becoming to users to have a sense of place within their social media spaces. Snapchat was outpacing other platforms in this regard, and Instagram and Facebok had no choice but to integrate this feature into their applications if they were to keep an engaged audience. Even advertisers are seeing the strength that an intimate platform can provide to their brand. One article which discusses how to use Snapchat as an advertising platform describes how the application’s popularity as a place exists because direct snaps make us feel special. “You get an alert and a badge shows up on your phone — someone has sent you a snap! It wasn’t posted, it was sent to you, and maybe only you…every snap is delivered as a personal gift” (Pineiro, 2015). Taco Bell for example has introduced new menu items through Snapchat in a way to appeal to millennials (Gans, 2014). I believe that this intimacy will continue to be capitalized upon until it is oversaturated and the place starts to morph back into a space. It wouldn’t surprise me if in 6 months time we see Snapchat come up with a new feature that further ingrains the sense of place and forces the other social networking sites and advertisers to follow suit or risk losing the intimacy of their form.
As we can see, space and place, while seemingly similar have been historically different. In locative games this difference is becoming less distinct because of the overlap of newly conceived meaning upon physical spaces. Within other social networking sites, like Snapchat, we still see the ways place is being used to construct a more intimate area. Future social networking sites will need to be aware of the ways in which users differentiate space and place in order to provide an experience for them that transcends physical presence.
Gans, A. (2014). How Snapchat Brings Intimacy to Content Marketing — The Content Strategist. The Content Strategist. Retrieved 17 April 2017, from https://contently.com/strategist/2014/06/02/how-snapchat-brings-intimacy-to-content-marketing/
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media (1st ed.). Los Angeles, CA [etc.]: SAGE.
Pineiro, V. (2015). It’s Not a Post – It’s a Gift. How to Embrace the Intimacy of Snapchat. Adage.com. Retrieved 17 April 2017, from http://adage.com/article/digitalnext/ways-brands-embrace-intimacy-snapchat/297542/