Week 10: Assignment 2 idea

The government guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed almost everything about our lives. Staying inside our homes has altered the way we experience the space around us, and the nature of the space between us and other people. Our ability to be mobile, encouraged by the growing technology of smart-enabled devices, has ended abruptly and so how we use these features has also made an about-turn.

Many of the readings for the literature review explore and make judgements of how these devices enable us to interact with the spaces and infrastructure outside of our homes. Applications such as Actionbound, bus and transport apps, Pokémon GO! – all feature in the changing landscapes that are Smart Cities, changing the way we experience the space around us, increasing our mobility as people and even how, as consumers and citizens, we interact with businesses, corporations and local councils.

During the ‘lockdown’, applications such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp and House Party have increased in popularity as people are relying on internet and telecom connected devices and saved contacts to interact with those outside of the household.

To focus this assignment, I am going to interview some users of the House Party app, as it has seen a dramatic rise in use. I am using it instead of Zoom as I want to focus on socialising outside of work rather than working from home. I want to ask:

  1. Are there certain features about the app which makes it preferable to other video calling apps?

This question aims to explore the following:

  • How the user interface is different from other video calling apps
  • How the app is designed to foster activities beyond video calls
  • How the app feels to use, and how this changes how the user feels

There will also be a short semiotic and linguistic analysis of the app’s user interface to explore these concepts further.

  1. Do you feel closer to your friends and family when using the app?

This question aims to explore the following:

  • How the feeling of space between users is increased or decreased when using the app
  • Does the user ‘notice’ that they are using an app, or does it blend seamlessly into their conversation
  • To what extent does the app mimic a ‘real’ house party?


The final point will also reference the UX and linguistics of the app itself, but these questions are designed to explore how effective the app is at closing that space between friends and family members.


  1. What do you feel about the immediate space around you[r body] when using the app?
  • This is a more direct question asking the user to think explicitly about the space around them, which they may not have done previously
  • Hopefully this will encourage the user to talk more about the difference between their mobility pre-lockdown and how it has changed during lockdown (although the question may be re-worded to address this, or another question added)

These questions will have overlapping answers and themes and I expect the questions to change before I ask them, they are not currently set in stone.

I want the conclusion to give some evidence as to how the themes explored previously in the literature review, about the expansion of our mobility, the alteration of space around us by digital technologies and ‘smart cities’ is being turned on its head by the measures implemented during the pandemic. I want to challenge some of the pre-conceived notions of concepts such as net locality and the embedding of technologies, but also expand on some of their uses in ways which writers and academics would previously not have considered.

Week 10: Sustainability, Mobility, Utopia and Sensing Cities

This week’s example comes from the news that Barclays boss Jes Staley is rethinking the “long term location strategy” of the bank’s offices. (BBC News, 2020)

Since the Government guidelines around social distancing, around 70,000 Barclays employees are working from home, doing jobs which were once undertaken in large communal buildings in London and other major cities. Staley told reporters that the bank was now being run by staff working “from their kitchens” which has led him to re-evaluate how much office space was really needed.

Staley said that “the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.”

Elliot and Urry, writing a decade ago, already began to foresee some of the large-scale societal changes that would occur from individuals using more digital technologies and increasing mobility in their daily lives. Their example is of Simone, who travels as part of her job, and is reliant on miniaturised internet-enabled devices to access information quickly and frequently when in different locations. (6: 2010) The thousands of people, including Barclays employees, who have set up themselves to work from home is an example of this mobility happening on a larger scale; with the change being from communal office to various employee households, rather than individuals moving across urban environments.

Elliot and Urry have made some predictions about what the future looks like based on our current lifestyles, many of which are like Simone’s. The first is Perpetual Motion, a “hyper” mobile society who are “always on” i.e. devices switched on, connected to the internet or location enabled. (141: 2010) Devices are used to manage personal finances, tenuous and distant social relationships and privately-owned companies are leading the way in an ever-expanding transport market. The line between ‘work’ and ‘not work’ is blurred, fluid, and stress has reached epidemic levels. Using the example of the Barclays employees, households are reliant on ubiquitous technologies embedded in every room for work, study, and play, with the line between work and play no longer blurred but completely saturated within one another. Staley’s phrase, “from their kitchens” provides unsettling imagery of families perpetually connected to their devices with none of the perks of international travel, or even seeing friends and family members.

