Earlier this evening I was writing an email to a friend. As I started writing it struck me that, for the first time in ages, I was back on a bus route that he and I had travelled many times together.
As the bus pulled over to pick me up, I realised that simply telling my friend that I was on back on that old bus route was a pretty poor way of reminiscing about it. I wanted to try to conjure something of the experience.
The experience was connected to a particular geographical location (Uxbridge Road in Shepherds Bush, west London), and a familiar physical context (the 207 bus). But the medium I was using (email) does not provide a built-in way of conveying anything about the location or the context in which it is created.
That’s because you can write an email pretty much anywhere – it’s not usually geo-located. And most of the time that doesn’t matter.
But I thought it might be interesting to try to write an email that was somehow geo-located – an email that was in some way rooted in its geographical and physical context, and that wouldn’t be the same if it was written anywhere else.
I’ve copied the email below, slightly edited for the sake of delicacy. If you know the area, you’ll see that I started out in Shepherds Bush, then after a short while I travelled past Larden Road (where he and I used to live), and then on into the badlands of Acton proper.
I tried to create a sense of the changing context in which I was writing by inserting the names of the bus stops we passed into the email, at whatever point the bus reached them. The result is a bit odd.
Haha, yes – the total could actually amount to days I should think. I’m at Wormholt Road – and here comes the 207 right now for the trip home…
… on the bus now! If you like I can live-blog the journey home.
Sadly no pints at The Eagle – the meeting takes place in The Greyhound, which is on Becklow Road behind the Princess Victoria. Never really
liked that place – should have been nice as it looked great on the inside, but I always found
it either too quiet or too stuffy.
The Greyhound only opens for events; a shame as it’s nicely done out (like a less hipsterish Defectors), but the location is not ideal –
Acton Central Station
tucked away well off the main road and in the middle of a couple of estates. Apparently
Acton Old Town Hall
there is a bit of a post-event booze-up, but I’ve never yet been invited!
As for your friend, perhaps
Acton Market Place
if you spelt the surname correctly you would have got on better… Chowdery, for future
reference. Anyway, I doubt you
know this part
of the 207’s
Ealing Common station
route that well, so I’ll leave you to try to figure out what this rather impromptu post-post-something-modern-etc email actually means.
Take care mate
It’s all rather rudimentary, and a little banal, but I think there’s something interesting here.
The combination of (1) electronically-created content, which could have been made pretty much anywhere, and (2) a sense of place and of context, is an intriguing one. I’d like to explore it in other ways.
The best project I’ve ever heard of that works along those lines is called Kidmapped, in which Tim Wright retraced the route of the story in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Kidnapped. In the book, David Balfour is running for his life across the Highlands and the story unfolds day by day as the book progresses. In 2009, Tim spent two months walking part of the route that David took, and each day he recorded himself (or one of those kind souls who joined him for part of the journey) reading the section of the book that was set along the part of the route he had just travelled.
To me that seems a pretty cool way of connecting something digital to the physical context in which it was created.
There’s a second cool thing there too, which is that Tim was both replicating the original story and simultaneously retelling it in a new way, not just by posting the audio online but also by supplementing it with photos, videos, and a daily-updated Google map tracking his progress.
That makes a nice feedback loop between the original story and the version Tim made, because although he is closely following the original story both verbally and physically, the readers’/listeners’ experiences of the original are being mediated by the modern means he is using to retell it.
Clearly, my bus stop email did not generate quite so much rich content (or, thankfully, a two-month journey!). But I did make a little Google map just now to track the locations I mentioned as I travelled westwards, and that’s where I’ll finish.
View Geo-located email – 207 bus in a larger map