Tag Archives: Geo-location

Technology and magic

Arthur C. Clarke famously said that

There are already many technologies that seem like magic to us. “Magical” was the exact word used by a colleague’s wife when he showed her Blippar, an app that triggers an augmented reality ad on your phone when you points it camera at the advertiser’s logo.

She couldn’t believe that something physical – like the label on a jar of Marmite – could cause something to happen digitally on my colleague’s phone. She actually accused him of playing a trick!

But the connection between physical things and the digital world is, I think, going to become stronger and more obvious over the next few years.

There are two reasons for this.

1. Intermediary devices (like phones) are linking physical things to the internet

Blippar is one example; another is Google Goggles, which enables a photo of anything you see to trigger a Google image search. Both provide a bridge between physical things and the internet.

2. New physical things are being created that use an internet connection to do useful or interesting things

This has been described as the internet of/with things. For example, a wristband that tracks your physical activity and sleep patterns, and stores the data online so that you can monitor and learn from it. Or, more simply, a little gizmo that sits in your pot plant and sends you a message when the soil needs watering.

When objects are connected to the internet, they are also connected to one another.

I suspect that this will mean a change in the way we see the physical world.

The things we see around us will become increasingly networked, and less a set of discrete objects that exist in isolation.

The network that is growing around us seamlessly connects the physical world with the digital world. The connections between the two will become more commonplace, and there may well be a point at which we expect those connections to exist and place less value on certain ‘dumb’ objects.

I hope that doesn’t take too much of the magic out of things.


Thanks to Paul Skeldon (and his wife!) for the story about Blippar.

Geo-located email

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.

You gotta get on the bus / And cause no fuss

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.

Larden Road - my once and former 'hood

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.

Askew Road

Sadly no pints at The Eagle – the meeting takes place in The Greyhound, which is on Becklow Road behind the Princess Victoria. Never really

Third Avenue

liked that place – should have been nice as it looked great on the inside, but I always found

Bromyard Avenue

it either too quiet or too stuffy.

Larden Road!

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

Steyne Road

reference. Anyway, I doubt you

*Phone call

Twyford Avenue

from Emma!*

know this part

Birch Grove

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

Hanger Lane



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