Connectivity, collaboration, search JENNIE GERMANN MOLz
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Connectivity, collaboration, search JENNIE GERMANN MOLz book
To reflect on mobile methodologies is to reflect on movement, in its various forms, not only as an object of knowledge, but also as a mode of knowing. In the Introduction to this volume, Büscher et al. remind us that the interlinked practices of investigating mobilities and mobilizing research techniques are ‘not just about how people make knowledge of the world, but how they physically and socially make the world through the ways they move and mobilise people, objects, information and ideas’. Central to moving, knowing and making the world are the various technologies that mobilize people, objects and ideas, mediate social lives on the move, and at the same time enable new research techniques for investigating these emerging mobile phenomena. Like mobility, these new technologies constitute both an object of knowledge and a way of knowing that ‘makes the world’ in particular ways. What kind of world does mobility make, and make knowable? The aim of this chapter is to explore the terms of this performative relationship between mobility, technology and knowledge. The empirical context for this discussion is the burgeoning trend of interactive travel, a mode of leisure travel that I have been studying for the past several years. Whereas researchers have studied business travellers’ use of mobile technologies in relation to knowledge management and knowledge production (Holly et al. 2008; Jemielniak and Kociatkiewicz 2008), less attention has been paid to the way leisure travellers use mobile technologies as a way of creating knowledge and negotiating on-the-road ‘know-how’. Leisure travellers are increasingly using mobile technologies such as laptop computers, MP3 players, GPS devices and mobile phones to research and plan their trips, network with other travellers, share advice and record, photograph and publish their experiences for the Internet public. The result is a proliferation of online travel blogs, networked backpacker communities, mobile travel guides, hospitality networking sites, travel discussion boards and the digital sharing of videos and photographs from travellers’ journeys. These online social interactions also spill over into face-toface encounters and physical places as interactive travellers search out a hostel recommended on a discussion board, crash on the actual couches of hosts they meet online, or take an urban walking tour narrated on their mobile phone. The interactive travellers I focus on in my research are a diverse and loosely defined group of leisure travellers from several countries, including Australia,
Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Many of these interactive travellers are young backpackers travelling the world during a gap year or on an early sabbatical from their careers. Others are recent retirees and some are families taking a year off from work and school to travel. While the travellers in my study are certainly not homogeneous in their backgrounds nor in their activities and attitudes towards travel, what they do have in common is their location at the intersection between corporeal and virtual movement. These travellers are not only physically on the move, but are constantly moving among overlapping virtual, imaginative, communicative and corporeal spaces of social interaction. And to a certain degree, I move with them, virtually travelling along by following their blog updates, watching the videos they post online, interacting with them via email and discussion forums, and meeting up with them in person. Like most mobilities researchers, my field site is thus multiple, fluid and shifting, constituted at the places where online, on-thephone and face-to-face socialities intersect with the technical materiality, visual and narrative representations and embodied practices of interactive travel. Studying social relations and mobility practices at this intersection raises some complicated methodological problems that require us to reflect on how interactive travel is implicated in a broader paradigm constituted by the relationship between mobility, technology and knowledge. What assumptions about knowledge, technology and mobility underpin mobile methodological approaches? And how, in turn, do these approaches engender particular knowledges, especially when the social phenomena under investigation – mobility and technology – are at the same time epistemological practices? I address these questions from two directions. First, I briefly trace the evolution over the past several decades of a special relationship between mobility and knowledge. This relationship has tended to focus on knowing and moving as solitary practices, an emphasis that I argue is now shifting towards more social modes of creating knowledge through mobility. Second, I consider these questions from the perspective of interactive travellers. If one of the drivers of tourism is a thirst for knowledge, as Crang (1997) has argued, then how are interactive travellers seeking and producing knowledge at these intersections between virtual and physical mobilities? In particular, I focus on three strategies that interactive travellers invoke to produce and legitimate knowledge: connectivity, collaboration and the algorithmic logic of search. As I will describe below, travellers make sense of their online practices and mediated social interactions through a matrix of electronic and social connectivity. This connectivity, in turn, allows them to collaborate with friends, family members and other travellers to manage, search and distribute knowledge about travel and about the world. I conclude by asking what mobilities researchers might possibly learn from the way interactive travellers produce knowledge in a mobile, mediated and networked social world.