Geocaching culture

I’m not a gadgets person. I don’t have an IPod (though I have an “IPauvre” - or “IPobre” to the Portuguese speakers). I don’t have an Iphone, not even a Blackberry. Actually, I don’t access email from my mobile, I don’t even Twitter from it. No PDA, no Kindle, no TiVo, no Blu-ray, no Mac. I think all these things are amazing, beautiful, useful, and super cool. But, beyond the fact that I could not pay for them, I just don’t feel like owning them.

Despite this attitude of mine, I now have a GPS... It’s not the latest-coolest device, but it’s a good one: a Garmin eTrex Legend HC. I got it because a GPS device is an indispensable resource to do Geocaching, which is something I’ve been researching online for a while. Now it’s time to go to the field, literally.
I will post here some excerpts from the article I wrote on Geocaching using online data only. And as my activities of observation and participation in the geocaching community develop, I’ll compare and extend my findings to better understand how online and offline data may complement each other. This is also an attempt to contribute a little bit to alleviate some of the issues faced by researchers that use netnography as a method. For instance, how important it is to go beyond the “unobtrusive and painless” online data collection and interact face-to-face with the members of a community? How relevant it is to track community members’ activities on other online spots beyond the board/group/website being studied?
Besides this methodological aspect, some characteristics of geocaching suggest that it is a unique context in which to study consumer culture:

  • First, the use of multiple technologies (GPS devices, internet, PDAs, digital cameras) combined with outdoor activity, nature and travel may attract and bring together individuals with diverse backgrounds, profiles, interests and motivations. Besides, these two essential components of the game, technology and nature, require geocachers to articulate their incursions into these two apparently opposite environments.
  • Second, the main rule of geocaching (“take something, leave something, and sign the book”) adds complexity to the social and communal aspects of the game because it promotes the exchange of objects among players and gives them the opportunity to obtain recognition and prestige (e.g. the first to sign the book of a very challenging cache is celebrated among geocachers). Could play be one central link that brings a community together?
  • Finally, because the game was created and developed by consumers without encouragement from active market agents, the importance of interaction and cooperation among participants to keep the game active is enhanced.

My initial thoughts linked geocaching to the communal aspects of play. Thanks to the insightful comments of professors Belk and Kozinets, who read the first version of the paper, I’m also looking at references on amateurism, consumers as producers, and the re-enchantment of everyday life.
Geocaching is a fascinating activity and this research project has been one of my top priorities for this summer. You will certainly read more about it in future posts here. In the meantime, here’s a nice video about geocaching by Tessa Banks Jeff Orlowski from the Dept. of Communication of Stanford University.