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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> 'Spatial Discursions' - no space
Pit Schultz on 15 Feb 2001 04:20:45 -0000


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[Nettime-bold] Re: <nettime> 'Spatial Discursions' - no space


brian, risking that we run a ping-pong-dialogue here boring the rest
of the nettimers to hell, i'm happy having found a way to continue
this thread.

the question is still, 'is there a spaciality of cyberspace?' besides
the difficult question what space really means, i think we can agree
that one is able to sense the effects of extended space, or geography
on the internet in 'features' like availability of access to
bandwidth, different languages and national laws. my former argument was
going into the direction of speaking about "virtual space" which is
the still dominating our idealistic "theory" of
cyberspace, as such that it is defined by beeing NOT physical,
and NOT real, but interestingly more or less a mirror of it, only
BETTER (utopia) or WORSE (distopia). such a caricaturist
construction of 'sociotechnial' space is purely fictional, in the
sense that there are many different popular cyber myths all coming
with their own features and focus.

let's get empirical. if you buy a statistics software packet, there
are usually plug-ins which are allow you to map data geograpically. you
can do that with the internet too (geographic traceroutes), but only
with poor results. geography is not at all fully implemented in the existing
network protocols, you won't find many RFCs refering to geographic
localisation. interestingly the DNS system is one of the few where
people try to implement geographic locality, which often gets
subverted by the market. (.tv, .fm, .it, .to)

space as such is just one possible representation of
data, nothing more. the fact that data has a somewhat territorial
original 'source', a terrestrial coordinate, is just one possibly
interesting attribute of a data set. there is no rule that a computer
on the net has to reveal its GPS coordinates - yet. if such a rule
appears it might have to do with the ability to backtrack traffic, to
locate (ab)users etc. the expanding wireless and mobile internet tech
might have more of such features included, and they surely not make
you just more free.

in the end there is no reason to assume that cyberspace has any
spacial extension. spaciality as a feature of physical space is becoming
an attribute on the lowest network level, as soon you have a packet
with an ip number you need contextual data to track it back to its
geographic source. in the implementation of cyberspace,
eg. in tcp/ip or more general the OSI model, the physicality of space
vanishes on level two. this doesn't apply for the factor of time at
all which becomes the all dominating measure system of computing. take
the ping command or the popularity of other kind of benchmarking tests.

i would argue now, that after we can forget about the concept of space
in cybernetics, we can go over and look more at the concept of time on
the net. for cybernetics and computing which are based on logics,
the linearity and irreversability of time is substantial. a follows b
but not b follows a, even if the switching time between two states,
goes ideally near zero, you need different states in an automata to
make a difference. space is completly irrelevant on the level of boolean
algrebra, or the touring machine, because it belongs to the "hardware"
e.g. the electrical sphere which is represented in an abstraction of
machine code. only from here you have the possiblity of a running
computer, the network and all that. all effects which connect those
levels are errors (cellular phones in airplanes) or hard to be
managed features (power function on a normal pc). it is an interesting
idea to think the whole thing as one, but then how to distinguish it
from some kind of pathetically messy gigantomanic holyness? the stuff
works because these levels are devided from each other.

interestingly by making space technically disappear, it reappears on
a higher level of myth and narratives, the belonging to individual
place (myfiles) and home (geocities), the metaphors of ships and captains,
(explorer and navigator), the overexageration of planetary extension in
the term WWW, or the slogans arround 'surfing' and even the
etymology of 'cybernetics' show the mythological background
of the net in the history of naviation, colonialisation, exloration
on the non-organized surfaces of the seven seas. but for 'cyberspace'
there is no elemental, essential level like the sea. it is pure
engineering, only the ship.

indeed the analogue world provides its own complexities which we
are unable to compute. 'the revolution will be not digitized'.
but i quite resist any romantic notion about industrialism,
machines of iron and fire, it might have been a fashion in a
phase of transition which time has gone. indeed there is a fascination
with the material extension or interface of 'cyberspace', but i'd
be careful to read too much into it. a router looks like a hub
and a network cable like a video cable but they have different
functions. most of all you cannot *see* anymore how fast a system
is without the proper tools of benchmarking. what i want to say is
that the analogue world might provide some surprises, but it would
be too simple to idealize it like a technological unconsciousness,
a surpressed materiality, an excluded ghost which demands to get
back in. surely, these 'uncanny' elemements make cyberspace even
more 'gothic', more fictional. it would be also too simple to
idealize the industrial working class for beeing nearer to the
'truth' of the copper wires and demand their emancipation
by aesthetifying those wires. this looks too much like the
heroic pictures of electrification in the stalinist era, as
the remains of russian futurism.

