Sharing occasions at a distance: the different dimensions of comobility

Jen Southern, Chris Speed

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

“We look on Comob and think ‘where on earth is he now?!’.” Liz, Comob Net User.

Global Positioning System (GPS) technologies have become an integral and often invisible part of mobile technologies. We use maps on mobile phones to navigate from A to B on a daily basis without a second thought. The capacities of GPS are, however, greater than ‘just’ navigation, and this chapter explores a speculative art project Comob, which has become a widely available mobile phone app.
The Comob Net app simply shows the locations of multiple members of a group, and joins together their locations with a line. It was originally built for use in participatory workshop situations, and was used experimentally in live art, performative walks and at a number conferences in Europe and North America between 2009 and 2013. During these events we observed how it was used, and recorded discussions and conversations about collaborative and collective use of GPS. In analyzing these responses we identified an emerging sense of what we call ‘comobility’, of being mobile with others at a distance. For ease of use in early workshops we submitted the app to Apple’s App Store. Subsequently we realized that people world-wide were downloading the app and using it. For some this was just as a one-off experiment, others used Comob over several days with a group of friends, over a year with a family, or in some cases on a daily basis over many years.
This chapter describes comobility and explores how one family used the app to enhance their sense of connectedness whilst at a distance, mediating absences and presences in a highly mobile familial group.
While the term comobility is new, it builds upon already established social phenomena, from the ‘wish you were here’ on postcards (Kurti, 2004), the sharing of mobility in travel blogging (German-Molz, 2012) and the portable personhood of intimately mobile lives (Elliot & Urry, 2010) to a sense of mediated proximity, identified in analysis of the Japanese locative game Mogi in which players collect geographically located tokens through their mobile phones, and are able to see and communicate with other players nearby (Licoppe & Inada, 2010a). In games like Mogi or artist’s projects like Can You See Me Now? (Blast Theory, 2001; Benford et al., 2003), participants can observe that another user is getting closer and thus negotiate meetings and movements en-route (Licoppe, 2009; Licoppe & Inada, 2010b). It is this awareness of the movement of people at a distance through visualized GPS data that we refer to as comobility.

This chapter introduces the term and provides a review of literature and practices that engage with the concept. The chapter also uses an interview with Liz, a member of the public who uses the iPhone app Comob Net, to offer a highly personal perspective upon living through comobility.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMoving Sites
Subtitle of host publicationInvestigating Site-Specific Dance Performance
EditorsVictoria Hunter
Place of PublicationAbingdon
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781315724959
ISBN (Print)9780415713252, 9780415710176
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2015


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