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<nettime> Ctheory: 'Spatial Discursions' by Robert Nirre

     [X-Sender: Pit Schultz <pit@klubradio.de>]

 [ this looks by far more interesting than the
 panels on 'artistic slash social software' during the last
 transmediale conf in berlin. an unpopular discourse which for example
 matt fuller is bringing forward since quite a while now, advancing
 a genre which might be called 'software critique' or 'software culture'
 writing about software as an artistic or cultural product like
 it is done with literature, movies, music. this is not a very
 common form of study especially if it done by people who know
 about programming. fact is that academic writing is full of
 spacial cyber-myths and so is the 'theory' of screen design. the
 following essay repeats eloquently an insight that 'there is no space
 in cyberspace', that space is like in philosphy a metaphor, or a
 problematic concept which is different to the absolute, newtonian
 space of astronomy. the spaciality which still dominates our
 understanding of space since the renaissance is that of an *order*,
 a matrix, a chess board, a mapped 'territory'. consequently iminently
 questions about the distribution of control occur out of it, questions
 of expansion, property and 'peoples without space'. the author ends in
 a statement for universal semiotics, not a very comfortable paradigm if
 you think about the role of code in microbiology, running on 'systems'
 which cannot easily get a reboot or a firmware update without killing
 the host. that's at least what i understood... - attached is a nice
 snippet from a wikiwiki-web as well relating to a thread which started
 on nettime about the very topic. - btw, wiki is an interesting piece
 of 'n-dimensional' software used for example by www.desk.org /p]


 Article 92  13-02-01  Editors: Arthur and Marilouise Kroker

 Spatial Discursions: Flames of the Digital and Ashes of the Real

 Confessions of a San Francisco Programmer

 ~Robert Nirre~

 The Genealogy of Dead Space
 Distance is dead. The world has ceased to align itself on spatial
 gradients, lost its topological reference and become discrete,
 gridded, encoded, enmeshed in webs of tangled hierarchies and
 productized data, in access control structures and security plans and
 deployments, distribution logics and fluctuating lines of control and
 specificity all subject to variant rates of diffusion across embedded
 media topologies and the multiplicitous parameterizations of wealth,
 class, color, identity, ideology and style.

 But frankly, this is not very clear.

 Let us be precise, move slowly: distance can be understood both
 physically (in the most literal sense) and conceptually (as that
 which renders access a function of time). On a plane the two are
 identical: something twice as far away (physically) takes twice as
 long to get to. But imagine this plane was crossed by a mountain
 range, or anything time-consuming to traverse. Physically a distance
 spanning this feature, while identical to another, would be
 conceptually greater. To represent this we can construct a conceptual
 plane which is linked to the physical plane by a transformation: in
 this case stretching the mountainous region, injecting more
 conceptual space into it to account for the difficulty of traversing
 it in physical space.

 We can imagine other transformations that would account for other
 physical features. For example, replacing the mountain range with a
 road would require not merely inverting the transformation into a
 lateral shrinking but also applying a longitudinal contraction (since
 one would choose to travel along the road, which one wouldn't do with
 the mountain range). Anything nonsymmetrical (a river, for example,
 which aids travel in one direction) would require introducing a new
 dimension into the conceptual plane, with distances measured along it
 expanded or contracted according to which way one was travelling (an
 unfortunate but noncritical complication we will henceforth ignore).

 What is clear is that any physical geography could be mapped onto a
 (perhaps dimensionally elevated) conceptual plane by a set of
 superimposed transformations. It is obvious also that further
 transformations could be applied to this terrain, either by modifying
 it directly (building roads, leveling mountains) or by a
 technological adaptation (making snowshoes, constructing maps)
 providing increased access to some portion of it. We can divide these
 transformations loosely into area, linear, and point types.

 An area transformation expands or contracts an entire area. When made
 by humans it corresponds to either a drastic alteration in the
 terrain (leveling forests, draining swamps) or to an ability or
 technology developed upon man himself (riding horses, surviving in
 the desert). As the latter it is the most primitive type of
 transformation man applies to space.

