Mobile Interface Theory
eBook - ePub

Mobile Interface Theory

Embodied Space and Locative Media

Jason Farman

  1. 200 páginas
  2. English
  3. ePUB (apto para móviles)
  4. Disponible en iOS y Android
eBook - ePub

Mobile Interface Theory

Embodied Space and Locative Media

Jason Farman

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Información del libro

In this updated second edition, Jason Farman offers a groundbreaking look at how location-aware mobile technologies are radically shifting our sense of identity, community, and place-making practices. Mobile Interface Theory is a foundational book in mobile media studies, with the first edition winning the Book of the Year Award from the Association of Internet Researchers. It explores a range of mobile media practices from interface design to maps, AR/VR, mobile games, performances that use mobile devices, and mobile storytelling projects. Throughout, Farman provides readers with a rich theoretical framework to understand the ever-transforming landscape of mobile media and how they shape our bodily practices in the spaces we move through. This fully updated second edition features updated examples throughout, reflecting the shifts in mobile technology.

This is the ideal text for those studying mobile media, social media, digital media, and mobile storytelling.

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Growing up in suburban Los Angeles, I always had a unique embodied relationship to space and how space affected relationships. Los Angeles has a unique way of communicating space to its residents. For me, as with many of those living in the area, relationships were always connected through the roads and highways, thus dependent on automobile travel. As a child, my father would pick me up and drive me an hour to his house in Orange County to spend weekends with him. In fact, any social connection was initiated by getting into the car and traveling. Many years later, as I was working on my PhD at UCLA, I began to translate these spatial gaps to the world of online social networking. As online social networking began to flourish in 2003, I began to connect with people globally and find some very fruitful relationships that simply extended the distance paradigm I grew up with even further. Though there was a significant amount of space between my friends and me, the means to connect was simply an altered form of getting behind the wheel and driving. Through technology, the spatial gap that existed in every relationship I had known was easily traversed. Connecting globally felt natural.
This mode of connection dramatically changed for me once I began working as a professor in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It was here that I obtained my first smartphone and began to realize that connecting globally took a back seat to connecting to those in my immediate vicinity. Though I was still utilizing my home computer to connect to friends and colleagues across vast distances, I found that I was far more eager to take advantage of proximity when connecting. The early applications for my phone that I found most compelling were the ones that helped me locate friends nearby. I was intrigued by the ability to know if friends or colleagues were at the same coffee shop to which I was about to go. By simply loading a smartphone application, I could decide on which venues I would visit that evening. Entering into pervasive computing culture, spatial proximity became the primary tenet for my digital interactions.
As I began to explore the emerging uses of my mobile device, I also began to realize a major shift that was taking place culturally: the spatiality of the internet was moving away from the desktop computer and moving out onto the streets. Computing was becoming pervasive. Though I have always felt and argued that connecting with the computer was an extremely embodied experience, the spatiality of the internet—which has been theorized since the early 1980s, when William Gibson invoked the term “cyberspace”—is being inhabited in a significantly different way with the advent of mobile technologies. With mobile phones that connect to the internet or GPS receivers that are utilized for a wide array of purposes, locating one’s self simultaneously in digital space and in material space has become an everyday action for many people. With this alteration of embodied space, the cultural objects we are producing and interacting with are also being transformed.
Spatial relationships have always determined the way we understand ourselves; our place in the larger context; and the cultural meanings infused into gestures, objects, and sign systems. Spatial proximity and how we locate ourselves in space affect every aspect of the cultural objects we create and interact with. As Nick Kaye writes in the introduction to his book Site-Specific Art: Performance, Place and Documentation, “If one accepts the proposition that the meanings of utterances, actions and events are affected by their ‘local position’, by the situation of which they are a part, then a work of art, too, will be defined in relation to its place and position.”1 Throughout this book, I will look at the relationship between the ways we understand our bodies in emerging pervasive computing spaces and how our conceptions of embodied space are informed by works of art including location-based games, performance, and narratives.
My work in this chapter serves as the theoretical foundation that I will build upon in each chapter that follows. In order to understand the ways that embodied space is affected by the practices of mobile media, I feel it is essential to develop a solid theoretical framework that informs my study of emerging mobile practices. By spending the entirety of this chapter focusing on my definition of “embodiment,” I hope that my theories of a “sensory-inscribed” body help illuminate what it means for us to experience moments like seeing our location mapped on a mobile device, interacting with others via locative social media, playing games that change our perceptions of a city, experiencing site-specific art and performance on a mobile device, and interacting with spatial histories and narratives with mobile technologies. Hopefully, my approach to embodiment will also find resonance with those outside the field of mobile media, since the theorization of embodied space applies across areas of interest, disciplines, and historical eras. Though I find mobile media to be a particularly useful object of study that informs a reading of embodied space, I think the theoretical approach taken here can find significant portability well beyond the scope of this work.
My theoretical approach does not consider embodiment to be separate from the production of the spaces we inhabit. In fact, even the phrase “to inhabit space” is misleading, since it implies a space that bodies enter and fill. Instead, space is constructed simultaneously with our sense of embodiment. The two are indelibly linked, never to be separated. This conception of embodied space harks back to the famous work by Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, in which he writes, “Each living body is space and has space: it produces itself in space and it also produces that space.”2 He goes on to argue throughout his work that space cannot be considered a container that is filled; instead, “space is not a thing, but rather a set of relations between things (objects and products)” and that “space is neither a ‘subject’ nor an ‘object’ but rather a social reality—that is to say, a set of relations and forms.”3 This idea tends to go against the everyday ways that we speak about space. We often discuss spaces as places we enter, inhabit, move through, and leave. They are there before we arrive, and they’ll be there after we leave. However, as I will argue throughout this book, space needs to be considered as something that is produced through use. It exists as we interact with it—and those interactions dramatically change the essential character of space. Similarly, if relational space cannot be considered a container, neither can the body be something we simply inhabit. Again, the ways that we talk about the body often shape the ways we practice embodiment. As N. Katherine Hayles notes, the term “the body” assumes a universalized body, but there are many types of bodies in digital space and various modes of embodiment. She writes in her article “Flesh and Metal: Reconfiguring the Mindbody in Virtual Environments,”
“The body” generalizes from a group of samples and in this sense always misses someone’s particular body, which necessarily departs in greater or lesser measure from the culturally constructed norm. At the other end of the spectrum lie our experiences of embodiment. While these experiences are also culturally constructed, they are not entirely so, for they emerge from the complex interactions between conscious mind and the physiological structures that are the result of millennia of biological evolution.4
Thus, spaces and bodies are co-constitutive, as they produce one another, and this production must be theorized with cultural and physiological specificity. We don’t all have the same bodies, nor do we have the same experience of embodiment/ embodied space.
As we begin to define what it means to be “embodied,” we must simultaneously ask how bodies are enacted in and with space. Many recent theorists point toward a distinction between space and place, the former being an unacted, purely theoretical site, and the latter being the “phenomenal particularization of ‘being-in-the-world,’ ” as Edward Casey notes.5 Place is thus an embodied and practiced space as opposed to the purely abstract notion of “space” as that which is an unpracticed place. We might point to the distinction, for example, between a house and a home: A house can be considered an unpracticed site, and the home is a constructed place that takes on specific meanings. Casey goes on to note: “It is a striking fact, on which we do not often enough reflect, that while we can certainly conceive of entirely empty spaces and times—radical vacua in which no bodies (in space) or events (in time) exist—such spatio-temporal voids are themselves placelike insofar as they could be, in principle, occupied by bodies and events.”6 Thus, while the notion of a house as an “empty site that has not yet taken up specific meaning through practice” can exist theoretically, such a conception is already contradictory since a house could be a home. It is a site where the imagination works to transform the empty site into one filled with meaning and possible significance. While it is not my intention in this book to retrace the debates over the distinctions between space and place, it is important to note that any abstract understanding of space as that which can exist before or without bodies is ultimately pure theorization that is never actualized. Since bodies produce spaces and spaces produces bodies, unpracticed sites and uninhabited spaces must remain purely theoretical concepts. Since embodiment is always cocreated alongside space, it must be noted, embodiment is always site-specific to the particular cultures, histories, and relationships that serve as catalysts to such production. One such historical catalyst is the emergence of mobile computing and the ways it has transformed embodied space in the digital age.
Since mobile technologies have reinvigorated our fascination with location and place, an understanding of this emerging space must include a nuanced perspective of embodiment. Drawing primarily from the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and the ways in which his approach intersects and informs the poststructuralist methodologies of Jacques Derrida, I am arguing for an approach to embodiment that is developed out of these two seemingly disparate fields. Out of a detailed exploration of the ways that phenomenology and poststructuralism intersect, I develop a theory of the “sensory-inscribed” body that becomes a lens for all of our interactions with mobile interfaces. For those familiar with the historical relationship and tension between phenomenology and poststructuralism, to find a way of blending the two might seem to do a grave disservice to the integrity and constitution of each methodology. Pulling pieces out of a particular theory without recognizing the role that each piece plays in the larger formation of the theory could likely cause subsequent theories to topple. However, at this point in history, we have come to a place where such a reworking of these theories has become not only important but also essential to the ways we conceive of embodied space and identity in a digital world.

