In the mobile age, does it still matter where you are?

Thursday, December 22, 2016
by Cameron Shelley

One of the predicted consequences of the global village was the fading importance of place.  After all, if everyone can talk to and look in on everyone else regardless of location, through the miracle of telephones and TV and Internet, then location would become irrelevant.

We do not yet live in that world.  Many people continue to commute to work, for example, to be in the same building with their colleagues.

Also, mobile computing has become a stimulant to location-based services.  Consider the news that Uber and Snapchat are collaborating on a new Uber feature.  Now, instead of specifying where you want to be dropped off, you can say who would you like meet with.  Using SnapChat's location function, Uber can take you to their location, wherever that is.

Such a service raises obvious issues for locational privacy but Uber and SnapChat say that have that covered.

In any event, the feature emphasises the enduring importance of locations in the modern era.

At the same time, predictions about the demise of location have not been entirely wrong.  Chantal Hébert, the Toronto Star's National Affairs columnist, notes that covering Parliamentary events in Ottawa is increasingly done remotely, e.g., from Montreal or Toronto. 

Our current Prime Minister is not exactly camera-shy and so can be heard speaking in public from anyone's tablet.  House debates are televised.  Official documents are—with some notable exceptions—released online, where they are retrievable from any computer or mobile phone.

Perhaps the difference between these two cases has something to do with the relationships that they apply to.  In the case of Uber, meeting with someone entails a complex, two-way kind of communication.  In the case of political news, most people are merely receivers of information from politicians or reporters they will probably never reply to in person.  The former is still best done in one spot, while the latter can be done anywhere.