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Peter Graef’s contribution to a science of information and communications technology

Andreas Koch et Juergen Rauh
p. 430-438

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1After a long day of conferences in the early 2000s, the members of the German study group Geographie der Telekommunikation und Kommunikation (AK17) concluded their day in a pub. One of the participants had to depart early, but he had no information available about his train connections. Professor Peter Graef retrieved a device out of his pocket, causing the technophiles of the group to look on in amazement. He typed on his brand-new Blackberry and within seconds he could supply the young colleague with all necessary information about his connections.

2Professor Peter Graef, chair of AK 17 since 1995 as successor of Professor Karlheinz Hottes, perplexed the other members of AK 17 not only with his ultra-modern telecommunication device on this evening, but by regularly incorporating current issues into the material for the common meetings or for his own presentations and contributions. Peter Graef’s great strength is not only anticipating technical trends but also transferring them into the scientific context of a Geography of Telecommunications combined with a theoretical basis. In his publications as well as in his presentations he took up different subjects at such an early stage, when they were still in a process of development or had only just been at the introduction on the market. Examples of these are: his presentation on RFID-technology and its future contribution to a new stage of spatial organization by information and communications technology (AK 17- meeting 2006, Wurzburg) as well as his presentation on the rising electronic newspapers (e- papers) and how to use them for methodological issues in geography (Munich 2004).

3One special focus of his work is that (print) media, considered in the context of new electronic technologies. His articles in the German National Atlas, vol. 9 (Transportation and Communication), co-edit by Peter Graef (Deiters, Graef, Loeffler 2001): Locations of Media industries (Graef, Matuszis 2001) and Locations of Book-publishing Houses (Graef 2001a) exemplify this. In these papers, specific location factors and spatial distribution patterns of media as dynamic economic sectors are emphasized. But also the increasing application of multimedia techniques in the (print)media sector and their spatial impacts are subject of Peter Graef’s contributions.

Illustration 1 : Peter Graef

Illustration 1 : Peter Graef

Convergence of “old” and “new” media

4Electronic media record vast growth rates since the beginning of the 2000s. To analyse these developments in Germany, the statistics of the Audit Bureau of Circulations (Informationsgemeinschaft zur Feststellung der Verbreitung von Werbetragern (IVW)) are an excellent data source. IVW publishes statistics about circulations, distribution and usage in the media and advertising economy. Apart from data about circulation and distribution development and usage of print media they also provide data about usage of online-media (IVW-Online-Usage data). The latter are based on two technical measurement parameters (see Bentlage, Rauh 2008): “PageImpressions” (PI) counts every hit of a single page of an online- media website by users (IVW 2007: 4). “Visits” encompass a coherent procedure of usage. A “visit” starts as soon as a user generates a PI on a homepage. Each further PI, a user is generating within this media during a session, is assigned to this visit. The “visit” ends, when there are no PIs generated by the user for a period of 30 minutes and more (IVW 2007: 6). PageImpressions per visit (PI/visit) can be interpreted in two ways: if the user looks at different pages of the same media, it might be an indicator for a very interesting media offer. A low value, however, might also be an indicator for a good usability of the website.

5The data of IVW reveal the changes in media user behaviour over the last ten years. The number of online-media registered by IVW (newspapers, journals etc.) increased from 400 in December 2002 to 1,174 in December 2012. In the same time period the usage rose from 392 million visits to 5,277 million visits per month (IVW; The indicator PI/visit decreased from 8.83 to 7.44.

6On the other hand, the sales figures of printed newspapers decline continuously in Germany. In the fourth quarter of 2002 27.06 millions of newspapers were sold. Current sales figures reach only the total of 20.84 million (IV/2012) (IVW;

7Let us take up two exemplary cases of newspapers, which are published at Peter Graef’s scientific domains (Munich and Aachen): The publishing house of Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) is located in Munich. SZ covers a nationwide area of circulation, whereas the Aachener Zeitung has got mostly a regional distribution area. Both newspapers differ sharply from each other by their distribution figures in print editions (Table 1). Over the last 11 years the print edition of Aachener Zeitung (-21.6%) obviously lost a higher percentage of readers than SZ (10.0%). The distribution figures of SZ remain static until 2010, but during the last few years the figures have decreased rapidly, which can partially be attributed to increasing numbers of e-paper-readers (15.219 in IV/2012) (IVW;