Defining Embodiment for a Mobile Era

To begin to locate embodiment in the mobile media era as that which is “sensory-inscribed,” I want to reiterate the notion that embodiment is always a spatial practice. Trying to imagine a body without space is impossible. Bodies always take up space and, as Lefebvre argued, are spatial in and of themselves. Regardless, throughout the history of technology, we have attempted to ...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title
  4. Copyright
  5. Dedication
  6. Contents
  7. List of Figures
  8. Preface to the Second Edition
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. Introduction: The Pathways of Locative Media
  11. 1 Embodiment and the Mobile Interface
  12. 2 Mobile Representations of Space
  13. 3 Locative Interfaces and Social Media
  14. 4 The Ethics of Immersion in Locative Games
  15. 5 Performances of Asynchronous Time
  16. 6 Site-Specific Storytelling and Reading Interfaces
  17. Conclusion: Movement/Progress/Obsolescence: On the Politics of Mobility
  18. Bibliography
  19. Index
Estilos de citas para Mobile Interface Theory

APA 6 Citation

Farman, J. (2020). Mobile Interface Theory (2nd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)

Chicago Citation

Farman, Jason. (2020) 2020. Mobile Interface Theory. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis.

Harvard Citation

Farman, J. (2020) Mobile Interface Theory. 2nd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Farman, Jason. Mobile Interface Theory. 2nd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2020. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.