Social Media and the city

I am more and more fascinated by how tied together online social media and (social as well as spatial) mobility have become. As a so-called Millenial, I often wonder what life would be like if my generation didn’t have the instant means to get information about any- and everything they’re looking for in a city.

One of my biggest interests is how the immediate access to maps and directories, timetables and review apps are changing social paths. Being instantly informed on traffic jams or late trains, our little helpers across the internet are always there to guide us through the urban jungles. Other, location-based service apps (among them Foursquare, Yelp or even Instagram) give a peek into an actually existing location, however filtered or skewed the virtual representation may be.

Location-based apps: tracking every move

There are many perspectives on the subject of big data: where do people go? What are the most interesting or popular places in the city? But for me, I wonder whether the relationship is more dynamic than that. Perhaps we go somewhere exactly because an app told us this is the hottest bar / restaurant / club in town?

Alternatively, we might also ask ourselves which points of social interest can be recreated (and thereby scale the profit of entrance fees or drinks) across the globe. If you think about the candy museums or other “instagrammable” urban experiences which have been popping up everywhere (and especially on the ‘gram), the thought is not too far off. This formula may not be sustainable in the long-run, but it’s proven successful for now.

Performing urban spaces on Instagram

Influencers are becoming more and more, well, influential. But spaces – geographical spaces of all sorts, from landscapes to hotel interiors – are becoming influential as well. Their visual representation throughout social media (Instagram & Pinterest come to mind especially), not only by influencers but by visitors, too, is having an increasing effect on their shapes and sizes. “Overtourism” may not be a new word, but it’s certainly found a new dimension: people are traveling across the world to take a specific drone shot or pose in front of an iconic backdrop.

Interestingly, I’ve also noticed a new pattern (at least in Berlin) developing at the same time. More and more spaces are increasingly exclusive and may even forbid their visitors to take pictures. In other instances, events are not advertised on social media platforms or to a greater audience. This can range from hole in the wall type bistros to branded parties. This eliminates the number of strangers or ‘social tourists’, people only know a space from the virtual world.

Unknowing the unknown: the end of urban experience?

Have you ever gotten lost in a big city? If you’re younger than 20, the chances are pretty slim. I know I haven’t wandered off course for many years – thanks to my Google Maps app. Unfortunately, I also haven’t been able to discover something new in a while (ironic, I know, considering this blog is called FINDING Berlin). It’s just too easy and convenient to get straight from A to B.

Have you ever gotten lost in a big city? If you’re younger than 20, the chances are pretty slim. I know I haven’t wandered off course for many years – thanks to my Google Maps app.

I haven’t walked into a restaurant not knowing what to expect in YEARS. For every trip, I have to research extensively where to eat, drink and what to do. It’s a very different way of traveling than I used to. That being said: not everything is to be blamed on social media and shifting social mobility habits. I’ve also just become officially old and grown up – I definitely lost some of that adventurous travel spark that I used to have.

Many travelers, whether in Berlin or in other places, are yearning to go off the beaten track. I know I do. It’s kinda hard though when you’ve already read about it or some YouTuber tells you it isn’t worth the detour.

How do we deal with these changes, and how can we direct the emerging flows of people through cityscapes without sacrificing spontaneity? One reaction, of course, is living outside of the virtual world, otherwise known as complete and utter ignorance. But that is a social gamble: after all, the city isn’t just a room, it is a living, breathing organism. And ‘spaces’, as any sociologist knows, are always ‘constructed’ by the people who move within them.

1 comment on “Social Media and the city

  1. Interesting subject! I’d be curious to read the whole thesis :)

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