8Table 1 also shows that the websites of Sueddeutsche Zeitung are much more frequently visited than those of Aachener Zeitung. But the increased significance of the Internet offer of both papers has taken a similar run (over +1570% measured by visits since 2002). Over 90% of all visits at both internet media aim for pages with editorial content, whereas pages with e-commercecontent, games or search engines are seldom visited by comparison (source: These figures obviously are more an indication of an increased competition than the supplementation between print and online media.

Table 1: Sueddeutschen Zeitung : Development of Website usage and distribution figures of printed newspapers (2002 until 2013)

Visits per


PI per



Daily Distribution of printed newspapers***

Sueddeutsche Zeitung

February 2002





February 2003





February 2004





February 2005





February 2006





February 2007





February 2008





February 2009





February 2010





February 2011





February 2012





February 2013*





* Daily distribution of printed newspapers: 4th quarter 2012 ** Aachener Zeitung/Aachener Nachrichten *** in the first quarter of the year

Sources:​index.php;; 3.4.2013

Table 2: Aachener Zeitung: Development of Website usage and distribution figures of printed newspapers (2002 until 2013)

Visits per


PI per



Daily Distribution
of printed newspapers**,***

Aachener Zeitung

February 2002





February 2003





February 2004





February 2005





February 2006





February 2007





February 2008





February 2009





February 2010





February 2011





February 2012





February 2013*





* Daily distribution of printed newspapers: 4th quarter 2012 ** Aachener Zeitung/Aachener Nachrichten *** in the first quarter of the year

Sources:​index.php;; 3.4.2013

9Many publishing houses are concerned with profound changes and sometimes painful rethinking processes. Newspaper editors are no longer only producers of articles in a conventional way. Additionally, they must have a high degree of multimedia competence and they have to be actively present in social media like Twitter and Facebook to gather information. Furthermore, the articles they produce have to meet different requirements depending on the platform on which they are published. Present challenges to be faced by publishing houses arise from the diversity of technical media, for which editorial content has to be produced. An article has to be adapted and modified in content as well as in technical aspects to the publishing platform. The diversity of the devices like notebook, slate tablet, smartphone with different operating systems (android, IOS...) complicates the labour especially of smaller publishing houses. The necessary investments in the near future might be too vast for many smaller regional newspaper publishers. Thus, it can be expected that the concentration process in newspaper publishing houses which has been observed in Germany for decades (Rauh 2001) will continue.

10Since his early on-topic papers and his habilitation about “Information and Communication as Elements of Spatial Structure” (Graef 1988), Peter Graef has been working on a great number of issues dealing with spatial aspects of information and communication technologies. Besides media and multimedia, he wrote papers for instance about telematics, telecommunications in traffic management systems (Graef 1995), telecommunication in enterprise networks (Graef 2002a), telecommunications in the inner-European market (Graef 1994), induction of new location qualities by information and communication technologies (Graef 1993) or about information and communication technologies in the city (Graef 2001b). To pick a further issue out of his works, we remember his presentation at the AK 17 meeting in Muenster (2002) about offshore financial centres and their telecommunication networks considering the examples of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (Graef 2002b).

Epistemological claims of Peter Graef’s research

11Nowadays information and communications technologies (ICT) are widely used and accepted. Broadband networks provide for fast data exchange and real-time communication at a global scale, mobile devices offer an immense storage capacity and data processing capacity for diverse multi-media applications; they are multi-functional (e.g. cameras) and due to wireless communication networks they can be used ubiquitously, spatially and temporarily. An ever increasing offer of applications (apps) in all areas of our daily life implies that networks, devices, and services are penetrating almost all of our professional, provisional, educational, and recreational activities - they are taken for granted.

