Eliminating Food Deserts Theory and Design

Mobile device usage has become ubiquitous for people of all social classes. From cell phones to tablets, you’d be hard pressed to find someone living in America without access to some sort of information and communication device (ICT). Because of their ubiquity ICT’s have fundamentally changed the way all people interact with each other. By their very nature these devices enhance the mobile aspect of communication, allowing people to communicate regardless of location or circumstance. It is this mobility that can allow for people to not only communicate, but to collaborate in ways that were not possible in the pre-digital age. It is my aim with my community garden app to use the social and mobile aspects of ICTs to help individuals form larger collaborative groups in order to help communities with poor access to healthy food options free themselves from the confines of the food deserts they are currently living in.

Spatial mobility can classically be described as a person’s or objects’ ability to travel through geographic space. But as Kakihara and Sorensen note, symbols and information can also relate to spatial mobility, as symbols and information can be received by a large number of people far away from the senders geographic location thanks to ICTs. The example they give is that of global satellite television networks, where billions of people can receive news simultaneously on a global scale. This idea plays heavily into my app concept because users from across the globe will be able to share ideas and data when using the app. For example, say a user in Philadelphia wants to know how to go about starting a personal vegetable garden on a small plot in their back yard. They will be able to access information libraries built by other users in an open source manner and find out the best crops to grow in the mid Atlantic climate. They will also be able to ask users on the in app forum how to best sow their crops, when to plant, and when to harvest. Basically any information they need can be shared with them by any user within the apps network. Perhaps a user in New York with an already successful garden will have suggestions for which particular strain of tomato grows best in the Mid Atlantic climate and can share that information with the Philadelphia user, even though both users are complete strangers separated by hundreds of miles of landmass. This communication would not be possible without the spatial aspect of mobility covered in the Kakihara and Sorensen piece.

Obviously these features of the app not only incorporate mobility but also social interaction. The social interactions previously described in the last paragraph explore what Humphreys describes as the concepts of inner and outer space. Inner space can be described as the intimacy or familiarity of the users interacting with each other. When a user makes their first post on the in app forum they will most likely be communicating with complete and total strangers, but as they post more and interact with other app users they will develop a more intimate inner space that will affect the way in which they communicate. The concept of outer space is described as being the physical closeness of the users. Through the app, users will be able to share thoughts and ideas with with other users of varying proximity, leading to a wide range of differing outer spatial communications. For example a user will be able to locate other users within their geographic area and might choose to coordinate in the physical realm by planning a small community garden in their area. Another possibility is that they might chose to ride share to the closest health food store (which they can find with the in app store locator) thus further closing their outer space.

Since users will be able to search for other users in their area, privacy concerns will have to be taken into account. Users will not be asked for any personal information, and can opt out of having their phone’s location services utilized by the app. Of course this would limit the functionality of the app, but users would still be able to use all of the functions that do not rely on the app knowing their location. By eliminating the ability to personally identify anyone, the app will protect against both surveillance and “sousveillance” by both the app maker and the app users.

This brings us to the app’s accessibility. First and foremost the app should be available to everyone for free as it is primarily targeted to lower income areas. Secondly, the app will need to be able to run on older mobile phones so that it is accessible to those who may not have the financial ability to purchase the newest technology. To accomplish this the app will have to be very simple and perhaps even built off of an HTML code base, so that even the oldest of modern mobile phones could at least run it in their internet browsers. This also has the added benefit of being able to be accessed from any computer with an internet connection.

Works cited:

Kakihara, Masao & Sorensen, Carsten. (2001). Expanding the ‘Mobility’ Concept. SIGGROUP Bulletin

Humphreys, Lee. (2012). “Connecting, Coordinating, Cataloguing: Communicative Practices on Mobile Social Networks,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Marwick, Alice. (2012). “Public Domain: Surveillance in everyday life.” Surveillance & Society.

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