Navigating a world of increasingly invisible media2022-06-08
Have you ever felt frustrated with all the technology surrounding you? You are not alone. In his book Rethinking Communication Geographies, André Jansson, professor of Media and Communication Studies, has compiled his research on a subject that is relevant to our digital everyday lives.
The school must be notified about sick children. Travel plans must be made. The tax returns must be finished on time. Many of the tasks we face in our everyday lives are done via digital solutions these days, and not all of us are equally well prepared for the ocean of technology we are currently trying to navigate. Some people are constantly frustrated, while others keep up with technology and manage to fight off feelings of resignation. The book contains many quotes from group interviews and they paint a clear picture of frustration with modern technology.
“One aspect I focus on in my book is the logistics, says André Jansson. Digital media is very important for coordinating and organising our lives. Not least by means of various apps. This makes our everyday life tangled up in digital technology. In one of the chapters, I specifically examine audio streaming in the home. It can be fantastic to have access to an endless amount of music, but at the same time all of these intertwined systems of apps, speakers and playlists must be managed, synchronised and updated by the user to keep functioning.”
When André Jansson’s robotic lawn mower stopped working recently, the first suspect was the newly installed router in the home. It was the most logical solution. No one even considered the problem could be two disconnected cables. This is where we are currently at. When something is not working, we blame digitalisation.
“We have become so used to digital technology being the culprit when something is not functioning. In the case of our lawnmower it was a mix of several problems, but many people have neither the time nor the knowledge to deal with stuff like this. This is apparent in my interviews. It is about recognition. Many people are almost resigned when it comes to digital technology, and they feel that they often need help from other family members, for example.”
What is the chapter titled “Geomedia as an environmental regime” about?
“This is where I lay much of the theoretical foundation. I try to describe what the characteristics of our current living environment are, as well what the characteristics of a medium. If different media previously were easily identified in our environments, with various units and technologies, this is a description of geography, environment and media as intertwined. This is geomedia.”
We live in a media environment where it is harder and harder to spot individual media. Public spaces, urban environments, people’s homes—the amount of sensors around us are constantly increasing. Not only do we report on things that happen via our platforms, data is also constantly being gathered automatically. Where we are, what we purchase and what we do.
“We exist in an intertwined media environment we cannot fully see. This is what I mean by environmental regime. It's a structure we have to face, as it places expectations and demands on us. You cannot disregard it or disconnect from it, without also distancing yourself socially. You are forced to face the geomedial existence.”
Things are moving fast. Will we ever catch up with technology and feel secure and comfortable with it?
“I don’t think so. Not completely. A critique I also try to articulate in the book is that many research publications on digitalisation describe the intertwining of media into our lives as something natural and almost automatic. But in reality, there is a lot of friction that causes things to not work properly. When technology is constantly moving forward, we as individuals have to put in work to make things work, without producing anything. Reaching the comfort zone requires effort. There is also a risk that new technologies don’t live up to expectations.”
These days, technological advancements are often cutting edge, in order to be a step ahead of the competition. The downside is that products are not always completely finished at launch. We need not look any further than the various platforms we use here at the university. Some of them may have been better before we started to use them.
“The sense of almost reaching the goal is always there. But at the same time, continual maintenance is always being performed. The bugs in the new systems must be constantly reported and then rectified in an upcoming update, for example. So no, I don’t think we’ll catch up. Of course, for those who take the time to learn and become experts, it is easier to take the next step. But not everyone has the means to do so, regardless of if the problem is a lack of interest, knowledge or resources.”
What made you write the book?
“I state in the preface that the aim of the book changed during the writing process. I have long had a geographical perspective on media research, and I wanted to write a kind of introductory book. This was the original idea. At the same time, I needed to compile a few projects I had been working on lately. Gradually, the idea of an introductory book changed into something more advanced. This suited me better. I could write the book thanks to an RJ Sabbatical. I have gathered materials from several different projects, and compiling research conducted over a longer period of time is the purpose of these sabbaticals.”
Did it turn out the way you wanted?
“Yes. I believe the book is both closure for the chapter of my career that started with geography of communication in 2005, as well as the start of something new. The logistical perspective became very prominent as I was writing the book. The idea of logistics became gradually more crucial. In that sense, the book is also a starting point for empirical studies I want to spend more time on in the future.”
Does the book contribute something new?
“Yes, I think so. Logistics and logistical media in media research haven’t focused on the everyday life and conditions of people before. Discussing logistical media in human geography in this manner, is also new.”
What is your next project?
“Karin Fast and I are starting a project this summer, about so-called “coworking spaces”. It’s a good example of how you can view a workplace designed to be an attractive environment and a destination for mobile people.”
- More about the research project
- Rethinking Communication Geographies: Geomedia, Digital Logistics and the Human Condition is published by Edward Elgar Publishing.
The book was made possible thanks to funding by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, via the RJ Sabbatical 2021 project support.