12Therefore ICT has caused a dramatic, dynamic and paradoxical transformation of societies all over the world. We are simultaneously witnessing the processes of de-localizing and of synchronizing face-to-face communication. Economic and cultural globalization as well as societal modernization without functional virtualization is hardly imaginable. Global cities grew in economic meaning (and population) for company-driven services, a remarkable concentration of institutions and a centralization of strategic power took place; at the same time operational power has been decentralized down to individuals (e.g. electronic banking or knowledge retrieving activities) and developments like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, GeoWeb 2.0 or Volunteered Geographic Information changed the role of applicants which is phrased as “prosuming” - consuming and producing content for the Wcommunity. Autonomy and dependency, individualization and generalization, globalization and localization have increased complementarily (van der Loo and van Reijen 1992).

13Approximately 30 years ago, unsurprisingly, most of these developments had not been anticipated although technological progress of ICT has been remarkable since the 1950s. Even more astonishing from a retrospective perspective is the comparatively low recognition of these developments in German speaking human geography in the 1980s. Peter Graef is one of only a few proponents who discovered the relevance of ICT and media as a driving force for changes in geographical, social, and economic spaces. His early engagement and motivation to develop a “geography of communication and telecommunication” was confronted with a reluctant attitude of mainstream geography at that time. In fact, it was difficult to perceive associations and correlations between changes of settlement structures, functional relations between companies and the influence of new services like Btx or its successor Datex-J of the former state-owned German Telecom (​wiki/​Bildschirmtext) or Minitel in France (offered by the former state owned French Telecom;​wiki/​Minitel). Moreover, it is not only this early engagement, but also his continued engagement in this field which distinguishes Peter Graefs work. He has never assessed research about ICT as in transition of scientific - and ordinary - meaning, and he has always criticized an attitude of ICT research as fashion.

14With this intellectual background he investigated the influential capacity of ICT mainly from an empirical perspective. What people actually were doing with these technologies, where, how and why they were using them with respect to specific functional relationships and social contexts, was what he was mainly interested in. Scientific validation, he claimed, must be evaluated by accounting on social, economic, and cultural impacts. This does not mean that only mass phenomena earn scientific awareness, quite the contrary: it is not necessarily mainstream application with its public attention which indicates behavioural mutations, but all the services and activities that relate to other services and activities and thus are changing economic and social processes in a relational sense. One example from the 1980s is the idea that ICT is substituting transportation activities at that time. This approach, applied to patterns of functional relationships, claimed that if employees would get the opportunity to work partly at home then labour-induced transportation would decrease. In fact, it did not. One of the reasons was (and is) that these employees spent time savings in this respect to recreational activities - by using their cars to get to attractive places.

15The lesson we learnt was that not a theory-phobic attitude is scientifically successful when analysing the complex pattern of our socio-technological Lebenswelt, but to apply a multi-paradigmatic reasoning with a tailored research setting instead of instrumentalising theories and/or methods. From an epistemological point of view Peter Graef has always tried to find a good compromise between “simplifying complexity” and “complexify simplicity”. Other fields of research he worked on intensively were the diffusion of innovations or the organization of companies. In each case, a three-dimensional space of approaches has to be taken into consideration: “access”, “relevance”, and “competence”. Access, the locational and regional equipment with sophisticated networks, is undoubtedly a necessary premise for fast and safe communication; it would be, however, misleading to reduce issues of economic success or social well-being only to this dimension. Individual and collective relevance and competence of using all the different kinds of virtual information and communication generates the social environment which is important to assess potentials and bottlenecks of ICT-applications. Quite often he criticized a reluctant attitude of communities or politics that put seeming dangers of privacy and data protection to the foreground, leaving issues of flexibility, efficiency, and increased scopes of freedom aside. There would be much room for counter-arguments, but what remains remarkable is the fact that associated problems with (or without) ICT make no difference to other technological innovations which we have to live with. It is not technology as such which causes problems, but the ways societies are using and dealing with them. Political decisions cannot be replaced by technological fatalism - be it positively co-notated to liberalization or negatively associated with surveillance.

