focus discussion on locative media edited and organized by themes which emerged in the course of the discussion


Brian Roberts: The notion of ‘narrative’ has been influential across the social sciences ... in the study of ‘folklore’, ‘myth’ etc. The attempt was to find a ‘structure’ or underlying elements and range of forms (genres — ‘romantic’, ‘tragic’) in stories/stories people tell, that we tell ‘stories’, we ‘narrate’ ‘ourselves’ — this idea is now influential in a number of ‘practical’/‘professional’ areas — health, social work etc. — see work of C. Riessman in Narrative Analysis, and journal Narrative Inquiry. It has entered psychology in the form of ‘narrative psychology’ (Bruner, Mischler, Polkinghorne). I lead a group at Huddersfield looking at the relation between ‘Narrative and Memory’ — we have a yearly conference. I am becoming more critical of the ‘narrative’ idea finding it useful but limited as a ‘mode’. I am moving towards an idea (not original!) of ‘the composition of life’ (see forthcoming article/may be out — in Narrative Inquiry — which involves how we connect parts of our life by use of ‘coincidence’, ‘fate’, ‘choice’, etc... I also believe it is important to have a notion of the ‘embodied subject’. Many writers see important links between narrative and time (Ricoeur) and narrative and ‘self’ production. The notion has also been broadened to investigate how communities have stories/narrate (so links here with notions of group/ethnicity/nationalism). Further refs. here are The Narrative Study of Lives Journal.

Teri Rueb: How do locative media re–invigorate practices associated with predominantly oral cultures such as the fixing of information in memory based on place (as in ancient and classical mnemonic arts) and movement (as in Aristotle’s peripatetic school) or the spatialized narrative of aboriginal walkabout or the medieval bard?

Jeremy Hight: my paper "narrative archaeology" deals with how technology now allows us to interlace history, ethnography, architecture and other information along with art into the physical city (not as a layer) but to uncover unseen layers of place with near infinite possible combinations and applications.

Carol J. Ellick: I am currently waiting to hear on a grant proposal that involves creating public interpretation of the history of Arizona through the historic road system. We have proposed taking advantage of technology so that those who travel the roads as well as those who take a virtual tour are able to travel the roads, travel through time, and learn the history of the people and the places through the design and construction of the road system. It seems that there are technologies available that would benefit this project and I would be delighted to discuss how we could take advantage of cutting edge technologies and ideas."

Wilie Smythe: (Washington State Arts Commission) has recorded 1000’s of traditional stories and songs about places, occupations, beliefs, and various traditions from over 400 individuals. They make available self–guided heritage tours via CD, cassette tape and books. (tours are seen as) a prototype as a springboard for completing larger projects ... mapping narratives about and from traditional cultures and traditional artists from throughout the state ... using traditional narratives from a Skokomish Native American teacher to give a Native history of a 30–mile stretch of highway along the Olympic Peninsula’s Hood Canal; or converting one of our already created tours, for example the 130–mile tour from Seattle to Portland, to GPS for Amtrak train passengers to hear at listening stations on board.

Andrea Polli: The process of driving itself is an improvisation. Drivers make choices based on the presence or absence of other drivers or just on a whim. They respond to events on both the macroscopic scale (choosing a route for example) and a microscopic scale (hitting the brake or gas at a specific moment in time). The decisions of each driver is based on many factors including the visibility of other cars from inside a particular model or make of car, the state of mind of the driver (tired and distracted versus alert and awake), the maneuverability of a particular car, and the position itself of a car on the road determined primarily by chance. Although eye movements and attention have been determined to be separate processes, there is an important link: attention is focused on a particular stimulus a split second before the eye is directed to look at it.

(See also Christopher Dore under “The ontology of information and data re location media.” AND UNDER “Survey of Tools/Questioning Tools/Engaging Tools“)


Simon Pope: Some thoughts on ’ambulant’ and ’sedentary’ knowledge — speculation on forms of knowledge that are required/validated by locative media.

Terri Rueb: Where might locative media take us in terms of cognitive and proprioceptive ability and awareness? What kinds of cognitive processes are engaged by or emerge from interaction with locative media? For example, in my own work I have used sound overlays only — no screen–based, visual content delivery. This is partly because I believe that audio is a more appropriate mode of information delivery when dealing with the mobile subject where eyes and bodies are typically already engaged in navigating and taking in the surrounding environment. However, I am open to the possibility that we might adapt to multi–modal interfaces as they become more pervasive.

