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Gordon's research considers why location matters in a networked world

Associate Professor of Visual and Media Arts Eric Gordon

Alison O'Leary Murray
February 16, 2011

Can a web application like FourSquare be used to enhance a student’s academic experience?

That’s a question that Associate Professor of Visual and Media Arts Eric Gordon expects to hear when he participates in an online conference this week on “Why Location Matters in a Networked World.” The conference, which will focus on geographically based social networks, is offered to library professionals as a professional development opportunity.

Gordon explained that your IP address affects your search results, the maps you access online, and other ways you use the web. “The location of the user factors into how we navigate the web, and this becomes more pronounced when you consider applications like FourSquare and Facebook Places. Checking in becomes an act of social sharing.”

Contrary to common opinion that mobile devices are isolating people and making location irrelevant, Gordon said they’re actually creating many new connections among people and may add layers of personal insight and information others can use.

“They make you aware of other people and of the environment in a different way; they change the landscape of public places like libraries and our use of them. That applies to any physical space that people share,” he said. A creative approach to harnessing the impulse to share online can “introduce conversations where before there were none,” Gordon continued.

“If we can better understand how location is going to matter in a networked world where most people carry around some personal, portable communication device, we librarians can continue to serve users and user communities through these geo-based social networks and other means,” said conference co-organizer Tom Peters, who believes that online social networks will grow, along with concern for the environment.

“The location of the user factors into how we navigate the web, and this becomes more pronounced when you consider applications like FourSquare and Facebook Places. Checking in becomes an act of social sharing.”

Currently, Emerson’s Iwasaki Library has a presence on both Facebook and Twitter, said Executive Director Robert Fleming. A location-based technology he has seen applied to libraries uses a patron’s cell phone to map a route from the online catalog to the space on the shelf where a desired book is located, because the Library of Congress cataloging system is a mystery to many, he said.

Gordon’s forthcoming book, Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World, will be published in May. Another project, Community Plan It, in which participants engage in community projects like neighborhood planning, is set to be unveiled in April. It was made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's Technology for Engagement Initiative.

Eric Gordon

Associate Professor Eric Gordon

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