Enacting digital information: User knowledge and behavior in app-mediated urban mobility

Authors: Peter Dunn*, University of Washington
Topics: Urban Geography, Social Theory, Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: digital geographies, smart city, mobility technology, knowledge politics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: President's Boardroom, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Everyday practices of getting around the city are increasingly entangled with digital technologies. At the heart of the relationship between software and urban mobilities is a link between knowledge and action, as information presented on a screen (the location of a bus, a request for a ride) leads to a person behaving a certain way (walking out the door, driving two blocks south). However, this translation from data and algorithms to human behaviors—the translation that powers Silicon Valley business models—is always imperfect, conditional as it is on the subjective interpretations of particular individuals. This paper investigates the individual urban traveler as a point of friction between the closed determinism of digital systems and the chaotic openness of the city. Building from scholarship in geography and critical media studies that has illustrated how software mediates the city, I reframe this premise slightly to ask instead how the urban inhabitant mediates the intervention of software. Preliminary empirical work points to users’ distrust of their own knowledge and increased expectation for more complete, more current, and more accurate mobility information as means by which mobility platforms position themselves as indispensable and the link between software and the city is shortened. At the same time, users’ differential practices of information interpretation and enactment, shaped by always shifting individual identities and knowledge, continue to frustrate the direct translation of the digital to the urban.

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