Digital Verticalities

Authors: Yung Au*, University of Oxford
Topics: Political Geography, Cyberinfrastructure, Social Geography
Keywords: digital maps, apps, technology, critical geography, aerial surveillance, social justice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 55
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Despite the proliferation of geolocation apps and the renewed call for attention towards the vertical (Elden, 2013), the vertical axis has remained as more of a novelty rather than a functionality in mainstream digital maps. Here, the vast collection of open source, commercial, and government owned general-use mapping apps still mainly reproduce the dominant view-from-above paradigm. Contour topography (e.g. Google Maps) and interactive panoramas (e.g. Google Street View) have gently incorporated verticality but still in a flattened and single perspective state. Most recently, VR has allowed new experiences of verticality but many aspects remain overlooked. Exceptions where the vertical is centrally incorporated can be found in certain niches, including applications for surveyors/engineers, cave explorers, geologists, hikers, ecologists, miners, drones, and aerial navigation. What would it be like utilizing niche apps for broader use?

This paper explores the digital world of verticality with two overarching open questions: firstly, how can we better incorporate the vertical in the digital mainstream? And secondly, how can we orient digital implementations of verticality around social justice issues? We have seen the militaristic and colonial origins of horizontal cartographies (Weizman, 2004; Graham, 2016). In this critical juncture, how do we envision imaginaries and incorporations that may assist issues, such as better understanding on how the politics of verticality (Weizman, 2004) may harm marginalized/occupied actors (Haddad, 2018) or to bring attention on conflicts over air spaces (Wainwright, 2019) and airborne surveillance (Rafsky, 2017)?

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