 Linear transformations correspond to the construction of pathways,
 roads, canals and the like. They are more sophisticated than
 primitive area transformations, requiring the ability to modify the
 terrain and thus providing a potentially greater deformation, but are
 more limited in scope. Point transformations occur when two points
 (but not the areas around them) are brought close together. They
 correspond to an engineering technology that transcends the plane,
 punching holes in it (airplanes, tunnels, bridges), and are the most
 focused (and hence powerful but restricting) of forms.

 Of course an area extended becomes a line which attenuates into
 points, and points in sequence form lines which, gridded, cover an
 area; this is less a distinct typology than a delineation of
 idealized points along a spectrum that runs from low amplitude, low
 specificity, low investment (area) transformations to high amplitude,
 highly specific (point) transformations which require massive prior
 investments of energy to realize. Driving, for example, is sometimes
 area (in suburbs and cities) and sometimes linear (highways). Trains
 exist somewhere between linear and point.

 The most efficient transformation structure on a plane depends on the
 distribution of places one is concerned with reaching; assuming a
 certain locality amongst these a reasonably optimal structure will
 include different levels of the spectrum selected according to the
 vagaries of history and development, with higher transformations
 linking dense cores and successively lower ones incorporating
 surrounding areas. One thus exists within a nested layering of
 transformations, which layers one ascends to and descends from
 according to the distance travelled: you walk to your car, drive to
 the airport, fly, etc., and then reverse the process.

 But if conceptual distance is to be understood as we've defined it,
 as that which renders access a function of time, we must consider
 that access can be realized in terms other than physical presence.
 This is the domain of communication systems. A message dispatched
 into such a system traverses the conceptual space defined by its
 underlying transport medium (courrier, telephone wires, radio waves)
 but the transformations that construct this space may be selectively
 (and nonsymmetrically) permeable to different types of messages:
 interrogative (those that request information), informative (those
 that convey information), or imperative (those that effect a change
 in the recipient). Furthermore the message, as a creature free from
 physical constraints, has the potential to be multiplied (broadcast,
 mechanically reproduced) within this space. When the underlying
 medium is electromagnetic the transformations applied (be they point,
 linear, or area) are absolute: what they join can henceforth
 communicate instantaneously. In the case of wireless communications
 (area transformations, multiplied) the economics of spectrum
 allocation and the transmission apparatus limit their permeability
 (in mass media) to nonsymmetrically informative messages: one is the
 passive recipient of information streams issuing from a few
 centralized points. Wire-based communications have no such
 constraints. Their transformations must be inscribed on physical
 space and thus their development obeys a reverse dynamic from that
 observed in transportation systems: they are used to connect a few
 important points first, then branch out, and finally end up
 networking entire areas together. But it is only with the widespread
 adoption of computers for the automated storage, replication, and
 distribution of information that these networks are freed to multiply
 what they carry (via newsgroups, multicasting, publishing, etc.). And
 that is when things start getting interesting.

 The Illusion of Community
 Cyberspace: a floating term with different images. In the sci-fi
 imaginary it is a dark plane, an awe-inspiring planet, something
 mysterious and electrified, a neon density of city lights arrayed
 against the eternal vastness of space with strange energies and
 glyphic forms, mutating avatars and data streams in ceaseless flow.
 But what we commonly apply the word to, the web, is a little more
 mundane. You type; you connect. Your computer nuzzles into another
 and sucks off a loving, coded flow. You follow a link, you traverse,
 you search, you back out again. But what is this, exactly? Clearly it
 isn't amenable to our spatial understanding. There is neither a
 physical nor even a conceptual space. There are places but nothing
 between them, no interspatiality; one navigates a sprawling
 agglomeration of webbed-together billboards, of insides without
 exteriors, of islands of hyperdense information adrift on
 etherealized seas.

