Virtually Local

Inspired by the success of Silicon Valley, cities around the world have set to develop local high-tech havens in hope of boosting their economy. These projects often involve the construction of new infrastructure for the designated area, with special emphasis on installing the latest state-of-the-art telecommunication networks. In a different strand of local development, cities like Amsterdam have embraced the Internet’s power to bring people together with hope of supporting interaction in urban communities (Jaeger, 1999). This involves the construction of digital communal services — a very different form of infrastructure. In this paper I examine the convergence of these approaches in the development of an information system within a Finnish coastal city, to serve a district which I refer to as the Heights. I call this information system the Heights Virtual Village.

Operating within the framework of cultural-historical activity theory, I map the positions of different actors in relationship to the new information system being developed. I adopt Bowker’s and Star’s concept of boundary infrastructure (Bowker & Star, 1999) to emphasize the multi-perspective nature this object. I study the social construction of this technology by examining the process by which the object is constantly challenged and redefined in talk. Since the research was carried out when the infrastructure was still in the design phase, I studied the methods that actors used to discuss the future and deal with uncertainty. I compare the different perspectives through identifying interpretative repertoires that the actors expressed in their talk. In the final section of this paper, I analyze emerging contradictions between these perspectives.


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