Mobile Media, Urban Space and Everyday Life

Chapter Introduction

How has the global networked economy and interactive media changed urban life?

How have mobile devices like smartphones changed urban life?

How have mobile devices changed our intimate, personal and public lives?


In this chapter we:

  • Examine how media represent urban space.
  • Consider how media organise our movement in and experience of urban space.
  • Explore how we use media to make ourselves visible in urban space.
  • Consider how media are used to monitor urban space. 

Cases & Activities

Portrait of a city

Consider the city or region you live in. How does it fit in this network? Is it a global city, a regional hub, a post-industrial city? How has it responded to the changes brought about by global network capitalism?

What economic and cultural activities happen in your city? Who lives there and why do they come?

Compare your city to the nearest global city (like New York or London). How are they connected? How are they different?

At the beginning of this chapter we examined some of Hamelink’s (2008) questions about communication and urban space. Use these questions as a guide for considering the urban spaces you live in.



Detroiturbex documentation of Detroit’s future, present and past.

The New York Times on abandoned buildings in Detroit.

Abandoned houses in Detroit.

World map by Facebook connections.

Dateline on China’s ghost cities.

CNN on China’s ghost developments in Africa.


Alternative visions of mobile devices and urban space

Above we examined arguments about mobile devices from Malte Spitz and Sergey Brin. Brin is the co-founder of Google and behind the development of Google Glass. Below we offer some further visions of mobiles in everyday life.


Apple iPhone 5: Photos Every Day

In 2013, as part of the launch of iPhone 5 Apple released as series of television commercials depicting the use of the iPhone in our everyday lives: taking photos, playing listening to music, creating and circulating videos.

In the Photos Every Day advertisement individuals use their iPhone to capture every day moments of their lives in the city. Two young skateboarders photograph each other doing tricks, a jogger photographs a mountain as he jogs along a road, a man photographs some street art, a person films a favourite song at a live music gig. These individuals are depicted cropping, filtering and uploading the images to social networking sites.

Technology companies present mobile devices as integral to people experiencing, enjoying and making themselves present in the life of the city.

In distinction to Google’s and Apple’s celebratory and promotional accounts of these advices, we can also consider alternative visions of the role these devices play in constructing and managing our experience of urban space.


Admented reality

Technology companies imagine that mobile devices will be background and ambient technologies preempting and organizing our informational needs. In his remix of the Google Glass concept popular culture hacker Jonathan McIntosh (2012) offered an ‘admented reality’ rejoinder to Google’s ‘augmented reality’ fantasy. If Brin’s vision for Google Glass was one where the real time information of mobile web makes life in the city friction-free, seamless and easy, then McIntosh’s remix was one where the objects and spaces we encounter in urban space prompt targeted advertising. In the remix video, as he pours a coffee an advertisement for Starbucks pops up, as he eats breakfast an advertisement for McDonalds is displayed, and the suspended subway service prompts and ad for rental cars. The remix points to the commercial interests that drive the development of technologies that knit together urban space and mobile media. The development of mobile media is propelled by organisations seeking out ways to capitalize on denser and faster flows of information to identify, target and respond to us as we move through the city. Mobile devices both position us within flows of media content and subject our everyday lives to continuous surveillance.


I forgot my phone

I forgot my phone is a short film by Miles Crawford released in 2013. The film depicts a woman spending the day with her partner, going to lunch with her friends, watching children play in a playground, having a drink with a friend, going to a gig in the evening. In each of the scenes she is the only one without a smartphone. In one scene where she goes bowling with friends, she scores a strike but none of them see because they are all on their phones. At a birthday party everyone is filming the cake as they sing Happy Birthday. In the evening she lies in bed in the dark with her partner while he scrolls on his phone. The film taps a popular sentiment that as we use our phones to capture everyday moments we become disconnected from the human relationships that make those moments important to us.

