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UAL Research Online

Mobile Communication Technologies and Spatial Perception: Mapping London

Ozkul, Didem (2015) Mobile Communication Technologies and Spatial Perception: Mapping London. In: Locative Media. Routledge, New York, NY, pp. 39-51.

Type of Research: Book Section
Creators: Ozkul, Didem

Mobility and location matter a lot to us. Starting with one of our first spatial explorations, crawling, we learn to make sense of our geographical world on the move. Our spatial and social interactions help us identify not only our being-in-the-world, but also places, constructed either as a result of those interactions or designed to host those interactions. We are not only observers in this geographical world, but “are ourselves part of it, on the stage with other participants.”1 We continuously make spatial decisions that involve a continuous movement of our bodies, goods, and information, at all scales. These decisions range from how we get, or send things from any given location to another, which means and devices we use for those purposes, to how we deal with unexpected problems on our way, such as a train line suspension, a puncture on our tyre, or a low reception on our mobile phone. Technologies we use to accomplish different types of mobilities play significant roles in how we make those decisions. Especially, mobile communication technologies (as “miniaturised mobilities”2) make an important contribution in how we perceive and understand spatial environment.
Scholarly works on mobile communication technologies have grappled with the effects of these technologies on our everyday life, focusing on changes in social and spatial practices of everyday life3 and the large extent to which these technologies blur the lines between public and private space, work and personal life, and social cohesion.4 With the introduction of GPS- enabled features of smartphones, the focus of mobile media research has shifted towards the analysis of location-based applications and their use in everyday life.5 Although recent works explain locative media use in relation to theories of space and place6 and question the changing definitions of location,7 further empirical study is needed to explore how we use locational information to navigate in everyday life. On the other hand, many disciplines, such as environmental psychology and cognitive approaches to geography, have long grappled with the question of how we acquire such spatial knowledge and navigate in any given environment, and how we locate ourselves in any given space. However, those studies were either not empirically incorporated in mobile and locative media research, or taken for granted to explain certain phenomena theoretically.
In this chapter, I explore how locational information use on mobile communication devices change spatial practices and navigation in London in relation to locations and places, which ‘in sum comprise geographical world’8. My focus is on the use of locational information both as external references and sources of direct experiences in creating an experience of a city since “both sources of spatial information have to be combined in the cognitive map of an individual.”9 Hence, the concern is not what mobile technology users do, but what they experience and how mobile maps could play a role in those individual experiences. My approach is neither cognitive (although I used sketch mapping as a tool to stipulate group discussion), nor behavioural. According to cognitive approaches in geography and urban planning, structuring and identifying any environment are innate abilities of human beings10 and we use internal and external references.11 However, the way we do it is not a “mystic instinct,” “rather there is a consistent use and organisation of definite sensory cues from the external environment.”12 Learning and making sense of spatial environments can rely upon primary experiences, such as walking in a city, and secondary sources, such as road signs and maps.13
Following the work of Seamon, I approach the relationship between spatial behaviour and locational information use as a phenomenon. In contrast to the view of the cognitive theorists, Seamon argues that cognition plays only a partial role in everyday spatial behaviour. In a similar vein, he also opposes the view of the behaviourist perspectives and argues that “the prereflective knowledge is not a chain of discrete, passive responses to external stimuli; rather, that the body holds within itself an active, intentional capacity which intimately ‘knows’ in its own special fashion the everyday practices.”14 Employing a similar approach, I blend cognitive, behavioural and phenomenological approaches with empirical data from participant sketch maps of London and focus groups. Hence, this chapter provides a multidisciplinary approach to understand the spatial experiences of mobile technology users in London and how they “learn London step by step” through mobile and locative media.
In order to understand how users of mobile technologies experience any given urban space, I organised 7 workshops in London in the year 2012.15 In those workshops, following the method developed in Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City, I asked 38 participants in groups of 5-8 to draw sketch maps of London and discuss their maps with each other in the form of a focus group. All of the group discussions were audio-recorded and transcribed. Using an artefact, which participants themselves created and reflected upon, helps in explaining and understanding spatial relationships better than using verbal elicitation alone. When explaining things verbally we also use spatial imagery and metaphors16. Thus, cognitive maps can also be used to create a context and content for social interactions, as maps in general, today, “have changed from something that can spatialise social information to something that can socialise spatial information”17. Drawing sketch maps encourages research participants to contribute and reflect upon the unarticulated, the hidden or the unsaid about their experiences of the city they live in and how they acquire that spatial knowledge over time. Throughout this chapter, participant maps and focus group conversations are used to support the argument that mobile maps are not only external or supplementary sources in creating an experience of a place, but also are sources of direct experience and spatial participation.
Based on the analysis of empirical data, one of the major uses of locational information is related to navigation and maps use in London. Under this category, spatial orientation includes basic forms of navigation such as walking, using public transportation, cycling, driving, as well as (different) uses of various maps (especially Google Maps on smartphones) both as primary and secondary sources of spatial learning and acquiring a sense of new places, and as a means of direct experience of the spatial environment.

Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: spatial navigation, mobile communication, locative media, location-based services, cognitive map
Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Routledge
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Communication
Date: 2015
Date Deposited: 15 Apr 2016 09:38
Last Modified: 15 Apr 2016 09:38
Item ID: 9163
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/9163

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