Seeing by the Starbucks: The Social Context of Mobile Maps and Users’ Geographic Knowledges
Keywords:wayfinding, navigation, smartphone, geographic vision, critical data studies, Google, mobile device, landmark
Locating places using maps on mobile devices is an increasingly common practice in modern life. Such maps, including Google Maps and Apple Maps, inform and shape users’ geographic understandings. Existing research finds that those who navigate with mobile devices tend to recall landmarks rather than more comprehensive forms of geographic knowledge. However, most of that research gives minimal consideration to social context. Utilizing a qualitative approach and drawing on critical work on vision, maps, and digital data, we explore the contextual, economic circumstances that partially shape the production of users’ geographic knowledge through their consumption of mobile device maps. In a focus group experiment, mobile device map users frequently referred to a particular business, a Starbucks location, in a location-finding task. This indicates that social, contextual considerations are important to informing geographic knowledges; the map application providers’ business strategies, chiefly advertising, lead to an emphasis on business-type points of interest in mobile maps, which could shape users’ subsequent geographic knowledges. This has implications not only for mobile device use, but how technology companies’ maps potentially affect everyday understandings of the world around us.
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