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Mobile technology is increasingly ever-present in the so-called digital world, and many aspects of everyday life are now inextricably bound to the uses of mobile devices. These pocket-sized digital hubs are at the centre of a wealth of everyday activities: communication, way finding, shopping, fact checking, game and work, just to name but a few common uses which have received scholarly attention in recent years. As a result of the increasing influence of these devices, the very nature of place must be rethought. We need to reconceptualise place less as a mere physical location, and more as a complex amalgam of material features and digital layers through which it is augmented via the interfaces of mobile technology.
In Mobile Technology and Place, an edited collection in the Routledge’s Studies in New Media and Cyberculture series, Rowan Wilken and Gerard Goggin outline and explore how place is conceptualised in a world increasingly influenced by mobile technology. Including chapters written by scholars from a wealth of social and cultural fields, the book leads the way in an emerging research area. It would be no surprise to see this book becoming an introductory classic in the field in the years to come. Indeed, the volume combines strong theoretical claims with weighty empirical analysis in an experimental and yet clear structure, which carefully and concisely guides the reader through the underlying thesis.
The collection itself is split into four parts. All together, these cover a wide sweep of terrain. In the first part, Theorizing Place and Mobiles, Rowan Wilken and Gerard Goggin, along with Jeff Malpas and Richard Ek introduce their theoretical approach to place. In doing so, they draw upon well-known conceptualisations of place in terms of its common social meanings, phenomenological underpinnings, unbounded aesthetics, inherently mobile understandings, and relational tendencies. Although this is a comprehensive introduction to ideas of place, mobility and technology, perhaps more could have been said here, particularly in terms of place as conceptualised as an assemblage, its physical characteristics, sensuous experiences and temporality (something which the authors stay relatively clear from). Nevertheless, this is a vast topic and the authors do admit that “the concept of place is notoriously complex and fraught”. This first part of the book attends well to the key aspects of place whilst also keeping a keen eye on mobile technology throughout. This is seldom achieved elsewhere, and thus the reader never wanders too far from the focus of the book. Overall this first section provides a sturdy foundation on which the remaining three empirically driven sections sit comfortably.
In Part II, Media, Publics, and Place-Making, Christian Licoppe and Yoriko Inada, Eric Gordan and Andriana De Souza E Silva, and Caroline Bassett all submit empirically-led chapters which explore the hybridity of place in a world increasingly affected by mobile technology. At the core of these chapters is the notion that place is increasingly constituted by the relational properties of the physical, the social and the dynamic digital overlays of “locative-media” which can be revealed via the interfaces of mobile technology, namely the smartphone. Included in this section is Gordon and De Souza E Silva’s “Net Locality” (see Gordon and De Souza E Silva, 2011). The section effectively conceptualises the complex relations occurring as place unfolds in a digital world. Whereas notions of hybridity, in-betweenness, augmentation and mediation have been explored extensively (and perhaps more critically) elsewhere in regards to digital technology, this part of the book usefully explores these concepts with regards to the specifics of mobile technology.
Part III turns to Urbanity, Rurality, and the Scene of Mobiles. Here Chris Gibson et al., Larissa Hjorth, and Iain Sutherland contribute further empirical case studies which attend to the fundamentally geographical aspects of mobile technology and place. These chapters attempt to outline the localised meanings behind the constitution of technology and place in three specific locales, namely Darwin, Shanghai and Barcelona. Throughout these chapters the authors engage critically with on-going debates on the constitution of place as something that is subjective and specific. Although these arguments have been well-trodden across a variety of disciplines, the chapters’ specific focus on mobile technology adds a fresh dimension to such debates.
Part IV, Bodies, Screens, and Relations of Place, the final part of the book, is perhaps the most insightful and thought-provoking. It provides engaging contributions in terms of how the book’s central theme – that mobile technology and place are increasingly co-constituted – could be attributed to the broader arguments about technology, bodies, politics and media interfaces in relation to what it means to be human in a world increasingly inhabited by digital technology. This is the section of the book that will be likely to have the broadest appeal. In relatively little space, its authors, Edward Casey, Ingrid Richardson and Rowan Wilken, and Gerrard Goggin, produce three clear arguments which attempt to fit mobile technology specifically into these broader remits of academic attention. Suitably provocative, these arguments provide a fitting, and yet, from my point of view, not necessarily satisfactory conclusion to the book. The field of technology and society studies is at times too broad, with far too many constituent parts that to make solid conclusions from it would be problematic. It is therefore by no means the fault of the authors that the reader wants something more philosophically concrete by the final chapter. This final part nonetheless exhibits the gravitas the reader perhaps expects and offers some thoughtful responses to the important questions posed around the subject of being and technology.
Undoubtedly some readers will remain sceptical about the long-term relevance of such a book in a field which is quickly developing both in terms of its breadth across disciplines and in terms of the subject matter itself—mobile technology. But there will always be critics, especially of those aiming to clarify and cement the crucial moments in rapidly developing fields of research. Mobile Technology and Place is just one such attempt at clarifying current social, cultural and philosophical understandings of our increasingly mobile-driven world. The book must be therefore commended, not only for its foundational appeal but also for its academic reach and its thorough account of issues that continue to be central in popular discourse.