Crowd-Sourced Augmented Realities: Social Media and the Power of Digital Representation

Pre-publication version of a chapter by Matthew Zook, Mark Graham and  Andrew Boulton  in S. Mains, J. Cupples, and C. Lukinbeal. Mediated Geographies/Geographies of Media. Springer Science International Handbooks in Human Geography, (Forthcoming): “A key and distinguishing feature of society today is that its increasingly documented by crowd-sourced social media discourse about public experiences. Much of this social media content is geo-referenced and exists in layers of information draped over the physical world, invisible to the naked eye but accessible to range of digital (and often) mobile devices. When we access these information layers, they mediate the mundane practices of everyday life, (e.g., What or who is nearby? How do I move from point A to B) through the creation of augmented realities, i.e., unstable, context dependent representations of places brought temporary into being by combining the space of material and virtual experience.
These augmented realities, as particular representations of locations, places and events, are vigorously promoted or contested and thus become important spots in which power is exercised, much in the same way that maps have long had power to reinforce or challenge the status quo. However, because many of the processes and practices behind the creation of augmented realities are unseen, its power is often overlooked in the process of representation or place-making. This paper highlights the points at which power acts and demonstrate that all representations of place – including augmented realities derived from social media – are products of and productive of, social relationships and associated power relations.”
Building upon a case study of Abbottabad, Pakistan after the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound we construct a four-part typology of the power relations emerging from social practices that enact augmented realities. These include: Distributed power, the complex and socially/spatially distributed authorship of user-generated geospatial content; Communication power, the ways in which particular representations gain prominence; language is a particularly key variable; Code power, the autonomy of software code to regulate actions, or mediate content, or ordering representations in particular ways; and Timeless power, the ways in which digital representations of place reconfigure temporal relationships, particularly sequence and duration, between people and events.