Martin Rieser: I agree with Teri Rueb that we have a tremendous amount to learn in this area from oral cultures. I am specifically interested in how ritual and sacred architectures, theatres of memory and other constructs can teach us about deeper engagement in mobile artworks, harnessing the physicality or prioproceptual awareness of the body. These issues will be examined in depth in a book I am currently editing on “The Mobile Audience” to which Teri is contributing.

Brian Roberts: Ruth Finnegan 2002 “Communicating: The multiple methods of human interconnection”, Routledge: NY and London (speech; visuals; hearing; odour, touch, in space and time etc. — has some great examples, many illustrated, across cultures) (Ruth is a distinguished anthropologist at the Open University) — really worth looking at.

Andrea Polli: How does proprioception function in this process? Bodily knowledge informs emotion but how does it come into play in the out of body fantasy? Is transcending the feeling of the body a way to transcend emotion? Or is loss of proprioception an unwanted but necessary by–product of transcendental experience? On what level are these sensory or extra–sensory experiences real and in what sense are they delusional? Isn’t any model or belief ’real’ insomuch as it allows one to function in the society at large? Is radical transformation possible on a large scale? The last frontier after the body is the spiritual — but these two are not separate entities, rather they are inextricably linked — in fact function as one — like the earth’s core and the surface of the earth.

and — On what level are these sensory or extra–sensory experiences real and in what sense arethey delusional? Isn’t any model or belief ’real’ insomuch as it allows one to function inthe society at large? Is radical transformation possible on a large scale? The lastfrontier after the body is the spiritual — but these two are not separate entities, rather they are inextricably linked — in fact function as one — like the earth’s core and the surface of the earth.

and — How has the mass migration of ideas sped up this process? As humans are moving more (more% human movement on the earth has occurred in the last ten years than in the entire history of humankind) Bombarded by images, we experience an infinity of lifetimes through the image. ’Visual search has no memory’ but the visual form becomes locked in memory.

and — Alchemical processes of understanding the body’s relationship with the earth and the environment: the earth itself acts metaphorically as a body. The earth’s ridges are ’the wound that never heals.’ It is significant that images of the spiritual and the metaphysical are often made of the earth and of the moment. Geologically, the langorous pace of the earth is one which is difficult for the human body to understand. Inexperience, however, the human experience of the earth is one of constant change. Storms suddenly create drastic fluctuation in the visual, aural, and tactile experience of the earth. There is a constance to these fluctuations, however, as humans can experience the cycle of change, a constant re — assurance of the stability of the earth. As you look at long spans of time — again the experience is like looking a large distances — one feels that it is possible to transcend the limitations of the body.


Ryan Sit: About your research interests, one very significant new technology is from Nextel. They just released a camera phone with GPS. Nextel is the the only U.S. carrier that allows people to programmatically get the GPS coordinates from the cell phone. This would a perfect platform to do a lot of location research upon. The device quality was a important factor in my past research, in my case it was a significant limiting factor. Nextel i860 — instructions on how to get GPS from phone to server...

(Speaking of a Nextel GPS/Camera phone, Ryan Sit imagines the development of) ... software to instantly send locationed media from the Nextel phone to the media system. The key is making this process simple and the device convenient enough for the action to be unrestrained. This system would allow an incoming stream of location media. Once the supply of location media is there, the location media could be searched, browsed, replayed, annotated, visualized, restructured, and recontextualized, thus opening the door to a variety of new uses and practices.

and — Also, your group may be interested in the fact the I would be willing to open up the complete JussPress platform for research purposes. We just added a video sharing system, email upload system, java uploader, password protection, any many other features

and — As for my thoughts on the application of this technology across disciplines, if the goal is to creat an “opportunity” for location media, a platform needs to be created that will support locative media. An “opportunity” is a good decision since it is best to create a strong foundation for work to be well built upon.

Julian Bleeker: First, is the plain near–ubiquity of the instruments. As I hear from more and more researchers from the major urban centers to the hinterlands, mobile telephony has formed a quilt of communications touch points in zillions of people’s paws. It’s hard not to speculate on the kinds of networks and linkages between friends, strangers, friends–of–strangers, strangers–of–strangers. The same kind of thinking is fueled by the increasing number of WiFi–enabled devices and access points. Particularly interesting to me are the "other" possible strategies of connection and play that have not yet been fully explored using these instruments — what is WiFi when it’s not about getting on the Internet? What does WiFi faciliate when it allows me to establish networks between the other strangers waiting in an airport, or killing 7 hours while on the airplane? And GPS — what do I do when I know where I am besides simply know where I am? How can other worlds laminate on top of the time+location based situatedness of global positioning?

and — I did an R+D residency at Eyebeam Atelier a year or so ago and out of that came a bit of technology I called NetMagnet. It was built as a software kit that would allow me and others to easily research building site–specific, location–based networks. What NetMagnet does is allow autonomous, in–the–background communications between ‘nodes’ (any device that is running NetMagnet) without prior knowledge of the nodes existence. When, say, two nodes come into physical proximity, they become aware of each other and ‘talk’ to each other, potentially sharing resources. The original demonstration allowed one to create a catalog of shareable resources — digital images, text files, etc. — all with meta–data attributed to them. Other NetMagnets could be tasked to find resources with certain metadata attributes. When compatible devices came within proximity, they would make the exchange.

