April 12, 2007 22:42 | Confession / Social / Technology

A place or a feeling?

Bruno throwing snowballs at me and Ty
Originally uploaded by Shawna Nelles.

Last night at Laïka, I had a brief conversation with Michael, founder of Ile Sans Fil and good friend, about various things, including how places are not just geographic coordinates or a point on a map or an intersection of two streets or a corner of a neighborhood: they are communities, shared experiences, stories (as Matt Jones said somewhere sometime somehow I don't remember).

One example of this is how the Flickr isflaika tag, which get aggregated into Laïka's ISF portal login screen slowly morphed from showing cups of coffee and glasses of beer, to people hanging out, to pictures of the staff... then increasingly to pictures related to the community of Laïka (former staff member on the beach in Thailand, me in Shinjuku, one of the regular DJs, Vincent Lemieux, playing in Tokyo, etc...)

This picture is of Bruno, the big boss, caught in his afternoon fun today of throwing snowballs at neighborhood regulars as they came by. The photo was snapped by Shawna, whom I met one evening at Laïka and who is now one of The Officemates.

I know where that corner is: it's in me heart.


in a way this is why the closing of ben's was something more important than the disappearance of an overpriced touristy place. places have long & complex histories rolled into ones life ... and seeing them go is a sad thing for many complex reasons:

call me extremist. Ben's was a death merchant. Having "good feelings" about it, like Schwarz's or Wilenski's, is obscene.


Besides which, were YOU part of the Ben's "community"? Did you go there day in day out for years and years? No. The "history" you refer to is one that was fabricated and handed to you by bizarre socio-economic-driven forces... which in this case failed, and in the case of places like Schwartz's, prevail.

The danger with history, and stories, and yes even things we love, is that we always, always, always forget that we can and MUST let go sometime.

Drop that smoked meat sandwich Hugh! ;)

hmm...i like smoked meat, once in a while.

actually my historical connection to ben's is tenuous, but there nonetheless: my mother used to tell me that when she was young in Montreal, she & her friends used to hang out there at 3:30am - it was always hopping and busy. which is something I too have done, so it's that sense of continuity (rather than community) that has some value to me, for whatever reason. aesthetically, it was a time warp, something i also like: preservation of a design sense that is gone. or maybe it was never there: it was garrish & ugly, but it was unique. something that has always been there, for me in my memory of montreal. It will be replaced by shit, I am sure: something generic that could be anywhere in he world. GAP or whatever. But Ben's was only here.

so ben's was a marker for me, important for whatever reason, that helped define Montreal as a place for me. I will bet you ($5?) that whatever comes next will not do anything to define Montreal for me.

So in a way I have lost a chunk of the city that is part of my definition of the city itself. and that is sad and unfortunate, whether or not I consider myself part of the Ben's community, or whether or not I think their smoked meat was overpriced.

wow, those staff party pix are really brilliant ;)

Laika is home.

Oh, and whilst I don't particularly agree with Hugh that Ben's was a significant loss to Montreal's community - it may once have been a hub but I think that as of more recent years analagous places such as The Main are much more central to community members' experience - I do nevertheless agree that places that are unique to a particular location rather than generic chains are much more likely to aquire such status. Laika is a central part of our community in a way that for example the $tarbux on Mont-Royal and St-Christophe (? is that the right corner?) will never be, regardless of how many people use the space in a similar fashion.

"it's in me heart." why is it that poor grammar is so authentic? ;-)

"Space is organized not just physically but culturally; cultural understandings provide a frame for encountering space as meaningful and coherent, and for relating it to human activities." - just reading about that here

7- カール

There are the places we haven't chosen.
There are the places we have been told about.
There are the places we have decided to go.
There are the places we do not know about.

In all these places, there are people and things.

|self| |to be| |emotions|

I luv hearing non geographers talk like geographers. In the lab where i work we have been blending cultural geography and technology, trying to find ways to let places tell their stories with multisensory media and a framework designed specifically to do so. It has been a really interesting journey to render quantitative data about space, place, location and time in a qualitative story telling character. It has been even harder to blend open source code with aesthetic cartography.

Cybercartography is a holistic concept which combines these elements and is informed by the interaction between theory and practice. While the map is considered central to cybercartography, the notion of geographic narrative underpins the concept. Map and associated media can help to tell stories about people, places, space and society.

We should be releasing some interesting atlas modules soon to better demonstrate some new ways to do cartography and to show you what i mean.

I try not to talk to much about my work but it feels at home here in this story.

I love hearing geographers talk like they actually know more about space/community then other non-geographers.


Tracey. We're not talking like geographers. We're talking like people. About spaces that we inhabit daily.

sorry - but I'm having a bad week of dealing with phd's telling me that I'm smart enough to be in school. Uh. . .thanks? As if I needed a phd to be having the conversation that I'm currently having with that person.

People and citizens are capable of having intelligent conversations about policy, geography, communication theory, sociology, etc. When they do so it doesn't mean they are speaking like [insert discipline], or otherwise intruding into a domain outside their purview. Chopping up convesations into little plots of different experts is destructive to public dialogue. And just plain incorrect.

Sorry to lash out, tracey :-) I know, you're on our side.


I just luv geography and just luv hearing people talk about it! And i even luv it more when their not "official" geographers! Particularly because the field has changed as a result of people's conversations, (i am a people to!), it is afterall about people and societal interaction with the environment! The field has been broad enough and inclusive enough where it is influencing what people (you and me) are saying. I mention the field cuz this is what i spend alot of time doing but almost never mention it, also because people just think geographers only talk about soil, rocks, trees and the environment and on a good day colour some maps. A big part of contemporary and feminist and cultural geography explores exactly the narratives brought up here and peoples attachment to places. Why they fight for them, protect them, preserve them or destroy them.

