Comobility: An experiment in locative art practice and mobilities research

Southern, Jen (2011) Comobility: An experiment in locative art practice and mobilities research. In: Mobilities in Motion, 2011-03-212011-03-23.

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Mobile phones are becoming increasingly location-aware, facilitating numerous applications that use and share positioning data through networks, across space and between friends. Initially the realm of experimental art projects and location based gaming, location-aware applications are now widespread and mainstream. Locative applications initially used location data for navigation, location-aware services and games, however, when combined with network communications applications such as Google Latitude, Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt allow users to share their location data and place-based recommendations with friends and to coordinate spatio-temporal activity. This paper asks how these increasingly popular Locative Mobile Social Networks (LMSN) (De Souza e Silva & Frith 2010) are changing social and mobile experiences of place . Drawing on both Ingold’s description of a world that is perceived and co-constructed through movement (2000) and Thrift’s sense of qualculation (2004) in which constant in-the-background calculations have the capacity to change qualitative experiences of place, I reflect on the impact of locative mobile social networks through the description of a new sense of ‘co-mobility’ observed in the artists project ‘comob’. The paper also reflects on how art practice and social research might co-exist as a mobile research methodology (Büscher, Urry and Witchger 2011). Over the past ten years one branch of locative media arts have produced collective mapping projects using the linear GPS tracks of individuals (Polak 2002, Hamilton, Southern & St Amand, 2006, Giaccardi et al, 2007, Nold & Boraschi, 2008). These forms of mapping suggest a world made up of overlapping trajectories but do not explore the social and relational qualities of those paths in depth. LMSN’s however now offer a new dimension to locative mapping which is not just collective but facilitates real-time spatial collaboration and discussion (Southern & Speed 2009). In 2008 digital artists Jen Southern (the author of this paper) and Chris Speed began experimenting with location aware social networking software. Producing a speculative iphone app ‘comob’ they explored social and spatial relationships between people in motion. In five workshops and two performances participant interaction was observed and an emerging sense of co-mobility identified. Extending ideas of co-location (Licoppe 2009) and proximity (Boden & Molotch, 1994) co-mobility occurs specifically between mobile individuals and groups at a distance where specific location is integral to the interaction. Observations of interactions using comob suggest that features of co-mobilty include a sense of virtual proximity (Urry, 2002) that is typified by a combination of absence and presence; speculation on the movements of others that facilitates reflection on current perceptions of place; co-location that is co-ordinated on the move and the capacity for analysis of spatial movement in situ. These features are further explored by looking back at practices such as sending postcards and air-traffic control to identify existing phenomenon that shape an emerging experience of co-mobility.

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Contribution to Conference (Paper)
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Mobilities in Motion
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04 Jan 2013 10:25
Last Modified:
11 Sep 2023 11:53