Quarantiles. Archiving expressive digital places from Instagram during the COVID-19 pandemic by Andrea Benedetti, Politecnico di Milano
“Quaran.tiles” is the physical representation of a collection of expressive geotags created on Instagram in 2020 as a response to quarantines during the first wave of infections of COVID-19. Due to the lack of vaccines and cures for the illness, the reaction of various local governments was lockdowns of multiple scales that forced people to stay at home. On social media platforms like Instagram, which offer UI affordances to tag photographs in various places globally, this became impossible for many people due to lockdowns. People in lockdown started to re-appropriate these UI affordances not to locate themselves in a specific place but rather in a fictional place that reflected their condition instead of geographic coordinates. A series of posts tagged in places named “Quarantine” started to appear.
Due to how the platform is structured, these non-existent places are often associated with real-world coordinates, creating a mingling layer where digital aggregations of data and real-world features meet. After a first mapping that provided an archive of these places directly on Instagram (@quaran.tile), the ephemeral nature of content on the platform required a physical archival effort to preserve the constructed dataset.
This assemblage results in a catalog of places scraped from Instagram as of April 2020. Various levels of information can describe each place. The first layer is the one available on Instagram: the name is found on the platform, along with latitude and longitude, when available. To emphasize the relationship between these digital places and the real world locations, the address was automatically obtained through reverse-geocoding, and a collection of images from Google Streetview was downloaded as an additional layer of information. Finally, the dataset was used to produce automatically a book through the data merge functionality of Adobe InDesign, which was then completed with indexes and lists to reference all locations throughout the book.