Why Should a Website Decide Where You’re From?

colorful map of eastern europe with pushpins connected by pieces of yarn
Photo by Cali4Beach via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In Real Life Mag, information accessibility and data use expert Zara Rahman explores the limits and coercive power of a ubiquitous internet interface: the location drop-down menu. Aside from forcing people to make artificial choices, location drop-downs also assume a stable location, something that many people don’t have, and never did.

Digital technologies seem to have ignored how people actually move around in geographic space: It’s relatively new that some of us have fixed locations or even addresses at all, and in some regions, nomadic cultures still exist. In Somalia, over a quarter of the population is nomadic; in Mongolia, just under a third are still nomadic, moving from place to place with their herds. Seasonal migration from rural areas to urban ones is a way of life for many, or from poorer countries to richer ones, as Bangladeshi migrant workers who find work in countries in the Gulf do. For millions, location is and always has been fluid and complex, dependent upon a myriad of factors, from climate to the economy to geopolitics.

Read the essay