New Atlantis
By Ari N. Schulman – Spring 2011 [Read the Full Article]

Ari, a senior editor of The New Atlantis, wrote a thought provoking essay that considers place and placelessness in modern American life, and, as The New Atlantis puts it, “explains how GPS and location-awareness technologies are transforming travel and the way we experience the world around us.”

Ari writes in his piece: “GPS technology now not only shows users how to get where they are going, but increasingly can suggest where they should go in the first place. These are popularly known as “location-awareness” technologies. For example, Yelp, used by tens of millions of people, provides general information and user-generated reviews for restaurants, businesses, parks, and destinations of all sorts. It has an application for GPS-enabled smartphones that can tell you the best places nearby to eat, shop, sightsee, and so forth. Lonely Planet and other tour-book publishers have released apps along the same lines.

Similar software exists for sightseeing, allowing smartphone users to learn about the sites they are visiting as well as nearby attractions. The app HearPlanet reads audio recordings of Wikipedia entries for places as you approach them, and boasts that it “is like having a professional tour guide always by your side — no matter where you are.” The GeoTour app advertises, “Imagine visiting a new city. Your iPhone knows where you are, it’s guiding you to the town’s hot spots, and it’s automatically entertaining you with multimedia relevant to your surroundings.” Similar purpose-built devices are now increasingly being used at national parks, historical sites, and other points of interest. The devices, like the smartphone apps, are used as automated tour guides: walk a trail at a park, come to a landmark, and the device, able to sense your location, will play an audio recording or display on-screen information telling you exactly why you should find the site interesting.”