Geomedia: Networked Cities and the Future of Public Space.

Author:Neal, Zachary
Position::Book review
 
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McQuire, Scott.

Geomedia: Networked Cities and the Future of Public Space. Maiden, MA: Polity, 2016. 213 p.

ISBN 978-0-7456-6075-1

In Geomedia: Networked Cities and the Future of Public Space, McQuire explores how the growth and near ubiquity of spatially linked technologies are (and have the potential to) transform the way public spaces are used and understood. More narrowly, as he puts it near the end of the book, he seeks to establish "that the intersection between geomedia and urban public space today offers a strategic site for [the] political task of reimagining communication, being-with-others, and practices of inhabitation" (p. 165). The core of this work is composed of three chapters that each illustrate the intersection between geomedia and urban public space in a specific context, which are bookended by more sweeping theoretical chapters that draw together the examples into a broader narrative.

The first illustration focuses on the project of digitally mapping the city, not from a traditional looking-down cartographic perspective, but from a more intimate and human looking-around perspective exemplified by Google's Street View. To the extent that Google aims to map the entire world from a street-level perspective, McQuire uses this example to unpack the supposed impossibility of, and warnings against, attempting to construct a 1:1 map of the world that Lewis Carroll, Jorge Luis Borges, and Umberto Eco have noted. While this use of geomedia may simply represent the next technological step in mapping the city, it also raises concerns about "the consequences of a private company...building proprietary databases...at a historical moment in which digital maps become a key to organizing and integrating multiple other data streams" (p. 85). He also suggests that, by eliminating the need to engage with strangers to ask directions, it exposes us to the risk of falling out of practice with being social. To be sure, these are important concerns and risks to consider, but they also sound suspiciously familiar, echoing the concerns and risks that past generations have raised about every technological innovation from the printing press, to the television.

The second illustration examines how new technologies, especially spatially embedded sensors, allow occupants of public spaces to interact with each other and especially with elements of the space itself. Here, McQuire uses a series of interactive, or at least reactive, art installations as...

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