netspace vs. nettime.there is obviously the absolute technical time
measured in unix-ticks, cpu cycles, organized in time-zones and
controled by time-servers and atomic clocks (there is not much which
belongs to cyberspace's infrastructure which does the same with
'space') and there is the relative time, or better the subjective time
of the user, the 'timing' of news feeds, a highly paralell
architecture of events, the social time of an irc chat or a
quake-session, the background flow of a streaming media event,
organised within a network of moments, in cognitive time-frames of
attention spans and the collective but asynchronous time of sharing
data objects.

the popular myth of cyberspace as some kind of unknown territory which
is there to "explore" (and exploit), to occupy
and defend is completly metaphorical as well as talking about a
"gigantic library" (computer code is not just "text" it is binary code
including images, audio, video, and most of all running programs).
there are surely other myths or metaphors which seems to be nessessary
for a while, but might be soon 'dead media'. like the desktop metaphor
maybe.

nevertheless these myths are driving popular imagination and are
therefore useful in marketing, policy making etc. (the superhighway)
it seems that especially spacial metaphors make the feeling of
otherness, the abyss of a lack of an own imagination beareable.
but those 'mediators' can become independent in their own, they
establish, institutionalize and soon form schools or corporations
with everything from directors to cleaning personal. then try to say
that such a term doesn't make sense any more.

i'd quite disagree with ideologizing the absense of space in computer
networks on a too early point as 'gnostic' or anti-flesh.  of course
space gets organized via networks, large technical systems which are
overlapping. in the moment we have cybernetic networks, the
cybernetic split of dividing matter and energy from information is a
irreversible one, you cannot just say "back to nature" and see it all
as one BIG THING without supporting a kind of atavistic and misleading myth.
soon the net will become a GLOBAL BRAIN and the social history of
technology a kind of next step in natural selection. in another moment
i might try to defend the position from a more 'analogue' side, but i
think that we have to accept that cybernetics implemented quite
effectivly the modernist idea of a radical split, with the result
maybe that today on a symbolic level everything seems to fit to
everything, but that works maybe only in the clean room of an
information space which is by definition devided from the physical
world.

especially the whole approach of a mimetic space, of virtual cities,
virtual communities, virtual everything prooves to be not suitable
any more, because in most cases its simply impractical and pathetic.
virtual reality was a great idea, but it worked out like hiding a tv
set in a wooden cupboard to make it an acceptable device for the
livingroom. the cult of cyberspace itself is dying out. you still
see it in advertisment, some novels, but in general 'magic globalism'
took over...

what is maybe much more needed then a universal space metaphor
are visualisations, maps, which make complexity handeable from
various perspectives. it will be not needed to conceptualize the
network in a disney-like town but it might be a useful approach,
especially in entertainment, like multiuser gaming or therapeutical
environments to mimick known environments.

the problem of 'virtual reality' was that it just tried
to copy or better project the physical space into a 'virtual space' and
with this fall back onto the ontological horizon of the 17th century.
it doesn't include einstein, quantum physics, the blitzkrieg,
the collective experience of the telephone. its too much the absolute
god-eye of the observer-king and the extended rationalized space of
a territory ready to conquer.

if we want to critique the particulary organisation of power in times
of computerization, we have to understand that the control of space is
done today through a control and a technology of time. virilio and
kittler showed this quite well. displacement and migration becomes
a largely popular phenomenon. territorialisation on a larger level
easily leads to war like situations. if you live in a big city you
have to learn to live with a minimum of space, this becomes a common
experience of a majority of the world population. of course it is
seductive then to believe that you can escape into another sphere
where there is infinite space available.

i am not completly against appropriating a more essentialistic
standpoint, but only with the needed care. there is nothing to
discover in the wires 'as such', there is no deeper essence of
material magic which makes a sculpture more worth when it is made out
of metal instead of information. it is just different approaches, and
we live in a time of post-conceptual, post-expressionist art where all
these aproaches are re-combinable, but not every combination works out
fine.