Our use of smartphones as we move through the city is increasingly ordinary and mundane to us. Google Glass imagines a future characterised by the seamless integration of media technologies into our experience of city life. Apple’s iPhone ads characterise the smartphone as enriching our enjoyment of everyday life in the city. Admented Reality and I forgot my phone offer alternative visions of the way these devices structure city life. Compare the visions of mobile media, urban space and everyday life these the two films offer.

How will technologies like Google Glass change the quality of our lives in urban spaces?

What power relationships do technologies like Google Glass facilitate?

What are the political, commercial, cultural and interpersonal implications of a technology like Google Glass?

Consider some of the arguments about the relationships between our smartphones and emerging devices like Google Glass and our experience of urban space. How do these devices construct, order and manage populations in urban space?



Google Glass concept video.

Sergey Brin’s TED talk on Google Glass.

Malte Sptiz’ TED talk on his mobile phone map.

Apple iPhone advertisement ‘Photos Every Day’.

Admented reality spoof.

I forgot my phone.


Controlling social media

Above we examined how interactive media set the terms and coordinates within which we participate, and how social media platforms attempt to regulate flows of content in the platform.

Instagram bans the use of over 200 hashtags to prevent users form forming communities to share harmful content, sexually explicit content, content that attempts to ‘game’ the app’s popularity algorithms, and content that is considered offensive. When users search for or click on these hashtags no listings are shown. Banned hashtags include:























































Should Instagram ban hashtags? If so, which ones should be banned?

Which hashtags constitute a ‘grey area’ as to whether they should be banned or not?

Select some of the banned hashtags, what practices or identities are Instagram trying to ban and why?

How do social media platforms control the flow of content online?

What content do they prevent from circulation and why?

What kinds of information do we grant social media platforms rights to collect? What do they use it for?

What are the consequences of these uses?

How do our likes or preferences shape relationships on social networking sites?

What are the differences between intimate, private and public content and data on social media?

How do social media organise social relationships? Who controls, manages and profits from these relationships?

What responsibilities to social media platforms have to control the flow of content?

What flows of information should be regulated?

What kinds of control of information exist on social media?

What is private life, data, content and information on social media?



Data Pack’s list of banned hashtags.

Data Pack’s banned hashtag search tool.

Instagram’s terms of service.

Instagram’s guidelines on self-harm images.

Instagram’s preparations for advertising.

Young people and sexting in Australia.


Further Readings

The readings below address a variety of perspectives relating to mobile devices and life in the media city. Hamelink (2008) considers how urban space might foster better forms of communication. Gregg (2011) examines how mobile devices change our work-life balance. Hasinoff (2013) explores cultural, legal and ethical questions relating to the use of smartphones for sexting. Brown and Gregg (2012) and Livingstone (2008) each examine how we use social media to construct and perform our identities. Nardi and Kow (2010) and Nakamura (2009) each examine labourers on the edges of the digital economy by exploring the case of ‘gold-farming’ (people who build up characters for sale in networked games like World of Warcraft).

Brown, R., & Gregg, M. (2012). The pedagogy of regret: Facebook, binge drinking and young women. Continuum, 26(3): 357-369.

Gregg, M. (2011). Do your homework: new media, old problems. Feminist Media Studies, 11(01), 73-81.

Hasinoff, A. A. (2013). Sexting as media production: Rethinking social media and sexuality. new media & society, 15(4), 449-465.

Hamelink, C. J. (2008). Urban conflict and communication. International Communication Gazette, 70(3-4), 291-301.

Livingstone, S. (2008). Taking risky opportunities in youthful content creation: teenagers' use of social networking sites for intimacy, privacy and self-expression. New Media & Society, 10(3): 393-411.

Nakamura, L. (2009). Don't hate the player, hate the game: The racialization of labor in World of Warcraft. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26(2): 128-144.

Nardi, B., & Kow, Y. M. (2010). Digital imaginaries: How we know what we (think we) know about Chinese gold farming. First Monday, 15(6).