About Locative Media

What are ‘locative media’? As a point of departure, we found the following definitions of locative media useful:

In the edition of the Leonardo Electronic Almanac on locative media, Julian Bleecker defines locative media as follows:

“Locative media that is of most immediate concerns is that made by those who create experiences that take into account the geographic locale of interest, typically by elevating that geographic locale beyond its instrumentalized status as a ‘latitude longitude coordinated point on earth’ to the level of existential, inhabited, experienced and lived place. These locative media experiences may delve “into” the historical surface of a space to reveal past events or stories (whether fictional, confessional or standing on consensus as factual). Locative media experiences may also cross space, connecting experiences across short or long geographic, experiential, or temporal distances. At its core, locative media is about creating a kind of geospatial experience whose aesthetics can be said to rely upon a range of characteristics ranging from the quotidian to the weighty semantics of lived experience, all latent within the ground upon which we traverse.”

From this definition it is hard to make a true division between locative media and the broader category of mobile media. As different researchers (Bull, Ito) have pointed out, mobile media such as the mobile phone or the personal stereo are often used in a way described by Bleecker: creating or appropriating a geospatial experience.

More abstractly, Marc Tuters and Kazys Varnelis see two categories of locative media. One is annotative – these are media technologies that allow its users to virtually tag (and consequently filter) the real world. The second is phenomenological – tracing the action of a subject in the world. Another way to categorize these new media is between media that take an actual spatial context of a communicative practice as its point of departure and media that provide a virtual but spatially organized interface related to an actual geography for communicative and informational practices.

Combining these different points of view, we can differentiate between (at least) six ways in which locative and mobile media can transform our notions of urban culture.

  • The use of spatially organized interfaces to information databases, for instance Google Earth-mash ups or TomTom devices.
  • The annotation of geographic places (and the attribution, construction and contestation of maps, meaning, and territories)
  • The mapping or tracing of objects and persons and the use of locative media as tools for micro-coordination such as realtime and realspace social networking.
  • The use of locative media as filtering devices: either selecting relevant places from the perspective of the subject. Or the other way around: systems that grant or refusing access to certain places.
  • The use of locative media as a ‘space making devices’, altering the experience of a certain space through its use. For instance mobile phones or personal stereo’s.
  • The issue of address: framing space and/or subjects in a certain way, providing us with ontologic metaphors, starting to understand our subjectivities in other ways.

In chapter 4 of his PhD dissertation “Moving Circles: mobile media and playful identities”, The Mobile City’s Michiel de Lange makes the following locative media classification, based on the primary criterion by which digital media technologies are purposively ‘reconciled’ with geographical location:

Locative media technologies are used (i) for navigation and orientation in wayfinding; (ii) to measure and visualize what is otherwise not visible; (iii) to annotate physical locations with digital information; (iv) to organize social interactions; (v) for pervasive games. In addition, I argue that play not only occurs in pervasive games but informs the other categories as well. Furthermore, in all categories locative media induce us to reflect on ourselves in spatial terms.
(De Lange, 2010: 145; download as PDF or e-reader file)

For a more in depth analysis of how we approach locative media and its importance for urban culture, please see our conference text. It can be viewed here, or downloaded as a PDF file.