We use publicly available embedded geotag information in Twitter updates to track the locations of user posts and make photographs to mark the location in the real world. Each of these photographs is taken on the site of the update and paired with the originating text. Our act of making a photograph anchors and memorializes the ephemeral online data in the real world and also probes the expectations of privacy surrounding social networks. We select texts that reveal something about the personal nature of the users’ lives or the national climate, while also examining the relationship to physical space and the ways in which it influences online presence.
Twitter estimates there are over 50 million tweets daily, creating a new level of digital noise. Clive Thompson uses the term ambient awareness to describe this incessant online contact in his New York Times article, “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy.” According to Thompson, “It is. . . very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye.” Our collaborative work is a means for situating this virtual communication in the physical realm. We imagine ourselves as virtual flâneurs, ethnographers of the Internet, exploring cities 140 characters at a time through the lives of others.