Wandering through the virtual space

With the help of new communication technology
Computers, email, cell phones, MySpace, Twitter, etc.
We as people are now addresses that have become
independent from the location of our homes.”[1]
— Gregor Eichinger

Modern urban cities do not only exist as a physical reality they also exist in virtual spaces. The images of urban space that we encounter on our devices are in continual conversation with the experience of the real. In my walks, I would often look over the area in google maps before or after walking to verify a street name or check on a location I had spotted. It seemed from the beginning logical that I also explore the online version of Klybeck as part of my research.

The online urban space of Klybeck was substantial. I started by using Google maps as a method of understanding the streets and quickly became overwhelmed with the vast possibilities. Each street visited had options beyond the Google platform and tempted me to move on to other platforms. Instagram images and geotagged images showed up on the phone screen alongside the directions. This additional information that was continually given to me as I 'walked' through the virtual space often distracted from the path I was pursuing and diluted my understanding of the navigated space.

Jeremy Gill further speculated on this loss of navigational ability in his essay, Narrative Cities: "So overwhelmed are we becoming by the volume of sensory information that many of us are tuning out; searching for the simplest way to interpret and move through our territories. Where once we relied upon an innate understanding of the landscape itself, our navigational ability is becoming increasingly reliant upon information signs and mobile maps to distil the complexities of urban landscapes down to coherent modicum of information. As a result, we are becoming increasingly detached from place."[2] This increasing amount of data is creating a situation where: "Information is replacing knowledge"[3] as Juhani Pallasmaa has stated.

This online research was being done over the same period as the physical exploration, so I was accumulating images of both the physically experienced space and the virtually experienced space simultaneously. I was, however, careful to keep the two activities separate, aware of the possibility that the technology would distract me from seeing the actual space. In actuality, many of my virtual walks in Klybeck occurred either at the studio or while travelling in locations such as Montreal and Spain, far from Klybeck.  
From a practical view, I started by 'walking' through the space on Google maps. I was able to explore most of the streets from street view panning around 360 degrees and also up and down to see the disappearing sky and the distorted pavement. I tried to 'walk' down streets by moving forward slightly and taking screenshots as I went. I also tried to take façade pictures moving up and down streets only 'looking' to one side of the street. It is not always easy to mimic the action of walking and the freedom of looking that we can experience on when we are bodily on the street, but I made an effort to 'walk' through Google maps in this manner. I did not capture all of the streets, much like my walks, I only did short experiments in areas within the designated space. ]

In some instances, I attempted to look closely and observe details, sometimes with success but may times the images became quite distorted or surreal when captured as a screenshot. I also was interested in the street names and numbering that google maps placed over the images (fig, 7) and tried to include them in my captures as much as possible as this was an element of the space that I could not see in my physical explorations.

Another online platform I explored was Google Earth, which allowed me to fly to Klybek in quite a dramatic manner. The 3d view allowed me to twist and turn the space and peer at it from every angle. These views and experience were, of course, not possible for an inhabitant on the ground. This elevated view allowed me to consider the overall space of the community and see into spaces that I was not granted access to on the ground.

Google Earth was also a useful tool for me to see the distances I had physically walked, allowing me to measure my path from start to end and every step in between. Seeing details in Google Earth is not practical, though, and my attempts to look closely ended up in strange melted images. Some of these images are hard to even recognize as buildings.

While exploring Google earth, I also came across images that other users had geotagged as having been taken in Klybeck. This strange assortment of images were at times commercial and others a family event or a simple interior. Many of these images, tagged as being in Klybeck, were actually in a completely different area of Basel, but they were gathered with the other images regardless as despite the error, they nonetheless were part of the experience of virtual Klybeck.

The final method that I used to explore the virtual Klybek was social media, particularly Instagram, because of its focus on images. I searched using the hashtags #klybeck, #Klybeckbasel and collected and recorded the images I found.

[1] Noever & Meyer, 2010 p.19; From Gregor Eichinger’s Manifesto “On Protective Shelter in our Cities”.
[2] Gill, 2015
[3] Pallasmaa, 2011 p.14