 It is an article of faith with many technologists that an immersive,
 virtual reality cyberspace (perhaps in its more humanized/urbanized
 form, as a "metaverse"[1]) will one day dominate our online
 experience, but this is far from a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless
 contrasting these images of cyberspace allows us to critique distance
 from the perspective of utility (what does it do, what functions does
 it serve?) and examine the implications and viability of its absence.

 So what does it do?

 Distance orders. One occupies a point from which some things are
 closer and some farther away. One can move amongst these but their
 relationship to each other doesn't change.

 Distance makes visible. One can survey a space and determine what it
 contains (or if it's occluded, what it could potentially contain).

 Distance provides neutral zones. The notion of distance implies a
 space between places where subjects can see each other and
 participate in unmediated relationships.

 The lack of these qualities explains the curious character of the
 web. In the absence of space brand names become the central ordering
 principle, the chief structure superimposed on unfettered chaos. Real
 estate becomes something no longer found but created, carved from the
 semantic war-zone of the consumer's mind, but to achieve this the
 denizens of nonspace must embed themselves in traditional media
 topologies (via advertising) where they can acquire the visibility
 the web, with all its immediacy, fails to offer.

 To the novice user it's all terribly disorienting. S/he wanders the
 menu options offered by the portal, hops to a few big-name sites
 s/he's heard of and finally, seizing a search engine, boldly slashes
 a cross-section through the tangled growth and plunges in. But
 without being able to ascertain where s/he's been, how much of what
 s/he's seen, what else is out there or where anyone else is the
 suspicion soon arises that while s/he's lost in the boonies running
 in circles, suffering plug-in deficiencies, and battling
 jack-in-the-box porn windows, somewhere out there the real internet
 party is seriously going down.

 But there's no party because there are no people. The web posits a
 subject and object but no others. There is no way to detach from its
 immediate presence, to turn around and see who else is there. Unlike
 broadcast media it's point-to-point (symmetric
 interrogative/informative), not point-to-many (nonsymmetric
 informative), but this is still a communications grid, far from a
 communal space, and still based around a unicity of interaction with
 static points. One can interact with others through these points but
 that mediation comes at a cost: communication that is restricted,
 formatted, censored, and archived, wrapped in ads and subject to
 revocation at any time. A radio or television projects an area
 outside it within which people can experience it. Passively, to be
 sure, but as a group. But the websurfer, locked in a feedback loop
 through the junctions of screen, mouse, and keyboard, interacts
 alone. But these complaints are nitpicking. Fundamentally distance
 restricts and limits, it extorts time as the price of all its
 pleasures, and has no basis in the web's underlying transport medium
 (where the actual flow of data is orthogonal to one's direction of
 movement). The web exists to provide access to information, not a
 community. Visualization and virtual reality technologies will come
 to it but as means to structure it and render it visible, not

 They will not create spaces but present maps and interfaces; one will
 use them but one won't be inside them, and neither will anyone else.
 Distances will be arbitrary and space will be vacated, selected and
 arranged according to whatever queries and filters one puts in place.

 Which perhaps addresses some current visions of virtual reality but
 doesn't really get to the root of things. Cyberspace as originally
 envisioned in the works of William Gibson[2] was neither a form of
 media nor a communal space. It was the operant field of a radical
 individual empowerment by technologies that, it is true, penetrated
 and colonized the body but did so only to enhance it, to elevate and
 transpose its sensorium into an abstract realm of financial and
 informational flows where all its natural capabilities (instinct,
 intuition, spatial perception, kinesthesia) could be brought to bear.
 In the hands of metastasizing corporations technology had laid waste
 to much of the world, but these same technologies allowed suitably
 fitted cyborgs to meet them on their own terms, to exist in their
 world as first-order entities instead of particularized functions,
 traversing the communication and capital nets of the world with fluid
 ease. Which may come to pass. But the fundamental premise of this
 vision, that the layered and interlocking webs of commerce and
 communications and the vast architectures of the world's data
 archives all compose a space that can be conceptualized in a paltry
 three dimensions and through which movement has any significance,
 seems based on a strange and unlikely corporealization of
 informational mechanisms which invests them with those properties
 whose absence is the true revolutionary characteristic of our age.

