The original work by Adriana de Souza e Silva and Jordan Frith
What follows are representative passages from the original de Souza e Silva & Frith (2013) work that detail a few of the major points addressed in the interpretation presented below by Michael Sean Gallagher. Please note that the bolded headers are Michael's and do not appear in the original work.
Location as Relational Identity; Places are not containers?
“Locations, however, are not isolated entities. They are relational, and their meaning derives from their ability to develop connections to other locations. Consequently, locations will be understood differently depending on which other locations are perceived as connected to them.”
...While geographical features play a role in the construction of spatial identity, places do not construct their identity on their own. Their identities are instead constructed by people. People attribute meanings to places. These meanings are created by the elements that exist in a place, such as physical elements (e.g., buildings, public plazas, streets), social elements (e.g., the people who live in them), cultural elements (e.g., historical traditions, folklore, etc.), and the various ways that these categories converge. The interaction of these elements is what gives spaces their identity. As Henri Lefebvre argued, spaces are not merely containers. They are constructed by social relationships, but those social relationships are not limited to the people who live in a specific place; instead, places are also influenced by other people who live elsewhere. With globalization and the increasing adoption of communication technologies, these external influences become more obvious. Throughout most of history, contact with what was not physically close was very limited. Consequently, the identity of a place was mostly developed in relation to its internal elements. However, the development of communication and transportation technologies, such as the train and the telegraph, enabled connections with distant people and places. This connection contributed to the development of relational identities, that is, a way of seeing one place in contrast to other different (and similar) places."
The Generalized Elsewhere?
"But even with the development of new transportation and communication technologies in the nineteenth century, many of the world’s cities and settlements were not reachable by the railway or the telegraph. Thus, for most of the world, local identities were still mostly rooted in local practices. In the twentieth century, however, newly developed electronic media, such as the radio and television brought distant actors into people’s private homes, contributing to a much greater awareness of what was happening outside the local village or community. As a consequence, people gained awareness of distant places. Rather than just erasing local cultures and local identities, as many globalization scholars suggested, Joshua Meyrowitz observed that these mass communication media actually helped people foster greater emotional attachments to places, through what he calls the “generalized elsewhere.” According to Meyrowitz, the generalized elsewhere works as a mirror in which to view and judge our localities. The generalized elsewhere makes us more aware of our local spaces because they acquire relationality. The comparison to other localities adds meaning to places."
Importance of Location Redefined?
"….The idea that physical location and mobility would become unimportant as we spend more time online, however, has more or less been proven false. People still drive and take public transportation to work, they still frequent cafes and restaurants and meet face-to-face, and they actually engage in corporeal travel at unprecedented rates. 12 With the development of new interfaces to connect to the Internet in the first decade of the twenty-first century, such as mobile, location-aware technologies and mapping software, it became clear that physical location has always been important to the construction of people’s identities and to the development of sociability.”
De Souza e Silva, A., & Frith, J. (2013). Re-narrating the city through the presentation of location. The Mobile Story: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies, London, NY: Routledge.
Commentary on the remix by Michael Sean Gallagher
The mobile learning community, while growing, is rather intimate. You tend to gravitate towards those that present parallels to your own work, which in my case is mobile learning as it applies to the humanities (particularly history and literature), urban space, and multimodality. So it was natural enough for me to gravitate towards this chapter in an excellent book that helped me to articulate a lot of my research inquiries away from merely “hey, mobile learning is different!” and into something more tangible.
My rationale for presenting the work in this way, as layers of related though disparate activity, emerges from the nature of urban space itself. It is haunted with the past (hence the layers of public domain stock footage from Asian metropolises mostly from the 1930s and 1940s), rich with parallel activity (hence the rows of apartment blocks from Hong Kong), and decipherable only as a set of interrelated streams of activity (the audio I recorded from Seoul layered into the background is incongruous with the activity taking place visually, yet in concert it almost sounds like the expected din of Asian urban space. The traffic in front of the apartment blocks might be seen to represent that is what perceived but not fully seen, one of the million data points that we routinely discard from our urban existence. All of this builds from one of the points of the chapter, namely that:
“locations, however, are not isolated entities. They are relational, and their meaning derives from their ability to develop connections to other locations. Consequently, locations will be understood differently depending on which other locations are perceived as connected to them.”
This, as a long-time expat in Asia, has significance beyond the cognitive elements of it. As an expat, you are often hyper-aware of your environments, you develop relational connections between these elements askew from those created by those who have lived their lives there. You associate freely from memories and with media seemingly at odds with these presented: each window from the apartment block telling a different story and each story reminding me of something other than an Asian metropolis. Leading to the second point of the chapter, that of the “generalized elsewhere”, the idea that mobile and online connectivity creates hybrid space, ones often unmoored from physical space. As the authors state:
“people could live in places without fully integrating into place-defined communities because they could create their own “community” in an online chat or virtual world...As a consequence, people gained awareness of distant places. Rather than just erasing local cultures and local identities, as many globalization scholars suggested, Joshua Meyrowitz observed that these mass communication media actually helped people foster greater emotional attachments to places, through what he calls the “generalized elsewhere.” According to Meyrowitz, the generalized elsewhere works as a mirror in which to view and judge our localities. The generalized elsewhere makes us more aware of our local spaces because they acquire relationality.”
The relationality I applied to my urban Asian spaces, however incongruous, made them my generalized somewhere.
Responses to the remix