16This statement is not only but prominently true when phenomena of spatial concentration and de-concentration are coupled with processes of power centralization and de-centralization, as mentioned above. If individuals and/or communities would like to maintain their scopes of freedom in actions they are forced to actively gain knowledge (competence!) about the systems used, and reversely they get experienced and recognized (relevance!) with and within the systems used. Nowadays it would be impossible for students to enroll or to receive latest news and learning materials without being registered in an online system provided by their university. Branches of saving banks or postal offices have been decreased over the last two decades, in some peripheral regions even dramatically, and this has led to a changing role and position of customers; simple information and transaction tasks have been devolved to every one of us, and more complicated functions with a preferred face-to-face communication are concentrated on fewer locations. Flexibility and scopes of freedom are, furthermore, important in our daily activities. I very well remember a situation during a scientific field trip in the mid-90s - a time when I (Andreas Koch) was a research assistant of Peter Graef - when he called his daughter with his cell phone to tell her the latest news of the trip and to receive the latest family news. The overlay of different things at the same time and at the same place is certainly one of the most fascinating facts of our contemporary communication capabilities.

17In this sense, Peter Graef again and again emphasized that information and communication technologies should be understood as a means to improve personal and collective living conditions. ICT per se does not provide any ethical aspirations and we should permanently take care to not confuse technological potentials with social responsibilities. Today we are often faced with phrases like “this would be technologically feasible”, but there is no automatism to follow this ideology uncritically. In a couple of publications he impressively advocated looking at backstage processes. One example would be logistics. The ability to buy books online requires a widely ramified network with new locations of warehouses, book suppliers, websites, advertisement mechanisms, fleet and transportation structures, etc. This in turn creates new and different spatial patterns of locations and allocations, employment opportunities, labour conditions, information retrievals, shopping behaviours, retail market effects, etc. These changes and transformations are not always and necessarily advantageous and a geography of (tele-)communications has to pay attention to the intended and not- intended implications of such developments.

18Obviously, there is no complete substitution of one distribution channel by another. Virtual book stores like Amazon induced a significant (or even revolutionary) modification of purchasing books, technical devices or other things, nonetheless. Traditional book stores struggle for survival and the same is true for many other retailers in cities. Assuming an exclusive and straightforward causal relationship between virtual and material book stores in order to describe and explain locational and infrastructural changes of commercial places in cities or villages would be misleading, because there are many more determinants which influence the complex pattern of provisional structures. One is the tremendous increase of shopping centres (in numbers and square meters) at peripheral green-field locations. Another is the free availability of and open access to digital information in line with commonly shared open source initiatives which offer materials and services directly to everyone’s home. All this can be translated into many different contexts as for instance travel booking or all the e- activities like e-learning, e-procurement, e-government, e-banking, etc. Perpendicular to this dimension is the kind of personal or institutional involvement which has been analysed by Peter Graef as well and which is typically abbreviated as B2B (business-to-business), B2C (business-to-consumer), C2C, and many more variations.

19As an economic geographer, he was obviously interested in spatial effects and causes of ICT, an objective which is contemporarily discussed as the “world is flat” metaphor by Thomas Friedman (2007) and the “world is spiky” metaphor by Richard Florida (2005). Although this might be a good starting point for becoming aware of the huge diversity discourses on ICT and what they are about, Peter Graef’s interest was more directed towards the huge range between these two poles. The impact of digital local news for global travellers (be it professional or private), the impact of global logistics chains for regional transportation fleets, or urban aggregation effects on print media location decisions are only three examples of his sense for scaling. As a representative of a functional social and economic geography, stressing questions about the quality of the spatial organization of groups, he has always been keen on knowing more about the invisible structures of power and relationships as well as their spatially visible outcomes.

20It is this endeavour to comprehensive - not holistic - research, an awareness of relational complexity, an intuition of how innovative developments may change our life, and a commitment to use common-sense in empirical investigations that makes Peter Graef’s scientific work so fruitful for a geography of information and (tele)communication and its scientific community.

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Titre Illustration 1 : Peter Graef
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Andreas Koch

Professor; Department of Geography and Geology, University of Salzburg; Hellbrunnerstr. 34, 5020 Salzburg, Austria;

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Juergen Rauh

Professor; Department of Geography and Geology, University of Wurzburg; Am Hubland, 97074 Wurzburg, Germany;

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