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Discussion Section Exercise: The Many Different Senses of Place

The purpose of this exercise is to investigate the popularly held notion that global information and communication systems necessarily diminish, change, or eliminate local conceptions of place. While questioning this assumption, the exercise should also make clear that very different “senses of place” exist and, in fact, may be made possible due to the global flow of information made possible through these same information and communication systems, most notably the Internet. It is our hope that students complete the exercise having given serious thought (perhaps for the first time) to the meanings they embed, either consciously or subconsciously, in their local landscapes, and leave with a newfound appreciation for how digital technology can contribute to or alter these meanings.

To this end, we ask that students pair up with a colleague in their Discussion Section and exchange with one another the geographic coordinates of their favorite locale. This place can be here in Charlottesville, but it need not be limited to our lovely corner of the world. Also, you can attach a specific time to your favorite place, such as choosing coordinates 38° 02′ 04″ N, 78° 30′ 13″ W (UVA’s Lawn) on Halloween evening. The only requirement for selecting your favorite place is that it has to be a physical location that you have personally visited and formed of an impression of through direct experience. Use Google Maps (instructions under Get Coordinates for a Location) or a similar product to locate the coordinates for your favorite place.

After exchanging geographic coordinates, each person must then track down their partner’s favorite place (again, using Google Maps or a similar product), briefly research that place (using some form of digital technology, presumably the Internet), and write a paragraph or two describing the place. In addition to writing a description of your partner’s favorite place, each student must also write a description of their own favorite place, the same one for which they previously provided only geographic coordinates. Please do not share your descriptions of these two places with your partner. We will then meet in Section on Thursday, April 24th to exchange these descriptions and discuss the very different senses of place generated through “direct” versus “virtual” experiences of a landscape. As always, we encourage you to have fun and be creative with this project!

To review:

1. Choose a partner in Section.
2. Send to your partner the coordinates of your favorite place.
3. Exchange in Section the descriptions of you and your partner’s favorite places and discuss.