Possible Answers to the Question
"Where Are You?"
- I am seated in a chair.
- This identifies my place in relation to a piece of conventional technology. By "conventional", I mean that we all know what it is. You can probably imagine encountering another culture, where you don't recognize things to sit on. Where would you be then?
- I am at a Life@UCF session
- This places me in terms of what I am engaged in at the moment. Could you say that you are at the session, but your mind is on the ski slopes or the beach or with your family? Can you be in two places at once?
- I am in Orlando
- What is Orlando? A city. What if someone happened to be standing on exactly the spot you are, but 200 years ago? That person would of course not say that he/she is in Orlando. So, place sometimes has to do with social and political organization, and therefore with history as well.
- I am in the US
- In some ways, being in the US is like being in Orlando - there was a time when it wasn't there. But being American is different from being Orlandonian. How?
- I am in North America
- Is this like being "in the US"? Not quite. Why not? In some cases, people from other countries identify "North America" and "American" - but don't make that mistake around a Canadian. This also raises the question of what it means to be "from" a continent. At one time, North and South America were considered one continent, "America", the New World.
- I am on earth
- Under what circumstances could this answer to the question "Where are you?" not result in someone thinking you are weird?
- I am at University of Central Florida (for students)
- Being "at UCF" refers not only to spatial location, but also to engagement. That is, there is an ambiguity here - someone might say they are "at UCF" and just mean they are physically located here, but someone asking you "where are you now?" might really mean "what school are you attending?", which makes "I am at UCF" into a chosen activity, not just a spatial location.
- I am at a specific longitude and latitude
- We use GPS systems to locate ourselves, but it is interesting to note that in themselves, they don't really tell us anything. You need to have some sense of where you want to go for this information to make sense.
- I am beside a particular person.
- This is a useful way to designate place, but probably temporary. After all, that person is probably going to move sometime. But it does speak to the idea that place can be understood as a relation, and that relation can be temporary.
- I am a child of my parents, sibling to my siblings, parent to my child.
- This is a kind of location - in a family tree. When you meet someone from a similar background to you, you might be tempted to figure out what your "place" is in that tree.
- I am here/present.
- When would you use a phrase like this? What would it imply? We use it for taking attendance, but people also use it for where their attention is focussed.
- I am lost.
- Two people could be in exactly the same location, and one could be lost while the other is not. Under what conditions is one lost?
- I am in my skin.
- Can you be "in your skin", as if your skin is a covering not part of you? What do we mean when we say we "used our hands" - are they not part of us? Are they a tool? The point is that we are bodies in a world. What do our bodies have to do with our being in place?
- I am in a chat room on the internet.
- To what extent could we be in a virtual place? Is this a place at all?
- I am in a good place or a bad place.
- The very same place can be good for some, bad for others. Is this just an attitude toward place, or does it have something to do with the place itself? Imagine, for example, being disabled and trying to get around the UCF campus. What kind of place is it for you?
- I am confused/happy/sad.
- Sometimes we talk about being "in" a state of mind. This is a platial term, and suggests that our consciousness is like a geography, that we move around. Only a metaphor? Maybe.
- I am at church.
- Ok, you aren't at church at the moment, you're in a lecture. But what would it take to be at church? Does it require moving to a different place, or can the place you are currently in be changed so that you can say, you are now at church without having physically moved? What is it to be "at church"? Where is church? And what happens if you just decide to hang around the seat you're in until tonight at midnight? You haven't moved, but you're no longer in class either. In fact, if the campus security catches you, you might be in trouble.
Several issues arise from this:
1. It is almost impossible to coherently answer the question "Where are you?" without knowing who is asking and for what purpose.
2. And, "where are you" also seems to require us to answer other questions, like "who are you?" Place has to do with identity as well.
3. "Where are you?" seems to be a question located somewhere between subjectivity and objectivity. In other words, we can't just say that place is an objective thing, available to everyone, because the "same place" is really not the same place for different people. And, we also cannot say that is it just subjective, "in our heads", because it seems we would have more control over it if it was. Furthermore, we seem to require physicality of some sort for place to happen. If we didn't, if it was just all in our heads, we'd be idealists of a fairly unsophisticated sort.