Locative Media: Is the Medium the Message?

Locative Media: Is the Medium the Message?

Locative media has had an irreversible effect on the way we interact with each other. It has further expounded on the already pervasive elements that mobile media has drawn into daily life, adding another layer to the social and human environment interactions that we have. Digital conversations that we have can (and do) affect our in-person, physical relationships, and as the number of platforms on which we communicate continue to grow exponentially, so do the ways in which we read into relationships and social interactions. In their text “Understanding Social Media”, Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth posit the question, “How does place represent the weaving together of social and human environment interaction?” (Hinton & Hjorth, page 128) In our seminars, we have discussed emerging cultural practices that bring social connections together via mobile media. In this essay, I will briefly explore the ways that locative media has shifted two very important aspects of human interaction— our behavior within relationships, and societal storytelling.


More and more, relationship aspects of all types are occurring over digital platforms. From breakups to makeups to birth announcements, conversations that have traditionally occurred in face-to-face situations are now occurring as text messages and Facebook posts. It’s hard to imagine a scene 10 years ago where it would have been considered societally acceptable to break up with someone via Facebook, and yet today it happens all the time. The importance that we have placed on our online and digital presences as a society has crept into the physical realm. 

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(source: facebook.com)

As if human relationships weren’t difficult enough to navigate as it is, locative media has introduced another plane of relationship boundaries to address. In an age where most of us are carrying smartphones, we have the potential to be walking GPS services for our partners. Indeed, locative media has become so widespread and expected in the playout of relationship processes and interactions that when someone doesn’t engage in what’s known as “participatory surveillance”, it creates a sense of social disembodiment (Farman, 2012). We are not only expected to be “watchers” on social media platforms but allow others to watch us as well – this means partners and strangers alike can view our opting out of locative media as a loss of agency, and “to have no body [in the social media sphere] is to become a non-person, a “no-body” in the emerging social spheres that depend on participatory surveillance”( Farman, page 70). Someone who refuses to ever check-in on social media, or leave a digital trail of their existence is seen as incredibly private or secretive. In relationships, a lack of participatory surveillance can be viewed as cold or even hostile.   


Storytelling is a critical element to society. It reflects contemporary societal values, cultural understandings, and chronicles the change of both over time. Humanity has been telling stories through visual culture since the first cave drawings…Egyptian pictographs, European renaissance paintings, Annie Leibovitz’s photography portraits — all of these are examples of visual storytelling that reflect aspects of the creator’s present environment and society, and their compositions exemplify the value structures within which they are created. As Ruth Page denotes in her text, “the physical spaces embedded in behavioral contexts are an important resource for building storyworlds and positioning narrators and their audiences.” (Page, 157). The potency of environmental context has been harnessed in mobile media, and today digital storytelling is a part of participatory culture that can’t be ignored. Companies and brands rely on society’s penchant for digital storytelling in order to access and amass data on who we are and what we do, so that may better market consumer goods and services to us. 

The advent of the location-specific “check-in” has added another dimension to this digital storytelling. It’s heightened the visibility into our lives, and creates a documentation of our movement patterns. In fact, a “check-in” can even be considered to be a locative selfie — we deliberately choose where we check into, with whom, and on what social media platforms in order to further curate a portrayal of ourselves. The places we check into demonstrate what our interests are (“At Golden Age Cinema: seeing ‘Hail Caesar’, for the third time!”). The people we decide to tag when we check into places also paints a digital picture of our lives and who we want the world to know is important to us (“At Golden Age Cinema: Seeing ‘Hail Caesar’, for the third time! – with [best friend]”). Just as with the selfie, the platforms though which we check-in are also a critical part of this curation. For example, someone may opt to check-in to the Golden Age cinema using Yelp in order to amass reward points or credits that are offered through the establishment. They may also choose to take a picture with their best friend drinking fancy cocktails in the bar area of the cinema, in order to represent the movie date as a more stylized affair.


