My research is at the intersection of Mobile Communication and Networked Mobilities Studies, with a focus on issues of access, power imbalances, and socio-economic inequalities in the Global South. Broadly, I am interested on the creative ways people appropriate mobile technologies, including location-based games and mobile media art. I explore the many ways urban mobility can be understood as a creative practice. I recently proposed the concept of mobile networked creativity (de Souza e Silva & Xiong, 2020) as an ongoing and recursive way creativity unfolds in hybrid spaces, when we take into considerations the networked and power relationships among people, technologies, and mobility. Rather than understanding creativity as solely an artistic practice, an individual process, or innovation, mobile networked creativity is a techno-social response to unplanned situations, as well as a system of power struggles and friction against normative forces.
We encounter mobile networked creativity in everyday practices, such as hacking mobile phones to spoof location in location-based games, or de-activating electric scooters to be sold in the black market. Mobile networked creativity is particularly strong among people who live in precarious situations, such as refugees, migrants and low-income communities, who often need to be creative to access, change, and adapt technologies that are part of their everyday lives. We can observe it, for example, in the creation process of a wheelchair developed from bike spare parts in a refugee camp and in portable mobile phone solar charging stations in areas with no electricity. Mobile networked creativity revisits the concepts of hybrid spaces (de Souza e Silva, 2006) and net locality (Gordon & de Souza e Silva, 2011) to include the appropriation of ideas that sustain a community’s survival, especially when the community is excluded from having proper mobility and access to technology.
In particular, I investigate how mobile and locative interfaces shape urban mobility and people’s interactions with public spaces, primarily large cities in the developing world, such as Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. I explore the ways in which mobile and location-based technologies (such as smartphone apps) shape mobility in urban spaces, by interfacing with transportation systems, such as electric bikes and scooters, ride-sharing vehicles (e.g., taxis and Uber) and public transportation (buses and subway). I am interested in how the recent development of urban micromobility and ride-sharing systems in large Global South metropolis is embedded into larger systems of uneven mobilities and mobility (in)justice as a legacy of the long histories of socio-economic inequalities, power asymmetries, and racism that these post-colonial countries experience. For example, how can micromobility systems support mobility justice when they are geo-fenced to serve only high-income areas? Finally, I also look at how the daily interaction with playful and ludic activities, like location-based games and mobile media art are integrated into and shape urban mobility in these locations.