Christopher Dore: Archaeologists are borrowers of many tools, and statistics is one of these. There are, of course, archaeological publications that present spatial statistics within an archaeological specific framework... Most of these analyses focus on pattern identification at one level or another. How do you identify behaviorally meaningful patters of things (e.g. artifacts, features, sites, etc.) from random distributions? Sometimes this is done strictly be examining the “thing” of interest; other time it is done by correlating the "things" with variables... such as landscape properties in GIS–based predictive modeling. A far more interesting questions and problematic area of study deals with the interpretation of the spatial patterns. How do we know what human (or natural or other animal) cause produced the resulting effect that we see in the archaeological record. There are many plausible causal candidates, but we know that only one action or activity produced the specific pattern we see. How do we identify this behavior and, more importantly, how do we know when we are right! Tough, but interesting, problems for our discipline.

Ryan Sit: Also about technology. From my past research experience, available technology should be a recognized limiting factor. As researchers or developers, we can’t realistically create new ubiquitous hardware. But we can more easily create new applications for new or forthcoming hardware. Realistically one of the most location aware electronical devices that is going to be ubiquitous is cellphones. This is because of the FCC E911 mandate. Crappy, large, or breakable devices have been a significant limitation in my past research.

Katherine S Willis: [The] idea of a GPS device linked in to some sort of socio–cultural archive or database is very appealing. One of my projects is for virtual landmarks that are self generating along a road route. Pockets of cached memory creating information or data landmarks punctuating the journey... but this is a paper project at the moment. In terms of creating some sort of GPS activated waypoint database along a route, I imagine one of the restrictions of using a cheap and therefore practical GPS device is the interface, which is pretty low–res. But using PDA’s there could be much more potential with a wireless setup. It’s a shame that the geo–caching people ( haven’t really played with making the treasure (or cache) in a data format. It’s a plastic tupperware container, which is tactile and very everyday, but somehow defeats the point of using the GPS to find it.

Christina McPhee: Just a quick question, have any of you worked with/programmed in OSX in this open source GIS system, GRASS?

and — For the Carrizo–Parkfield diaries, the relevant geomorphological studies using GIS and a visualization in VRML are generously shared, thanks to their open source ethic, by the geologists Ramon Arrowsmith, Nathan Toke, et al at Arizona State University. Dr Arrowsmith is availing use of the visualizations in collaboration for the Carrizo–Parkfield diaries. He is the foremost authority on geomorphology in this region. While shooting field photography a few days after the Parkfield quake, of the strike/slip cracks generated by the tremor, it was providential to happen to meet Ramon, who was doing the GPS measurements of these ’creeping’ cracks with Nathan at Parkfield. Much more content and recent vrml visualizations are at , thanks to Dr Arrowsmith. Jeremy and I have also explored the possibility of using processing, the java– based application invented by Casey Reas and Benjamin Fry, as a possible platform.


Henry Warwick: I think it’s important to make distinctions between different orders of digital information. Example: digital audio vs. GPS data. Or text data or streaming video.

and — I find Australian Aboriginal Song lines more interesting — location specific, extremely compact, heavily compressed rich data instruction sets. Hum a few bars, and suddenly you have instant memory access to a complex map of data. And when you meet others you can trade maps and sing your way across a continent.

Christopher Dore: In my discipline (archaeology), the spatial component literally represents half of our data. Essentially, archaeological data has two parts: what you find, and where you find it. Many (most?) times, the spatial context is more informative to learning about the past than is the "what" that you find. Finding the same thing in two different contexts provides important insights to the past. Thus, archaeology is heavily into spatial analysis, spatial interpretation, spatial visualization, and the field recording of spatial data at scales from small "activity areas" to large landscapes.