indeed there is a history of rationality, of reason and madness, in
the development of sciences, which you especially find in the history
'electromagnetism'. bachelard showed this as many others. but it
doesn't help at all to be 'inside' culturally, economically,
intellectually, physically etc. and take the position of the 'outsider'.
it can become a pathetic or at least schizoid exotism, a pseudo-science,
or new age quackery. a true outsider position is i think almost
impossible in our one-world if you want to remain somewhat sane or not
imprisoned in one or the other way. take the unabomber manifesto, maybe
one of the most important documents of the early nettimes. this
doesn't mean that there are ways to explore and 'space travel'.
such a space then is much more the space of music, of imaginary
territories and inner empires.

i think, and i really researched that a while ago, that there is
no deeper thruth to be found in the "electricity networks".
electric media became digital media, layers on layer goes ontop of
each other and old and new media works well together. it is like
in an old city like paris or rome. while the architecture, the ground
plan persists over very long times media doesn't work the same way,
the major territory might be the senses itself, the way certain
'ports' of sensory perception are cultivated and interconnected.
mcluhan wrote quite something about the acoustic spaciality and
intensive quality of "electric" media, and lately eric davis
updated it in an elegant way.

maybe, and thats what i tried to say earlier, human history of
spaciality can only change from one major paradigm to another
within a larger concept of space. within every larger era of
thinking our condition is put in a new 'cosmic' context.
cosmology goes together with geography. and that's why i assume
that space technology is a technology to overcome to get replace
by a somewhat extended information technology which then might
be so *real* that it will be indistinguishable and interwoven
with what we call the real world. i think in part our 'network
society' in the priviledged parts of the world is already in
such a phase. new generations will have to first solve the
problems of global warming before investing into space travel.

if you go check out molecular biology, human genetics, you will also
hardly find *space* as such. you'll find of course carriers of
information which are chemical, much more material then let's say
computer hardware, because this is no anorganic matter, but matter in
progress, a communicating matter/energy. in between the lines of
the writing of kevin kelly you find a strange kind of vitalism,
a molecular biotech which has its own plans about what to become.
i think underestimating the new liason of computer tech and biology
is one of the biggest risks by looking into the sky and waiting for
aliens.

even if *space* might be a very important feature which is still undervalued
in the differentiation of cells the current paradigm of semiotifying
everything, of putting a layer of code across *everything* to make it
interchangeable, controleable, decodeable and therefore valueable
within the purposes capitalism has to still proove to be fully
succesful for biotech. the human genome project is a kind of mapping
of space which is truly internal, inside our bodies, and even beyond
the individuality of a unique human beeing. hacking the human code
might be the true end of the innocence of cybernetics and its
new romantics about surving and purpuseless navigating. biotech is
to computer science what nuclear tech was to theoretical physics.

if nettime has an important step to make it has to overcome the
mythology of cyberspace including its criticisms and go over the the
fields where the 'ideology of information' has a similary strong
impact to our lives as in the short and time-compressed era of the
growing internetworks. this is not new at all, and not the only
direction it should take.

ah, the community question. i think this is an easy one, it works like
in philosphy or in football, right? as long there are people who love
to think or who love to play football these communities will exist,
and so will mailinglists which cover the topics "philosphy" or
"football" and maybe even one which is called "the philosophy of
football". maybe nettime is near to such a thing. sociality in
itself is an effect of communication technology, its a feature
of communication software to have social effects. the "monkey
hill syndrome" is a normal group effect and nothing spectaculary
original. new is that space disappears, and my "neighbor" sitting
in san francisco is nearer to me than the one next door, but that's
trivial..

there is finally maybe a possiblity to think both aspects together. as
a translation process, as a hybridity of 'how things work' a large
technical framework like the net, or the electricity grid, the railway
system or the system of highways and streets is a stage for a number
of stories, personal ones and written ones. within a larger context of
civilisation the story of science, engineering or business is just one
possible angle through which one experiences or better travels through
those networks. but then we come to the level of narratives, the
culture of truck drivers or taxi drivers, network admins and users,
anti-nuclear activists or people who feel chased by electromagnetism
who all have a different story to tell and produce their kind of
collective subjectity. all i say in this context that the story of
cyberspace is maybe a chapter in a book which is soon to be closed.



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