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Abstract

Geotechnologies are increasingly prominent, accessible, and interactive. Hand-held devices can localize one’s current geographic position with an unsettling precision. With the emergence of such mapping apparatuses, GPS-informed practices have proliferated. They redefine our engagement with space/place in ways that anthropologists need to attend to. Geocaching, a popular activity happening across the world, provides an ethnographic example of interest whose resonance extends beyond its practice.

This paper focuses on the ways in which spaces have the potential to become meaningful in specific ways for those engaging in this practice. I adopt an autobiographical approach, which I carefully unpack, following my movement in the context of geocaching in Athens to gain an embodied understanding of the place-making possibilities afforded by the activity. It is argued that emplacement –that is, a situated body-mind-environment relationship– can result from a particular form of sensory and affective engagement with and negotiation of a device-environmental dialectic.

To this end, I sketch a critique of geographic apparatuses such as maps, coordinates, and GPS devices, informed by the ironic double-bind geocachers must navigate. While they require geotechnologies to situate the approximate location of a geocache, they also risk being deceived by incongruence between reductive and life-annihilating “map spatialities” and “the realities on the ground” (in all their sensuous and affective possibilities). My work also demonstrates, in part, that geographic apparatuses may be thought of as cultural technologies, as are the processes and practices by which we use, evaluate, and ultimately translate them. It is through this experience of movement and sensory negotiation between technology and environment, I contend, that places can meaningful for geocachers in new and specific ways.


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