Georhetorics

While I plan to continue my work on algorithms, I am also working on a project concerning "georhetorics," inspired in part by Google’s claims that its Waze application only maps the “ground truth.” This research on ground truth will consider the relationships among physical sites and networked representations of a purportedly objective reality.

  • I am currently working on a collaborative essay considering the “network lag” of Google Maps, which only updates its Street View occasionally. As a result, Google Street View displayed the statue of Robert E. Lee for well over a year after the statue was physically removed in New Orleans.
  • Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps, FourSquare, Pokémon Go, Snapchat, and other services use input data from the “real world,” representing and augmenting the material ground through graphical user interfaces. Using computers, phones, tablets, and augmented reality devices, these applications alter perceptions of the world and redirect the material flows of people and objects. Waze, for example, responds to the “ground truth” by redirecting cars to optimize traffic flows; yet, as residents in Los Angeles have found, Waze’s redirections can disrupt neighborhoods and endanger local residents.
  • My initial observation is that map apps have tremendous geopolitical consequences, altering networked rhetorics. Google has been condemned for its representation of Palestine on Google Maps; South Korea has refused to supply data to help Google map its territory; and Hollywood residents excluded tourists from their neighborhoods by working to erase the Hollywood sign from Google Maps. Pokémon Go has reinforced racial and socioeconomic disparity by concentrating stops in affluent white suburbs, has driven people into restricted areas, and has made driven people to congregate around private homes. Strava, a fitness tracking app, has even revealed CIA “black sites” and secret military bases. Finally, in August 2018, a number of services using OpenStreetMap saw New York temporarily relabeled “Jewtropolis” by “data vandals.”

As I have argued in my past research, networked technologies do not merely reflect what is real: they constitute what is real, through the rhetorical arrangement of symbols and materials. Social platforms and their algorithms direct people and transportation, becoming part of our worldly infrastructures. I will explore the rhetorical dynamics of representation and naming, corporate and user responses to controversies, and the alterations made to physical spaces. My project will trace the rhetorical ecologies of “ground truth,” offering insight into the physical-digital hybridization of public spaces.