Locative Technology and the Human Sense of Place

We study how people have navigated in nature, and our relationship with nature over time.

The human sense of place has come under pressure in the digital age. New technologies, such as GPS, have cut us off from nature. You have probably heard stories about car drivers that uncritically follow GPS directions, act against what should be their better judgment, following the voice of their GPS units into rivers, against one-way streets, along abandoned forest trails, even getting lost in the desert.

When the technological world around us gets smarter and more connected, do we get dumber?

As locative technologies seem to be changing what it means to be human, we are witnessing a technologically-driven moral panic quite similar to what historians of technology have argued develops around many new technologies. This project will evaluate contemporary claims about the impact of locative technologies on the human sense of place through historical research.

To do so, we seek to uncover the historical relationship between the usage of locative technologies such as maps, signs, compasses, trails, guide books, or GPS and the sense of place. The project provides empirical depth to contemporary debates about spatial literacy, the human ability to read and make sense of a landscape, through a deliberately historical perspective.

Using case studies from mountain trekking and car driving in the 19th and 20th centuries, the project aims to examine if there are fundamental differences between the ways in which digital and non-digital forms of locative technology influence the human sense of place. The project will develop and refine mediation, annotation, and delegation as analytical tools for understanding the role of locative technologies in the human relationship to the world.

Objectives

The primary objective of the project is to demonstrate how locative technologies are cultural and phenomenological bundles of relationships that can only be understood through deep empirical and historical studies.

This objective will be reached through the following sub-objectives:

  1. The theoretical objective is to develop a historically robust concept of spatial literacy.
  2. The methodological objective is to develop and refine mediation, annotation, and delegation as analytical tools for understanding the role of locative technologies in the human relationship to the world.
  3. The empirical objective is to evaluate if there are fundamental differences in how digital and non-digital forms of locative technology influence the sense of place and operate within gendered spheres.

Funding

The project is funded by the Research Council of Norway FRIPRO program, 2019-2023.  Finn Arne Jørgensen, professor of environmental history at University of Stavanger, leads the project. Karen Lykke Syse, associate professor at Center for Development and Environment at University of Oslo, is a partner on the project.

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