Location Aware Technology and the Threat of Constant Connectivity

Location Aware Technology and the Threat of Constant Connectivity
Arts & Culture
Christine Huang
  • 25 july 2008

With location-aware applications and mobile devices becoming more mainstream, the issue of privacy grows. Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase offers an interesting perspective on the potential influence – and threat – of shared location awareness on personal space, social relations, and our culture as a whole. He discusses how the the breaking down of barriers between privacy, identity and geography mean more than just knowing where you are and what or who’s around you, but with it, a pervading loss of agency. He explains:

If I’m frank, one of the enjoyable aspects of that small bar around the corner is that I’m not going to bump into you. It’s not that I don’t like your company, I do. Honest. But it’s a space where I’m free, unencumbered by our shared history I feel just a little bit liberated. That emotion when I thought of you not being there was probably elation.

…Ten years ago we made a conscious effort to connect. Today, if you’re an urban dweller in a city like London, New York or like me, living here in Tokyo you probably make a conscious effort to disconnect. For many of you reading this fully disconnecting is no longer a viable option or at the very least a deeply discomforting one – so ingrained are communication technologies in our daily life.

..Now we’re moving with pin point precision into a world of shared location information. The global momentum of the mobile two-dot-oh social sharing services is on the cusp of kicking-in. For a short while my local small, happily anonymous bar in a desire to retain a degree of anonymity will probably have a ‘please turn off your location information’ sign. But it won’t make a difference – if the shared trajectories of me and my close friends doesn’t tell the tale; then that geo-tagged photo taken by your tech-unsavvy friend in the corner will.

…Any decision to opt out is not simply an issue of whether to opt out of the technology, but ultimately one of whether to opt out of society. The same goes for every technological advance from relying on modern cartography to carrying a mobile phone.

…In this time of rapid change – the one thing we don’t yet share is an acceptable notion of what is OK to share.

…But ultimately we are all only one or two compelling, highly social applications away from shared location information being indispensable. And as with connectivity – the smarter question probes what we are happy to share, with whom and in what context, and it is through the process of asking these questions that we get to debate re-evaluate and re-discover what’s important for ourselves and for the society in which we live.

Jan Chipcase’s Future Perfect: Glad to See You. Just Not Around Here

(essay originally published in New Media Age)

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