Scenario three; Digital Networks, plays a bigger role then maybe the authors anticipated. (147: 2010) Transport is pre-defined and integrated into larger networks run by smart-enabled devices. In person meetings are rare, even discouraged, save for video conferencing which is sold on its similarity to human interaction. This third scenario plays out after carbon becomes scarce, and in return for a comfortable life, individuals’ privacy is traded and instead of personal freedom are sold security products. Elliot and Urry’s predictions are based on a future ravaged by global warming and a scarcity of natural resources but, given the hindsight we have now, is it possible to visualise a future shaped in this way by a global pandemic?


BBC News. ‘Barclays boss: Big offices may be a thing of the past’ <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52467965> accessed 29/04/2020

Elliot, A. & Urry, J. 2010. Mobile Lives Oxford, Routledge

Week 9: Drones

My case study is the incident in December 2018 of multiple drone sightings over the runway at Gatwick Airport, West Sussex, which grounded over 1,000 flights and disrupted over 140,000 passengers over a 2-day period. (BBC News, 2019)

Jensen (2016) presents the six dimensions of surveillance, two of which are particularly relevant to this case study. As the authorities are still unclear as to who was responsible for the incident (or the details have not been made publicly available) Dimension 5: Drone Surveillance is being excluded. More applicable is Dimension 2: Eyes on the Street (2016: 72).

This dimension is relevant as most of the drone sighting reports came from members of the public, over 100 of which were from “credible witnesses” (BBC News, 2019). There was no other line of enquiry, not even a photograph of the drones as they were small and moved quickly. Thus, in this instance, it is “engaged citizens” (2016: 72) who are providing the surveillance on behalf of the state, which is a more traditional form of surveillance but relevant as drones are still an unfamiliar sight in our landscape. Previously, surveillance technologies such as CCTV, relied on being attached to a building, object such as a car, or even a mobile phone carried by a person. Now, the “proximity-connectivity nexus” is being “stretched” (2016: 70) by technologies entering the empty spaces in our environment and, as we can see from emerging news bulletins, the public are yet to become familiar with the sight of drones in the air around them.

This leads me to the next of Jensen’s concepts, that of “volumetric thinking” (2016: 71) which is what architects and designers are leaning towards: “The drones in fact articulate the need for further three-dimensional understanding of cities, since many planners have perceived the city by and large on a two-dimensional surface.” (2016: 70). This includes planning and considering the space around the buildings and landscape, which, since December 2018, Gatwick Airport has enforced:

Gatwick Airport not has a flight restriction on drones 5km around the airport, and drones cannot be flown higher than 400ft in the air. Both are offences punishable by fines and up to 5 years in prison. This is an example of Jensen’s “volumetric thinking” in which “the voids and volumes in-between buildings become subject of a new special imagination.” (2016: 71) In my opinion, the next ten years will see an increase in this kind of spacial policing, around airports, public and private spaces and buildings. It will also see an increase in criminal and propriety legislation written into contracts about the use of drones in certain areas.


BBC News. ‘Gatwick Airport drone attack: Police have no lines of enquiry’ <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-49846450 > accessed 02/04/2020

Gatwick Airport. ‘Drone Safety’ <https://www.gatwickairport.com/business-community/aircraft-noise-airspace/airspace/drone-safety/ > accessed 02/04/2020

Jensen, O. (2016) ‘Drone city – power, design and aerial mobility in the age of “Smart Cities”’ Geographica Helvetica issue 71, pp 67-75.