Andrea Polli: I’m an artist who currently has been working on developing systems for communicating large data sets, most recently working with weather and climate in collaboration with meteorological scientists.

and — Something I learned ... is that figuring out what the weather is like on the ground using the data models requires interpretation and intuition. Dr Pat Market, a tornado expert at University of Missouri I have been working with said to me once: ’The models can’t even tell you if it’s raining.’ In other words, precipitation and dew point data can be identical in a place where it is dry as a bone and a place where it is pouring rain! Another idea that I learned that might be relevant to the group is the way information models affect the value of place, both economically and socially. Most of the work at MESO, Glenn Van Knowe’s commercial meteorological modeling firm, comes from the wind power industry. MESO’s models are used to find the best location for the placement of wind turbines. Although it’s not possible to make a 100% accurate prediction, they look at trends and weather patterns in order to maximize energy output for the wind industry.

Ewan Branda: I’m interested in the challenges of writing histories of what the art critic Jack Burham called in the 1960s the “unobject” whose properties deny its own objecthood and in which processes of change are integral to its historicity — in short, environments. In my view, landscape is the quintessential unobject. Its history (more often told by cultural geographers than by architectural historians) runs in parallel to that of modern informatics and suggest reciprocities between paradigms of information technology and ways in which we interpret and make use of landscape. As far as my own work is concerned, my goal to define the parameters of a discourse on landscape as a class of architectural unobject and to propose forms of landscape historiography enabled by an engagement with the logic of the database, location–aware/ubiquitous computing, etc. Currently, I’m working on a research project called "The Informatics of the Picturesque", about the development of the open–air museum at the end of the 19h century and its production of a "total environment" influenced by late–19th century social sciences such as statistics and informatics.

Chris Rohe: This is a fascinating topic and one that could lead into all sorts of tangents, but I work with geophysical and site distribution data (correlative models) and would be interested in hearing if anyone is interpreting the space of these data sets. I feel that when dealing with these data for archaeology that of course for decision making purposes we are always forced to focus on the most blatant areas that are defined as "a site" but yet I believe the null areas that aren’t specified by a model or geophysical data set can be just as important. As for geophysical data it is still giving us information about the subsurface soils and if it is culturally clean why is that and what are the processes that may be concealing relevant data? As for modeling, what about the areas that are not considered of interest by the model? Was that true for past cultures? I think we leave a lot to be desired by creating a past that is just relevant for a site boundary when people were a part of an entire landscape just as we are. The real issue seems to be able to define for legal purposes of what an archaeological site is and where it is. I would be interested in hearing comments and work that others have done in this area particularly with regard to modeling and geophysics.


Douglas Anthony Cooper: One thing we might consider is an archaeology of location–specific artistic practice... Two places we might start are with garden theory, and the history of perspective... As for the history and theory of perspective — this seems to me a good way to focus the connection between virtually all of the plastic arts and location–specific technology. It’s difficult to think of much in the way of painting, sculpture and architecture that *doesn’t* feed into this new practice.

Elizabeth Goodman: "Location aware" is a funny term for me — aware of what? How? There’s a kind of epistemology of place being debated here (cf Douglas’ discussion of perspective), with technology at the heart of mediated processes of knowing. However, I’m wary of talking too specifically about technology at the beginning of a broad research agenda. I’m personally agnostic about any device or platform — it always seems to me that I start with a site, and a population, and work from there to an appropriate technological solution.

Anne Galloway: I agree that location–aware is a bit of a funny term. By concentrating on geographic information we limit our understanding of context to physical (ie Cartesian, lat/long, etc.) coordinates. Culturally, our experience of *place* is much more complex and dynamic.

Elizabeth Goodman: [I]t might be useful to assemble some rough lists of genres in which mapping motivates site–specific/locative/location–based work — not in order to shut down the borders, but as a way to give us some agreed vocabulary... I can think of a couple:
“tour guide”
“narrative generator”
“treasure hunt”

Simon Pope [regarding taxonomies]: I’m not so sure. With the credence being given to ’locative media’ by those with strategic interest in media arts, we’re already determining that certain practices are excluded from funding, support and so on. Increasing the granularity of these categories will amplify this problem. Even though there’s always the desire to ’typologize’ in academic, business and tech contexts, we should maybe keep an eye on how this approach impacts on what is validated as art practice.

and — in relation to the research project, I wonder whether it’s worth considering the extent to which the project subscribes to these orthodoxies as a validating framework? there seems to be a firm tradition of this in neighbouring fields such as performance, dance and theatre

Martin Rieser: Mobile Bristol has formed a seminar group with the intention of teasing out a taxonomy of locative media, based on the user experience. Types of content, types of engagement and the role of the technology are all being carefully discussed. Expect an online paper on this soon, but in the meantime it might be useful to apply these headings to our discussions.

and — As for the questions of access and technological control — the companies create huge barriers to public art practice in this area, having quite different agendas, even for creative test projects. At the end of the day, however, content is king, and the artists must be properly supported in forging the new languages of the locative media.

and — I agree we have to be careful not to over — categorise at the beginning of an emergent field, Simon is right to wish that cultural gatekeeping is not imposed. I am more interested in finding some common terms with which to talk about these media and their multifarious contexts — we are at the very beginning here and the artworks themselves are embryonic. I would plead for the artists to be more adventurous and avoid at all costs the literal and the mono — themed.