The gustatory and scent sensations brought of the smoke meat, the snow balls, grit, memory, the invocation of a name, collective frames of reference, building footprints, the poetry, are all about sense of place theory and multisensory and bodily ways of knowing the world. All this goobly goo that i have actively been learning, that i have only recently discovered labels and when i see it i get really exited.

And it's even better cuz i know all the people talkin' luv their city!

yeah - I was baiting you I guess.

But what is scary is the idea of a reader confusing *why* geography is now talking about these qualitative things. It's because for so long they tried to ignore them, to value only quantifiable information as well as the idea that someone can know about a place from a distance. Non-geographers / "people" always knew that those were crazy ideas. Now finally geography is dealing with the the idea that quantifiable information can tell you very little about a place.

It's precisely that geographers are starting to talk/think like non-geographers that there is any progress being made. Not the other way around.

Quantitative data tells you about places and qualitative data tells you about a place. They are both really important just depends what you want to say and know. Artsier disciplines such as english lit, cultual mediation, and visual art have discovered how useful geography is and how rich cartography is with metaphors and have appropriated its concepts, have popularized the field and have made it sexy. Anthropology and sociology are also using lots of geography. In other words there is a healthy pilfering between and among disciplines and once artists get their hands on stuff all hell breaks loose! Hard science concepts for one becomes metaphoric fodder for another. In a good way. In other words geography has influenced many fields, those fields are more popular and accessible than geography and they get people talking. Resulting in people and the field of geography changing. The knowledge cylcles, it is not one way. Information ecologies are a classic, ecology comes from a particular form biology and statistics that was once geography. Few people understood ecology much further than the ole food pyramid. Its metaphors and tools got pilfered and et voila now cultural theorists and information scientist and computer scientists - all people have a new/old way to look at things and simplify or model the complexity of the world around them. Marvelous! Knowledge mashing/jamming/spinning!

Snow mashup
I would have inserted a photo here if I knew how
To quote Gilles Vigneault, Mon Pays:

De mon grand pays solitaire
Je crie avant que de me taire
A tous les hommes de la terre
Ma maison c'est votre maison
Entre mes quatre murs de glace
Je mets mon temps et mon espace
A préparer le feu, la place
Pour les humains de l'horizon
Et les humains sont de ma race

I'll offer more psychogeographic thoughts later.

"The knowledge cylcles, it is not one way."

I wouldn't look at it that way. As part of a volunteer group that is being studied by 3 academic research groups, I would say that it mostly comes from communities. Yes, information is pilfered, but not from academics. It's the other way around. Academics are just in the business of re-discovering, re-inventing lots of common knowledge that people already have.

You are correct that there is alot of pilfering and not in the positive sense that i was using the term ealier in the context of transdisciplinary knowledge sharing among disciplines, but really taking (time, energy, concepts) from communities and not giving alot back (money, sharing, referencing). Lucky for everyone that there are people like you keeping them honest and ensuring a win win on research projects and setting some precendents. But i disagree with your last statement, the environmental movement came out of academia - geography/ecology/biology/chemistry - and continues to be informed by it, alot of social policy comes from looking at problems and articulating them in a way that can change governments and improve peoples lives, and most of any of the work anyone does in computing started off as a result of massive university funding - even all that free and open source stuff, wireless technologies came out of universities as did the 802.11 standards, and the people advocating for us all on internet policy are academics (Geist & Lessig) and they are training a whole cadre of people who are propagating creative commons work and thinking critically about technology, etc. So many great thinkers from academia have changed the way we see the world - Chomsky, Foucault, Beaudrillard, Braudel, Arendt, Gramsci, Frankl, Sartre, Freud, debord, Saul, Ingatief, Dion, Harroway, Bakhtin, Deleuze, Chevalier, Trudeau, Appadurai, de Beauvoir, Atwood, Kristeva, Eco, Saussure, Derrida, Levi-Strauss, Freire, Gidden, Marx, Monmonnier, Harley, Massey, Butler and if you look at some of their personal lives, well we regular folks owe them alot as they gave everything.

Sure there is lots of reinventing and such going on! but hey! we all know that we have to wash our hands before we eat and touch open wounds and ain't it funny we are fogetting to do that! It ain't just academics who are fogetting the fundamentals. That is in fact an entirely other issue - knowledge transfer/transmission/memory etc. This is happening everywhere! Just come and see Ottawa politicians in action, you have never seen so much memory loss and re-invention in your whole entire life!

Finally, there are some fabulous activits, thinkers, citizens, neighbours, moms, sisters, dads, friends, waitresses, grandparents, farmers, indigenous people, homeless people, who are changing the world and reshaping it. And this goes on every day in myriad actions and i luv it. And at times it takes you, me, an academic, journalist, an action, a blog entry, or event to get their stories told in such a way that people will listen and change at large and small scales.

So i end this conversation, as i think we agree, and since my son and i are going to go hear Ishmael Beah a former child soldier, now a human rights activist and author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier who will tell us the story of his place and his journey which he has narrated in an important book. http://www.rothtalent.com/speakers/slist/Beah

"well we regular folks owe them alot as they gave everything."

i don't buy it. and that's not at all the attitude I want to have towards academics. or the one I think they deserve as a field. And I don't think that it's the sense that I think some of the academics you mentioned would want us to have towards their field.

"So i end this conversation". - guess not. ;-)

why is it that my inane comments always show up and my more thought out ones always get lost in the ether? ah well.

(sorry Ella... this stupid blog is all messed up. I had to dive into the 45000 spam comments and pull yours out. Apologies.)

19- カール

When, Where,
do we have a poutine together?

(sorry that was my emotional psychogeogastronomy orgasm…)