Co-mobility can refer to many different practices including passengers in a car ( Brown, Laurier, Lorimer), exchanges of email on the move, skype, SMS, phone calls etc. We travel and communicate with people both near and far on a regular basis, but something different is going on when the locations that those mobile connections are made from begin to matter.
When I hear and see a small aircraft flying overhead in a clear blue sky I imagine a pilot free to go where they wish. In reality they are always suspended in a net of air traffic controllers via their radio. Beginning with the ATZ (Aerodrome Traffic Zone) as they take off, they then talk to ATC (air traffic control) for each zone they pass through. (This image is of ATC and ATZ zones in North West England.) Each new ATC needs to know call-sign, aircraft type, route, destination and altitude via a one-to-one radio call in order to ensure that collisions don’t happen. The impression for the pilot is that they are always in contact with and being spatially monitored by those air traffic controllers, almost passed from one to the next, each of whom has to keep track of many planes and their spatial locations.
This spatial aspect to co-mobility also happens with the traditional postcard.
‘I, or we, send our greetings from here to you who cannot be present, cannot be with us at the moment.’ Through the past one-hundred years of postcard mediatisation of our lives, all such ‘greetings from’ formulae may be read into the picture even if the actual sentences are not present. Or vice versa, when the text is glaringly written on the postcard the picture itself may be relegated to an almost secondary status because it is the greeting – conveying the idea that the people involved actually think of each other sensing both a presence and absence – that matters the most. This way most postcards are about the commonality of experiences and the knowledge of being together.
Kurti, L., 2004. Picture perfect: community and commemoration in postcards. In: Pink, S., Kurti, L., Afonso, A.I. (Eds.), Working Images: Visual Research and Representation in Ethnography. Routledge, New York, pp. 47–71.
The idea of postcards as ways in which people think of each other, of absence and presence, reminded me of the way that I’ve been talking about comob and Running Stitch. The walker is imagining someone else at a distance seeing their GPS track, and that other person imagines the walker out in the landscape or city. In the same way, but more slowly, sending a postcard involves imagining it being received at the location its addressed to, and the receiver imagining the sender on holiday in a particular place. I think this is somehow linked to the live GPS because the postcard specifies two locations, the picture on the card referring to the sender, the address to the receiver. Part of the purpose of the card is to show one place to someone who is not there. This differs from the comobility we might experience through emails or phone calls in which the mobility of the medium matters more than the location that its sent from, or from out co-passengers who share our current location rather than imagine it. The specific location, and its status as an imagined place matters with postcards, as it does with live GPS signals.
Sometimes skpe can facilitate a similar co-mobility when participants in the conversation are ‘on the move’. At the Contemoprary Nomadism symposium at Canada House last week there was a live skype with the Arctic Perspective Initiative out in a remote cabin in Nunavut, northern Canada. This remote connection will allow the local Inuit users to access their own communication networks, weather forecasts and environmental data, but for this discussion was bringing that remote location into a board room at Canada House in central London, not only facilitating a conversation between the ‘academic’ gathering with those participating on the ground in the project but also suggesting a closeness and a connectedness of that environment and community.