Chapter 1: Site-Specificity, Pervasive Computing, and the Reading Interface

by Jason Farman

Chapter Abstract:

This chapter serves, in part, as an introduction to The Mobile Story and offers a historical grounding for the projects analyzed throughout the rest of the book (which are discussed in more detail at the very end of this chapter). By linking mobile storytelling projects to the larger history of attaching narratives to specific places, these projects build on practices that have been done for millennia. From stone inscriptions to the stories that accompany religious pilgrimages, from graffiti in early Rome to historic walking tours of cities, the practice of sited narratives has many precedents. The desire to attach story to space is found in the connection between the historical context of a community and the need to determine the character of that space. Around these two points arises a contention over who is actually allowed to tell the story of a location. A site’s dominant narrative is often told through durable media such as stone inscriptions while the narratives on the margins are relegated to ephemeral media such as graffiti or the spoken word. These tensions persist in the era of the site-specific digital storytelling, as elaborated in the subsequent chapters in this collection.

Hands-On Exploration:

Exploring Ephemeral Stories

In this chapter, site-specific stories are explored through their various modes of inscription (including durable and ephemeral media for storytelling). This assignment asks you to explore the various ways stories are told on your campus and to implement an ephemeral story at an important site for you.

Step 1: Use your mobile device to photograph the many site-specific stories that are around your campus. Looking for both durable and ephemeral modes of storytelling, use a cell phone to document the range of stories told in and about a space (from statues to stickers, from inscriptions into the walls of a building to graffiti on that building). Think about how emerging mobile platforms relate to these modes of site-specific information, context-awareness, and storytelling. Post the photographs to Twitter or Instagram using a hashtag predefined by your professor (e.g. #campusstory).

Step 2: Find a spot on campus that has a meaningful story connected with it. This story can be a personal one about something you experienced or it could be a historical one. Locate a story already being told at this site (if available) such as a statue, a plaque, some graffiti, or other kinds of inscriptions. Once you’ve located your spot, take several photographs of it and create a blog post telling your chosen story about this site. Embed the photographs in this post. In your post, be specific about where on campus this site is located (you may want to embed a map with a placemarker) and what other stories are being told at this site.

Step 3: Create a QR code with a link to the post you just wrote (there are many free services for creating QR codes. Feel free to use whichever you like). Print that QR code out as a sticker and place it on (or near) your chosen site. It should be visible but be sure that it’s in a place where it won’t be immediately removed. Test it out and make sure it works. Take another photograph of it and post it on your blog.

Step 4: Finally, after completing the assignment, be sure to return to the QR code throughout the coming weeks and take photographs of it. As an ephemeral inscription at this site, is the QR code still there? Is it still readable by phones? Has the rain or weather altered the sticker? How do the effects of time on this story medium compare to the durable inscriptions at the site?