The Power of Locative Media and Site-Specific Storytelling

On the topic of GPS technology and art, the field that I find most interesting is locative media. Locative media uses the GPS location of a user’s phone or other technology to trigger location-specific events. These events can be of a historical or educational nature, or they can be used purely for entertainment. Events include, but are not limited to, sound collages, video clips, games, and augmented reality display.

When I first learned about locative media in a previous class, my first thought was that it would be a great educational tool. Interactivity within the classroom and including education outside of the classroom is very important in my opinion. Only very recently in human history have we expected our children to sit in one spot for 8 hours. In the past I spoke to a social worker when I was being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. There has been a lot of controversy of late about the possibility of over-prescribing ADHD medications in children. The social worker told me (and I am inclined to agree) that the increase in diagnosed cases of ADHD is caused not by pill-happy doctors and parents, but by the drastic move towards a sedentary lifestyle in our society in the last century and a half. She explained that our bodies and brains are built to hunt, gather, construct, and contend with unfriendly creatures, not sit at a desk looking at very close objects for extended periods. The transition to the information age has occurred faster than the human race can evolve to acclimate to it, so it’s a wonder that we expect not just children but also adults to maintain good health and achieve optimum performance with these restrictions.

What does all of this have to do with art and technology? I believe that locative media is an invaluable tool for education and health. One fine example is the Eyes on The Prize locative media project, which is a collaboration between KQED and Oakland High School.

Eyes on The Prize can be found here

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find pictures or videos of this project. In Eyes on The Prize the high school students discussed local social justice issues and explored the neighborhood to document these issues. Using GPS coordinates of these places, they created a digital story that can be accessed by visiting these places.

Aside from simply getting people up and moving, using and creating locative media engages them in a tangible way. Would you rather read about a Civil War battle in a text book, or take a tablet out to the site and experience narration, video reenactments, and interactive images that change as you move? I think most would choose the latter, and I believe such a technique would also improve memory recall by enlisting more of the body’s senses.

Locative media also exists in formats that are purely entertainment. My personal favorite is Ingress, an augmented reality game created by Google. In this game, exotic matter is seeping into our world from another dimension through portals. This exotic matter is believed to be able to affect and possibly control the human brain. Players choose a faction: The Enlightened, who believe that the matter should be explored and utilized in future technologies, or The Resistance, who attempt to defend the planet from doom caused by invading alien science. Players then physically go to these portals, which are located in real life monuments and structures, and use their phone to “hack” the portal for their faction.

This game and others like it encourage people to get outside, exercise, meet new people, and discover local landmarks.

I hope to one day add my input in the creation of soundtracks for locative media, and I am excited to see where this technology leads.

~ Gabi J.


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