Week 8: Digital Urban Gaming

I interviewed my friend, female, mid-20s who works in digital marketing and lives in Berlin. She did her undergraduate degree in Brighton and moved here from south Germany to do so, before moving to Berlin for work. Having experienced new urban environments, both in different countries and cities, I wondered if Pokémon GO! As a locative interaction was used to “promote discovery and use of spaces” or “a method of narrative feedback for players providing a voice for comment on their local area.” (Foth, Hudson-Smith, Gifford 21-22: 2016)

It was clear from her comments that, despite what the reading suggested, for my friend the use of the game was a “dichotomy” between ‘offline’ and ‘online’ worlds. (11: 2016) “I feel like I paid less attention to whatever was going on around me” she says, when describing her experience of playing Pokémon GO! “For me, once I got familiar with my space, I decided that I’m not going to pay attention to my surroundings too much. If it’s an area that I’m not familiar with, I would not use Pokémon GO!” This contradicts the theories that location-based games (or, at least, Pokémon GO!) can be used by players to become more engaged with their environment and gain ‘civic capital’. (15: 2016)

My friend’s experience falls more in line with Hjorth & Richardson (2017) suggesting that Pokémon GO! Is “manifestly ambient […] embedded in our daily routines.” (5: 2017) She says: “I guess a lot of it had to do with routine tasks, useless tasks, walking to the train station, walking to dinner […] that tend to be boring, but you make it fun.” Interestingly, my friend spoke not of her surroundings or her location but how she used the game “to bridge time, getting from A to B […] time went by faster when you played it, once you are familiar with the space.” The game was used more to change my friend’s experience with the time that it took to pass through urban space.

I revisit Foth, Hudson-Smith and Gifford who opened their paper: “top down deployment of these large and proprietary technology platforms may fail without a thorough understanding of the socio-cultural nuances of how people navigate and negotiate different urban environments.” (3: 2016) After speaking with my friend and knowing the success of Pokémon GO! It could be concluded that the makers of Pokémon GO! Have a thorough understanding of these nuances, but these nuances may, for the most part, have little to do with encouraging players to interact with and ‘experience’ their surroundings.


Foth, M. Hudson-Smith, A. Gifford, D. 2016. ‘Smart cities, social capital, and citizens at play: a critique and a way forward’ Research Handbook on Digital Transformations Edward Elgar Publishing ltd.

Hjorth, L. Richardson, I. 2017. ‘Pokémon Go: Mobile media play, place-making, and the digital wayfarer.’ Mobile Media & Communication Vol. 5 Issue 1, pp 3-14.

Week 6: City Dashboards and Open Data

Open Data is the idea that data, mostly data about people and the movement of capital, can and should be collected and shared among companies, groups and individuals for the benefit of wider society. Open Data is based on the belief that accurate, relevant and plentiful data should be easily available for a variety of uses. The Open Data Institute teaches ethical and innovative ways of collecting data, primarily for business use, but it is also encourages smaller groups and individuals to use the data pools also. To quote their website: “We work with companies and governments to build an open, trustworthy data ecosystem.”

I have chosen the Brighton & Hove Community Insight dashboard for my case study. Kitchin et al. argue that city dashboards, “rather than reflecting cities, actively frame and produce them.” (2015: 6) This can be problematic for open data sources. The Brighton & Hove Community Insight dashboard has little transparency on where the data comes from, and difficult to tell if it is updated monthly as it claims. There is no consistency to how the data is presented.

As you change the filters on the city dashboard, the way the data is presented varies wildly. Under ‘communities and environment’, the communities are described in a euphemistic and journalistic tone.

‘indices of deprivation’ clearly comes from a different data source, is more specific and scientific.

City dashboards, as Kitchin argues, are often “assumed to have no inherent politics or ulterior agenda and can be taken at face value.” (2015: 16) When open data is presented in the way it is here, inconsistent and journalistic in tone, the data can be interpreted as face value. Frameworks and actions taken by decision-makers are then re-produced, meaning the inconsistent, journalistic and ultimately biased data is re-produced and re-presented through other indicators, benchmarks and dashboards.

