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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 7. Inhabiting New Environments


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When I was in second grade, we celebrated career day. In addition to the parade of visitors sharing their lessons learned in the quest for vocation, every student in class wore the uniform of his or her planned career. My classroom was filled with doctors and lawyers and a few teachers. I wore khaki cargo pants and a shirt with a giraffe on it, owing to my dream of becoming a zookeeper. As you can probably guess, my seven-year-old self would likely be a little disappointed right now. But, at age seven who really knows what they want to be when they grow up?

At age twelve, I went on a behind-the-scenes tour of an elephant enclosure with a zookeeper. I marveled at the elephants and learned about their diet and daily routines. At age sixteen, I took a job at a veterinary clinic that served as the healthcare provider for a local zoo. On my first day of work, we had a baby lion in the clinic. They’re much cuddlier when they are little. It was a common occurrence to find sea lions in the bathtub, owls in cat carriers, and peacocks on parade at work. But still, I was no zookeeper.

EarthCam changed all of that. Long after I decided to pursue a career in academia, EarthCam arrived at the Greenville Zoo. EarthCam is an international network of live streaming cameras that watch over...

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