(source: webpronews.com)

Based on this information, companies can take the digital stories we’ve written and determine what marketing tactics would best work to target a particular demographic. Locative media has transformed in the information landscape and, because of our growing dependency on certain aspects of it (such as direction-based map services, local restaurant guides, etc.), its monetization is inevitable (and very lucrative).  As Hinton and Hjorth note, “this dependency makes us all more subject to the control mechanisms of the information society; to be counted, sorted and organised into groups that can be matched with products and processed as fast as materials and services can be produced and distributed.” (Hinton & Hjorth, page 132) Exemplifying Google Analytics, they also discuss how our digital storytelling becomes “a more fundamental Web 2.0 business model where users are actually the source of value, not the source of information that Google indexes…Google’s purchases of YouTube and its integration of other services like Gmail is…allow[ing] them to horizontally integrate, dominating not the streamline video market but the user-as-commodities market.” (Hinton & Hjorth, page 29). In other words, Google has drawn together all of its resources (not just its locative based systems) to monetize our digital storytelling.


Locative Media and My Project

Working with the Dandelion and Daisy Chain products, the locative aspect of mobile media wasn’t as pervasive in my brand building or marketing tactics. Rather, the social element of the brand relied on the fact that users around the globe were able to collect in one place and therefore have a tight knit sense of community in which they were able to share their stories about bullying and outreach with each other. However, I did come to understand the value of the global community and how far the brand was able to reach when I was submitting the “Daisy Chain” film to international film festivals abroad. By using platforms like Twitter and Instagram, and targeting specific audiences with specified hashtags and handles (like #SIFF for Seattle International Film Festival, and @RiverRun for the River Run International Film Festival), I was able to interact with a larger audience who were also looking to engage while they were at the festivals. Users engaging with locative media during the film festival could interact with the Dandelion and Daisy Chain social media accounts to learn more about the films during the course of their visit. This aspect of locative media allowed me to plan for a much larger potential audience than just the users who were engaging with the social media platforms in a more traditional sense.


This course has given us all a lot of insight into the way that not just mobile media, but locative mobile media is shifting our daily lives. The “online modes of engagement” are progressively taken offline, and its often difficult to see where our online selves end and our offline selves are present. Two of the most fundamental aspects of human interaction, relationships and storytelling, have been completely re-geared to adapt to locative mobile media, and now exist almost as reactionary elements to its existence…instead of the other way around.


Farman, J. (2012). Mobile interface theory. New York: Routledge.

Hinton, S. & Hjorth, L. (2013) Understanding Social Media. London: Sage.

Page, R. (2012). Stories and Social Media. New York: Routledge.

Google Official Enterprise Blog. Retrieved 14 April 2016, from http://goo.gl/66B90k

Yelp Adds ‘Check-Ins’ To Reviews. (2010). WebProNews. Retrieved 14 April 2016, from http://www.webpronews.com/yelp-adds-check-ins-to-reviews-2010-01/


Dandelion and Daisy Chain

As part of my coursework for MECO6938 (Media and Communication Internship), I am interning with Protein One, a creative branding and design agency. They focus on brand identity and communications for a wide arrange of clients, but one of their “homegrown” products is a set of illustrated children’s books. The first book, “Dandelion”, is a story about a boy named Benjamin Brewster who is frequently bullied at school. He uses Dandelions as tools to fend off the cruel behavior of others, while building up his own self confidence. The second book, “Daisy Chain”, is about a girl named Buttercup Bree who also encounters bullying as she’s threading daisy chains on a schoolyard. While “Dandelion” addresses in-person situational bullying, “Daisy Chain” focuses on the harmful impact of bullying via social media.

There are a few key demographics that Protein has identified — firstly, primary school aged children dealing with bullies will hopefully find the stories relatable, and see Benjamin and Buttercup as relatable protagonists. Secondly, parents whose children experience bullying could the books (and “Dandelion”‘s  accompanying app) useful tools for explaining why bullies are the way they are, and ways to overcome negative situations with self-confidence. Lastly, primary school educators are a key demographic because they can not only use the app, short animated film, and books as tools in their classroom, but they can also build curriculums around the products to weave in anti-bullying education. Furthermore, they are key to proliferating the brand/products because of their hub role between children, parents, and other educators.