For thousands of years a person has had only one location. It was always where they were at the moment and it was impossible to argue any other possibility. However, as digital tools and environments become more heavily intertwined into our lives, even something as basic as one’s location gets challenging to define. There are more and more options to consider and what is “location” anyways… As you have probably noticed, apps are increasingly relying on your “location” as a feature and that has lead me to think about what location really means on a social and cultural level.
My physical location
Until there’s DNA copying and 3D printing of humans we can only be in one place at a time. This is pretty obvious and it’s defined by the physical location where I’m currently at (writing this on my sofa in my office). The things that surround me are all things I can relate to and these things are all connected to me - my dog sleeping besides me, the sofa, table, laptop, etc.
My digital location
Whenever I post or do something online I leave a digital trace. My phone knows exactly where in Sweden it is because of its integrated GPS and the fact it is pinging cell towers. I can fool it though… I have the ability to leave false digital footprints confusing the average user. I can remain on my sofa and post a picture on Instagram claiming I’m in Paris.
I know what you’re going to say. The actual footprint would still say Sweden, but let’s take this a step further. By using VPN services, it’s easy to trick a connection to think I’m somewhere else (like Paris) or making it unable for anyone to even pinpoint me at all. I can decide as a user how much detail I want to give about my whereabouts as my digital location can be anything from very specific (my office) to local (Lomma, Sweden) to even broader (Sweden) or simply undefined.
My virtual location
As VR improves and becomes a more common thing, our third possible location will emerge; where I think and feel I am.
VR aims to parallel reality and create a world that is both immersive and interactive. Users fully experience VR when they believe that the paradigm accurately simulates the real-world experience that it attempts to recreate. The sense of presence, or “being there” in VR, is facilitated through the use of technology such as head-mounted displays, gesture-sensing gloves, synthesized sounds, and vibrotactile platforms, which allow for the stimulation of multiple senses and active exploration of the virtual environment.
Location is relative to the observer. If I were to be in a VR livestream that places me in the Sydney Opera House, am I any less there than any other observer? If other VR users are there with me, from locations around the world, couldn’t we say we are there together?
Where am I?
When it comes down to it, our location is tied to our state of mind and our impression of self. While I may be sitting on my sofa in Lomma writing this post, I could take a teleconference call that instantly places me as a member of a meeting in a conference room in Stockholm… or New York. I am just as present there as I am on my sofa. I’m in two places at once. Place a VR headset on all of our heads and we can look, interact, and get genuine human experiences in completely constructed environments. We can literally be nowhere if we chose.
The key word here is experiences. What we need to do is be intentional about our designing of experiences that fulfill our very human need for positive, seamless interactions with others - whether that be visiting a city park, having a Facetime call with a grandchild, or exploring a virtual galaxy in a VR rig. We need to ask ourselves if location is becoming less relevant to our social society and what we do about it.
Does it really matter “where” we are in the end? What do you think?