Symons (2016) explores how councils are collecting data on citizens through mobile apps, third party data, social media and low-cost sensors. One example is in Bristol City Council, who are collecting data on damp in houses through ‘Frog Boxes’.

a politically charged frog box

Although the reasoning given for increasing data collection across councils resonates with that of the Open Data Institute and cities who run a city dashboard, the results for the citizens themselves are framed differently. The data collected by ‘Frog Boxes’ aims to “help them solve identified issues of damp and challenge landlords to take action” which empowers residents with data and knowledge to assert their rights as tenants, but also to “give residents the ability and tools needed to fix problems themselves, rather than be reliant on the council.” (2016: 28)

The second point suggests a political ideology that moves responsibility of social housing maintenance away from the state and on to the individual, whatever their circumstance or the state of the building they are renting. The data collected by the council is, as Kitchin illustrates, “full of values and judgements shaped by a range of views and contexts.” (2015: 18)


Brighton & Hove City Council. ‘Brighton & Hove Community Insight’ <https://brighton-hove.communityinsight.org/map/> accessed 11/03/2020

Kitchin, R. Lauriault, T. & McArdle, G. 2015. ‘Knowing and governing cities through urban indicators, city benchmarking and real-time dashboards’ Regional Studies, Regional Science, vol 2 issue 1, pp 6-28.

Symons, T. 2016. Wise Council: Insights from the cutting-edge of data-driven local government. London, Local Government Association.

Week 5: Locative Narrative & Actionbound

Having lots of history around my area, I wanted to create a Bound that would allow the ‘reader’ to discover historical locations in Brighton.

Upon testing my Bound, I knew immediately that I had not included enough directional information or context to the locations I was giving. All that was available to me, as the test reader, was a directional arrow followed by a request to take a picture of where the arrow had taken me to. Not suitable for someone new wanting to learn about the area. This was the key constraint that I found when testing my Bound, a semantic constraint (Ritchie, 2014: 55) caused by not giving enough meaning to the space I was asking the player to move through. As Ritchie notes: “The events of the story influence the audience’s understanding of different spaces in which the story takes place.” (2014: 65) By not giving enough information on events of both Brighton’s history or the events of the Bound (i.e where the next location was) the Bound itself became a meaningless trek through unfamiliar space, and lost the narrative that the Bound was intended to create.

Not the best weather for it!

In my Bound I included links to local websites (The Argus, Brighton Museums) which gave more detailed information about the locations featured in the Bound. I also added some ‘Quiz’ questions about the locations such as names and dates, meaning the reader must engage with the online links alongside the buildings to continue the Bound. The reader moves through both digital and physical spaces simultaneously to push the narrative forward. This links to Ritchie’s ‘narrative value threshold’: “digital media has more interactivity, so the audience has to put more effort in to continue the narrative and complete the ‘story’.” (2014: 57) Actionbound is the perfect example of a transmedia narrative that requires a higher narrative value threshold.

13 Victoria Street, the final location in my Bound

By using Actionbound in any given location, it changes the nature of the space we experience. Actionbound is made from code, and when that code carries the reader through space, giving it new meaning – for example, an ordinary house changes into a site of social and political importance – that relationship between code and space, between media space and public space, becomes blurred. That space the reader has visited will forever be changed now, because of the overlay of code that has become embodied into the space via our locative media technologies. As Berry notes: “What we understand as media networks and media domains are not to be imagined simply as counter-forums to regulated public space or prosthetic adjuncts to what occurs in cities; rather, they are part of the material and experiential formation of what now constitutes life in public spaces.” (2013: 1)

Above is the QR code for my Actionbound, or you can access it here.

Berry, C., Harbord, J. & Moore, R. 2013. ‘Introduction’ Public space, media space.Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan pp 1-15.

Ritchie, J. 2014. ‘The Affordances and Constraints of Mobile Locative Narratives’ in The Mobile Story: Narrative Practices with Locative Technologies ed. Farman, J. Abingdon, Routledge.

Week 4: Code/Space

When reading this case study, it seems there are many similarities between the characteristics of shipping containers and their uses, and software / computational code.

