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Ambient Geography

Posted on 4 April 2011

I’ve mentioned ambient awareness before. It’s a concept used by social scientists to describe the phenomena of obtaining peripheral knowledge. It’s usually used to the describe the process of sort of knowing what’s going on in people’s lives without necessarily engaging directly with them by getting information via things like Twitter, Facebook, etc.

I think there’s another form of ambient awarenss, though. It’s gaining peripheral knowledge about a physical place that you aren’t actually located in. I had a bout of that on Saturday night.

On Saturday, LCD Soundsystem were playing their last ever show at Madison Square Garden in New York. I’ve never been to NYC, and I’ve never seen LCD Soundsystem perform. I didn’t livestream the concert, but I still have a pretty good idea what went on. That’s because I was getting updates on how things were progressing throughout and after the show. On Facebook, my cousin had flown in from Dawson Creek to see one of his favourite bands. On Twitter, the comedian Aziz Anasari was there to see his friend play. And on Tumblr, multiple music bloggers I follow were posting pictures as it went. So even though I only popped online for about five minutes, I had a full slate of updates telling me what it was like to be in Madison Square Garden right at that moment. Again, I wasn’t looking for news updates on New York or concert reviews on the show. It was ambient knowledge.

A more long-going version of this geographical ambient awareness comes to me in the form of Prince George’s County. As a researcher for a current events show based in Prince George, BC, Canada, I’m often on the internet searching for documents, background, or updates from the city. But often, these searchers bring results to me from Prince George’s County, Maryland. I can tell you with 100% certainty that Prince George’s County is near Washington, D.C. even though I’ve not once sought out information about this place. I can also tell you that it’s in a tri-cities area and that in 2010 they had elections. There’s a strong African-American community, as well. Again, I’ve never done any research on this. All of this comes to me via peripheral knowledge picked up through Twitter updates, Foursquare locations, and Google news alerts I’ve received when searching “Prince George” (even when I use “-county”).

As long as I try to stay up-to-date on events in Prince George, BC, I’m going to have peripheral awareness of what’s going on in Prince George’s County, Washington. It’s ambient awareness, but awareness nonetheless.

Filed under: Prince George, social media, technology

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