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Digital Proxemics

How Technology Shapes the Ways We Move


John A. McArthur

The study of proxemics – the human use of space – is reimagined for the digital age in this book, a compelling examination of the future of the ways we move. Whereas much writing on the subject focuses on what digital technology might do for us, this book explores what the same technology might do to us.
Combining dynamic stories, cutting-edge research, and deep reflection on the role of space in our lives, Digital Proxemics examines the ways that our uses of physical and digital spaces and our uses of technology are converging. It investigates the role of digital communication in proxemics, offering explorations of the ways digital technology shapes our personal bodily movement, our interpersonal negotiation of social space, and our navigation of public spaces and places. Through the lens of information and user-experience design, it adds forbidden spaces, ubicomp, augmented reality, digital surveillance, and virtual reality to the growing lexicon surrounding proxemics. The result is a spatial turn in the study of digital technology and a digital turn in the study of proxemics.
As our culture changes, our ability to make choices about how to move will be called into question, as will our expectations for what roles technology will play in our lives. As we navigate this intersection, Digital Proxemics is at once a valuable lens through which we can view our shifting culture, a cautionary tale through which we might envision problematic outcomes, and an optimistic projection of possibility for the future of human communication and technology interaction.
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Chapter 5. Finding Our Way


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Several years ago, I attended a convention in New Orleans, Louisiana. Naturally, I arrived early and spent a pleasant afternoon preparing for my presentation at Café du Monde with a plate of beignets and a café au lait.

This convention was one of those fantastic academic juggernauts attended by 7,000 of my closest professional colleagues. The most salient detail of the conference needing to be addressed for the moment is the fact that all those people are hungry after long days of presentations. In a walkable urban environment like New Orleans’s French quarter, that makes finding a restaurant with open reservations next to impossible within a short walk of the convention hotels.

Luckily for me, I’m part of a tech-savvy dinner group of early technology adopters. We gathered for dinner on the first night and began walking together into the French Quarter. One colleague logged into Yelp to look at diner ratings for nearby restaurants, finding a list of restaurants ordered from highest to lowest ratings. Another searched OpenTable for seating times and found a list of options in alphabetical order. A third posted a question on Facebook soliciting restaurant suggestions from her wide audience, crowdsourcing a quick unordered list of eateries. I opened Foursquare to identify what was around us, uncovering a list of restaurants based on geographic proximity. Between ← 65 | 66 →the four of us, 3 restaurants emerged on all lists. We dined...

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