Shipping containers Code
Mid-century technology, originally used for military purposes, re-purposed to expand globalisation, commerce, and convenience Mid-century technology, originally used for military purposes, re-purposed to expand globalisation, commerce, and convenience
Changes the landscape of the towns and cities which use them for businesses e.g. Oakland, California Changes the landscape of the towns and cities which use them for businesses e.g. Silicon Valley, California
“Scalable solutions” for modern problems “Scalable” as one of Manovich’s five key characteristics of digital media
Used across multiple public services including, but not limited to, military, government, energy, healthcare, sanitation, food production, internet access Used across multiple public services including, but not limited to, military, government, energy, healthcare, sanitation, food production, internet access
Also used to cater for expanding social landscape which has emerged from our relationship with the space around us e.g. pop-up retail and bars Also used to cater for expanding social landscape which has emerged from our relationship with the space around us e.g. location-based dating apps
Cheap, accessible infrastructure for growing economies e.g. mobile internet cafes Cheap, accessible infrastructure for growing economies e.g. cheap smart phones enabling citizens to organise protests


Both have them have made lasting, measurable impacts to how people experience the space around them. They have brought the global to our doorstep, made it cheap and accessible. (Kitchin, Dodge, 2011:8) Their presence in our everyday lives has become ubiquitous, as when discussing code, known as everyware. (2011:9) Kitchin and Dodge explore how close the relationship is between code and space: “[they are] produced through one another” (2011:17) to the extent that once cannot be experienced without the other. (2011:16) It would not be too much to come to similar conclusions about shipping containers. So much of what we see, touch, smell, own, taste, and by extension how we experience the space around us, has come from a shipping container, to the extent that our societies would be unrecognisable were it not for the technologies that shaped it.


Berry, C., Harbord, J. & Moore, R. 2013. ‘Introduction’ Public space, media space. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan pp 1-15.

Kitchin, R., Dodge, M. 2011. Code/space: Software in everyday life. Cambridge, MIT Press.

Morgan, S. ‘The plug and play city: how shipping containers are changing infrastructure’ The Conversation, 29th August 2016 < https://theconversation.com/the-plug-and-play-city-how-shipping-containers-are-changing-infrastructure-63125> accessed 24/02/2020.

Week 3: Data and the smart city: Critical perspectives

The case study being used to demonstrate Mosco’s perspectives on ‘smart cities’ was found in a Guardian article entitled “Inside Greece’s first smart city” and features the small Greek city of Trikala.

There were many technological additions to the city to make it “smart”: more efficient, accessible and economically beneficial for residents and the nation at large.

The first example is the e-complaint system where residents use an application or an online portal to tell the council about issues facing the city: for example, an overflowing bin or a broken streetlamp. Problems such as these were resolved in an average of eight days as opposed to a month, and the whole process of requesting services from the council was a lot more transparent. The many it was considered a success.

Trikala as a smart city has the aspects of the smart city as a ‘platform’ as illustrated by Mosco (2019: 34). When applied to the council, and by extension the way the city operates, it has all the features of an online platform: a brand, a business, an interface that can be engaged with and where citizens can access a service. The council has become in itself “a platform located in physical space that meets the needs of citizens” (2019: 35).

In many ways it contradicts what Cardullo, Di Feliciantonio, and Kitchin (2019) explore as the ethical and social implications of smart cities, and how smart cities borne into a neo-liberal political environment it can be a detriment to those from diverse or disadvantaged social backgrounds (i.e. not white, male, middle-class and tech savvy). The example of Trikala as a smart city shows great benefit for citizens which is another of Mosco’s is key characteristics of smart cities. The elderly in the city, although reluctant at first, now have access to smart housing which monitors their health, and children now have opportunities to work in the tech in the future which is optimistic for Greece’s struggling economy. Mosco believes that serving the best interests of citizens is what makes a city smart, as opposed to new technology for the sake of business expansion. (2019: 38)

However even the Trikala example is problematic as its funding includes private companies Sieben and Parkguru as well as offering up itself as a test site for local tech companies. Trikala, as an example, draws the fine line between having active, engaged citizens (Cardullo, Di Feliciantonio, Kitchin 2019:11) to “re-orientation of citizenship towards market principles.” (2019: 13).


Cardullo, P. & Di Feliciantonio, C. & Kitchin, R. 2019. ‘Citizenship, Justice and the Right to the Smart City’ in The Programmable City Issue 41, October 2018.

