Friday, 30 August 2013

The Making of a Virtual Place and the Power of Words

Imagine a world without language, how would we communicate, express ideas and discuss them? Words bring character to an object or area previously blank or even invisible, “speech is a component of the total force that transforms nature into a human place” (Tuan 1991). Online, language is one of, if not the most vital feature to social networking sites and online communication in general. Creating a virtual place such as a social network, becomes “a place that promises to open up to other places when it is named” (Tuan 1991). This place, virtual or otherwise however, can be corrupted by history, memories and reputation, such as a beautiful seaside reef spoiled by its violent history (Van Luyn 2013).

The social network I have been studying of the past few weeks, Instagram, is not focused on language, but on images. To me, this ability to upload a picture of your own personal experiences, creates and sense of place, where friends share experiences. However, language does come into play through the comments a photo caption, allowing both the uploader and followers to express themselves through words. This sense of place can just as easily be spoiled, by events that evoke a negative view of the network and its users. For example, cyber bullying could create an unwelcoming feeling for a victim who has been abused on that particular site. Follow the link to a CNN article on cyber bullying.

Although Instagram’s image based layout assigns itself to a more visual form of social networking, rather than a text based one, language plays a vital role in the creation of a place. This virtual sense of place gives users comfort and a sense of welcoming, but can also lead to feelings discomfort and insecurity when the users or sites reputation is damaged.


Tuan, Y. (1991). Language and the making of place: A narrative-descriptive approach. In annals of the Association of American Geographers, 81(4), 684-696.  
Van Luyn, A. (2013). BA1002: Our Space: Networks, Narratives and The Making of Place, Lecture week 5.
Elizabeth Landau. (2013). When bullying goes high-tech, CNN published April 15, 2013.

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