Monday, September 13, 2010

Mapping Pre-fieldwork

Since returning from Poland and trying to figure out exactly what all this information I've collected (pictures, brochures, notes, etc.) means and what to do with it - in particular, how to turn it into a project with clear-cut questions and goals - one thing I've been really struck by is the role of place (and materiality more broadly) to memory, and the complex relationship of these to digital media. Media and globalization allow people to more easily and quickly communicate with other people, and learn about places, events, and cultural phenomena, around the world. On one hand, this contributes to a sense of "placelessness" and mobility - the idea that individuals can physically move around and yet remain connected to familiar people, information, and social networks, or the idea that, as with Second Life, one can actually create and build contexts for interaction, apart from existing physical-world contexts. (Coming of Age in Second Life is a good recent ethnography that deals with this topic fairly extensively.)
On the other, technology is also being used as another means of associating meaning with physical-world locations and objects. (I'm very aware of this every time I attempt to find my way around San Diego, which is quite difficult without the use of my GPS.) This is, of course, continuous with much older technologies - e.g., maps, walking routes - but digital media allows for more interactive content, such as associating text, photos, videos, etc. with locations on maps, or even in the physical world - such as with QR Codes. I'd seen these around, but hadn't really paid attention or known what they were until I saw them attached to some of the historical sites in Łódź.
With regard to some of my own data, I've been playing around with ZeeMaps, which is a Web site that lets you add your own info tags and media content to Google maps. Organizing photos and information by place - e.g., tagging particular cafes, street corners, etc. - rather than by name, description, or album, like I would if I were labeling them on, for instance, Facebook, has proved an interesting sort of experiment in thinking about how memory is organized via digital media. Here's an as-yet-unfinished map of some of the places I visited during my trip this summer, some with photos and brief descriptions.