Mosco, V. 2019. ‘How to Think about Smart Cities’ The Smart City in a Digital World Bingley, Emerald Publishing.

Rainey, V. ‘Inside Greece’s first smart city: ‘Now you don’t need to know a politician to get something done’’ The Guardian, 4th September 2018 <https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/sep/04/trikala-greece-first-smart-city-dont-need-to-know-a-politician-to-get-something-done> accessed 17/02/2020.




Week 2: Smart Cities and Digital Culture

When discussing ‘Smart Cities’ there are many examples that can be used, applying Miller (2011) and Manovich (2001) means that these examples can be analysed from multiple angles.

The first case study is that of the Barcelona residents who used smart technology to measure the noise of the nightlife outside their homes which was preventing them from sleeping. They took the information to the council and proved that the noise levels were affecting their health. The council then made changes based on this data and the residents’ lives have noticeably improved. Manovich’s theories have been expanded in many directions and Miller has divided them into three more categories: technical processes, cultural forms, and immersive experiences. (2011: 14) In this case study the ‘partygoers’ were interacting with smart technologies, the sound recorders/measuring equipment unknowingly which contributed to the dataset which brought and end to their nightlife.

“Interactivity” is embedded in the structure of technology (Miller, 2011: 16) however the forms in which Miller and Manovich describe is different to this example: the context of the interactivity in this case was surveillance, which in itself meant that citizens are interacting with the technologies unknowingly. This is indicative of how many people interact with ‘smart’ technologies daily.

The second example was a smart meter that Thames Water launched to help people measure and reduce their water consumption. In advance of this launch a select group of people from certain London boroughs were given free water-saving devices to save money, alongside house visits and interviews to see how they engaged with the devices. The results showed three types of reaction: engagement, resistance, and indifference.

The use of the “database” is prevalent throughout this example. Databases are vast collections of information which create meaning when layered with other datasets. (Miller, 2011: 20) The use of database is so common in our technological interactions that Miller argues that it is “becoming a cultural form in of itself” (2011: 21). Firstly, there was information about household water usage and location. It was then layered over learnings and assumptions of social and cultural norms to create narratives around people’s water usage.

Interestingly resistance to the house visits and water saving tips came from marginalised people who had insecure living arrangements. Indifference came mostly from the richest people in the area who did not feel the need to save money on water. Many respondents felt that water consumption was a private matter and they were unwilling to share data or discuss the topic. This shows that data driven technologies based on self-reporting is still influenced by cultural norms outside of technology and stereotypes surrounding individual consumption.

These two examples demonstrate that in some areas of society there is still space needed to allow for cultural norms rather than just straightforward data collection. Also, in the Barcelona example, it shows that much of the data collected on us is done so covertly as we are interacting with devices every day unknowingly.


Miller, V. (2011) ‘Understanding Digital Culture’ Key Elements of Digital Media London, Sage publications. pp 12-21.

Taylor, L. (2018) ‘Smart Cities’ Thinking Allowed podcast 25th July 2018. BBC Sounds accessed 10/02/2020: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b0bbr3zn



Week 1 – Introduction to the module

Hi all,

For those who I have not yet met, my name is Meg and I am currently studying the MA part-time from Brighton. Previously I was working for an advertising agency in London specialising in TV, radio, cinema and outdoor media buying.

This is what led me to the Digital Cities module; part of selling outdoor media spaces to clients in an increasingly mobile and digitally-driven environment, is the development of ‘smart’ enabled physical locations. Encouraging individuals to connect and interact with physical spaces, and therefore advertisers, was always a strong pull for many clients. However, the end goal was always engagement with brands and, consequently, sales.

I am interested in learning more about how physical spaces are utilised for the purposes of social engagement as opposed to profit, how charities and other NGOs are using increasingly physical environments that can be accessed digitally to promote their social work and encourage citizens to engage with it.

I am also interested in how public transport utilises digital technologies to make information more accessible and people more informed of their services, and how this can change and shape commuters’ everyday experiences.

I look forward to having great discussions and working with you all.


Thank you