Thursday, January 18, 2018

Signs of Latency

One of the ideas I've been playing with over the last few years is the idea of latency in the networked age.  As we relate, communicate and move through increasingly connected action along digitally augmented lives, clouds of latent social relations, latent geographies and, overall, latent belonging develop around us.  Many of these latent clouds form around technologies of surveillance, but even these suggest potential relatedness--a latency from below.

We've already written about some of these in Networked Anthropology (with my co-author, Matt Durington).  For example, here's a graph of tags linked to "Busan":

That is, tagging one's photo "Busan" links that photo to related tags, some ("water," "ocean," "Haeundae") are strongly connected, while other ("Buddhist," "temple") are much more weakly associated.  Nevertheless, images tagged with "Buddhism" form a latency around images, places and the people posting about them, one that could coalesce into new meanings and relationships.  

This is the same for people.  Here is a graph of a Facebook page, "부산맛집여기," that depicts a few  posts about food in Busan, followed by a complex skein of commentary and "likes" from other Facebook users.

Relatively few of the page users are actually communicating with each other.  Instead, they comment on the central posts.  This accounts for the vague, star-shape of the graph.  Still, if we zoom in

on the graph, we see not only weak connections (largely through 'likes' generated by comments), but also latent relations, missed opportunities for communication that--through the structure and permanence of Facebook--could be exploited at a later date. 

In the United States (and other countries), Twitter contracted with Foursquare to provide gelocations for tweets. So, tweeting from my home, I can choose from a number of locations within a few miles of my domicile:

Even if I don't choose one of these alternative pins, these form a cloud of related locations, a weakly defined zone of geolocation.

Finally, place itself is rendered latent.  Here's a photo I took of Sejong-no in Seoul in 2015:


And here's an "imagequilt" of pictures generated by uploading this picture to Google for an image search:

This suggests a locative latency--a belongingness--that extends from the digital life of a photograph. 

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