Get Lost! in Northfield, or Beyond

April 5, 2016

Psychogeography is a term that links psychology and geography. The notion originates with French theorist Guy Debord in the 1950s. Debord and his circle, the Situationists, encouraged people to invent, then follow a chance path through the city as a technique for experiencing it anew.

Finding this chance path—“getting lost” as we are calling it—in psychogeography begins with developing a formula, or algorithm, to "mis-guide" you. It could be as simple as: “Walk three blocks, turn left; walk two blocks, turn right.” Really, anything surprising or amusing will do, so long as it produces a new walk “from which the scales of conventional seeing” fall away. Still, we give points for creativity in producing your algorithm.

One of the first techniques used by Debord and friends was to superimpose a map of London on a map of Paris, where they were located. You walk in your own city while imagining navigating from one destination to another in the other city. This chance procedure produces a “drift”—dérive in French—that you may undertake alone or with companions.

Carleton’s Digital Humanities Scholar Austin Mason has created for the WALK! Festival our own psychogeography app, Get Lost. Exploring it you will discover a variety of maps stacked one atop the other. You’ll find historical maps of Northfield, Carleton’s campus, plus maps of Tenochtitlan in 1542, Paris in 1793, the London Underground in 1933, and even a playful map of the Carleton Arboretum imagined as a subway system by Carleton artist David Lefkowitz.

Because this app is linked to Google maps, when you view it on your smartphone you will discover that as you walk “in another world” your path will be traced as a blue dot on your phone. This allows you to walk down 4th Street in Tombstone, Arizona in 1888, while walking along 4th street in Northfield in real time.

You may make notes on your map, and with a little exploring you’ll discover how to blend them by adjusting the transparency of your layers. Give it a try. Juggle the maps. Make adjustments. It's really simple, yet elegant.

If you are ambitious you can make notes, photographs, collect objects—anything to open your eyes!