The Digital Augmentation of Reality: Visualizing Income and the Daily Commute

As technologies are increasingly used to automate the production of space, how should inequalities in information about place best be addressed from theoretical and practical standpoints? What are the dangers of being excluded from digital representations, and what are the emancipatory possibilities and potentials that can be realised through practices of augmenting place?

- Graham, Zook, & Bolton, “Augmented Reality in Urban Places: Contested Content and the Duplicity of Code.”

Earlier this year, the Sunlight Foundation released their app, Sitegeist, which depicts relevant data based on the geographic location of the user. The app includes charts on demographics and even recommends restaurants based on Yelp reviews.

Location-based media like Tweets and Foursquare check-ins are increasingly used to represent place, augmenting the ways in which we enact and move through space. How does the augmentation of the daily commute with income distribution data – from Jamaica Plain to Northeastern University, for example – shape one’s experience of those places?

During the commute, Sitegeist can depict this information:

Centre1

Centre2

Perkins

Huntington2

Huntingon4

Huntingon5

Northeastern University

The Sitegeist app bases these charts on the 2010 Census. Although some of the graphics may be generated in error, the results surprised me. Segments of Huntington Ave. as in image 4 depict stark inequities, but along other parts of the street the distribution shifts dramatically.

Among numerous other factors, the “niceness” of main streets and their neighborhoods is largely a function of capital flows and the space of place in which those flows are manifested. Could the digital shadow of place play a role in the evolving representations of wealth and income? As debates about place occur across various geographically referenced media (Yelp.com reviews of certain bakeries, for example), the enactment and representation of place will continue to evolve in new ways. How will the digital augmentation of reality and its effect on place transform existing dynamics of inequality?

Just some food for thought during the daily commute.