Brian Roberts: I may be missing something but for a general term for this kind of work (and it is/has not been my field — so apologies) — ’Life — Place Navigation’? [tried Life/Location Navigation but sounds too awkward] [so does ’Life/Locale Navigation’] [then, different ’forms’ within the overall term can be added?]

Julian Bleecker: what are the forms of play that involve these instruments without fetishizing them? What are the "genres" of play appropriate to the kinds of mobility we’re discussing pedestrian, automotive, almost — always — on, occupying private or public spaces, quiet mobility, frenetic mobility, do — not — disturb mobility. And how do these kinds of mobility suggest appropriate forms of play?

Douglas Anthony Cooper: I’ve mentioned garden theory... and I wouldn’t mind revisiting a nascent idea I had back in about 1994, when the idea of networked art was still a zygote. A few people back then were pondering Josef Beuys’s ideas about "social sculpture," but the best project to come out of it (and it wasn’t exactly life — altering) was The Thing, an experimental bbs in Manhattan.


Teri Rueb: Even where bandwidth via mobile phone becomes an issue (in the case of video or sound), shifting the focus to alternative hardware platforms such as PDA or pocketPC still requires a contractual relationship with the phone company or ISP for connectivity. In each case, a tremendous amount of power and profit is placed in the hands of the phone company as content delivery potentials expand with locative media. Can we envision ubiquitous/accessible delivery systems that don’t leave the phone company holding all the cards?

Ryan Griffis: Many of the ways that locative media are being adopted and utilized within mainstream culture, at least in the US, seem to be primarily reinforcing already dominant social relationships either connecting those already connected, speeding up the mobility of those with disposable income and providing faster means of monitoring “those that need to be monitored.” And while such tools allow for more intensive study of, say, the polar ice caps, or a more up–;to–date map of community resources, they are aiding even more the efforts of speculative oil drilling and urban land developers.

Lize Mogel: I’m interested in location–based work (or cartographic/geographic/site–based practice) because it can be populist, offers a methodology or product/artwork that can have a far–reaching social and political effect, and have the potential to have an extremely wide distribution within a geographic or social body... The reason that gps–enabled devices etcetera haven’t tempted me yet is that much of this technology is not readily available/ affordable to the general public, and within art practice, necessitates a familiar or more wired/elite audience.

Russel Buckley: It might be a little "commercial" here, but thought I’d make an offer anyway. I have a free White Paper on Location Based Marketing, based on some work I did a few years ago at a company called ZagMe. It was a simulated LBS feed people SMS’d where they were — and we sent them offers from shops located in the mall. We recruited 85,000 people and ran 1500 campaigns.

Katherine S Willis: Commercially the drive for location based delivery is to create focused advertising (basically beaming adverts to your phone if your in range of a specific node). There’s bound to be loads of business applications being developed in this area, it’s just a case of finding one that’s cheap and easy to appropriate for a similar but non–commercial use.

John Wilson: Eyes glaze over at the mention of "policy". To clarify. My engagement has been as an advocate of no–license access to radio spectrum. In regulatory parlance, this relates to SMP spectrum management policy

and — Over the past few years “Open Spectrum” and “Spectrum Commons” have emergedas progressive positions to forward this policy/practice. Technologism is astrong current. But regulatory regimes set the parameters of the possible( — crudely, what product gets to market). Radio spectrum regulation needs a whole new paradigm for the digital age.

and — Open Spectrum. A quest to move beyond legacy property — real estate models forspectrum management policy. Towards a sharing of the radio spectrum, enabledby digital technology and smart radio devices. Technology isrevolutionizing; spectrum regulation is best described as “glacial” ( Paul Baran).

and — Yes, “access” is the higher level policy issue, the meta–concept that cuts across and connects discrete sectors across the communications landscape, from industry to government and user/consumer/producer/citizen.


edited discussion list | relevant conferences | participant bibliography | locative media projects | university of california facilities | discussion archive