 However, occupied virtual worlds are being created. In computer games
 and virtual reality chat spaces participants assume avatars and
 explore medieval realms, extraterrestrial settlements, and assorted
 other fantasia, therein to quest together, meet, talk, or (most
 commonly) engage in mutual high-speed repetitive slaughter. Here, at
 last, space has a role, but only as a surrogate:

 it's as if virtuality was eating the real, eating history, eating
 myth, eating the future and vomiting it all back up again in bubbles
 of gossamer simulation. One revisits the outmoded paradigms of
 mechanized warfare, explores manufactured kingdoms, plays the sports
 one can't be bothered to in real life and mimes intercourse, but the
 landscapes these unfold across are not the vanguard of a coming
 spatialization, they are its zoos and museums. Playgrounds for
 vestigial senses and obsolescent drives.

 Predatory Software Controls
 We have touched on the transformation of space in transportation
 systems and its partial restitution in telecommunications systems; we
 have not yet investigated functional systems. By functional we mean
 systems which exchange imperative messages between their parts, where
 control takes its place alongside communication. The informative
 messages traversing our communication systems serve imperatively
 within any number of encompassing functional contexts (social,
 commercial, financial, etc.), but the role of distance in these
 latter is unique.

 Fundamentally distance restricts and limits, but in a functional
 system this can serve a positive purpose: it prevents unwanted
 interactions, it keeps things away. The importance of this is easily
 overlooked: the efficiencies of proximity are obvious while the
 structural functions spatial buffers implicitly provide
 (manageability, isolability, locality of effect, etc.) are more
 subtle. New transformations perturb these buffers and cause transient
 stresses while the systems they've touched adjust, but when these
 transformations conspire to effect a wholescale destructuration of
 their underlying space then pathologies arise. Systems become
 overwhelmed, overloaded by information that used to be naturally
 filtered out by distance. They become transmissive, vulnerable to
 sudden traversals by viruses, panics, and epidemics[3]. They become
 increasingly exposed to malicious intervention. And they evidence a
 growing sensitivity to initial conditions, and a penchant for chaotic
 effects. Thus, twin themes of the near future will be exploiting the
 advantages of limitless speed while retrofitting systems destabilized
 by the removal of spatiality with mechanisms that reconstitute its
 structural effects. But the erasure of space provides another dynamic
 based on simply this: things that can get at each other compete. The
 increase of competition can be destructive (leading to
 overspecialization and homogenization, the red queen effect[4], the
 tragedy of the commons[5], etc.) or beneficial, but either way it
 accelerates the rate at which systems evolve and thus favors entities
 and configurations that can rapidly mutate to exploit emerging

 Computer programming (more precisely, software engineering) provides
 a clear illustration of where these developments lead. Flexibility
 and adaptability are crucial goals of any software architecture.
 Moreover software lives in a world utterly without space or distance.
 Any piece of code could access any point in the process's memory,
 accomplish anything; thus, the essence of the art consists in
 structuring subsystems so as to reduce their potential for unwanted
 interaction while preserving their flexibility to rapidly evolve. To
 achieve this one modularizes systems into component parts, hides
 their implementations behind clearly specified interfaces and grants
 access to these according to the principle of least privilege (as
 little as needed). These principles, extended and elaborated, are at
 work everywhere today: in the disaggregation of the corporate body
 into virtual corporations and turnkey service providers[6], the sweep
 of standardization across industries, the increasing opacity and
 automation of all forms of products and services[7] and the spread of
 security regimes via authentication and surveillance measures. With
 distance evaporated control mechanisms crystallize across
 supersaturated topologies. Firewalls and filters accrete at
 interfaces. Homeostatic feedback mechanisms spread and merge.
 Regulatory metasystems coalesce and stabilize competitive matrices.
 Classification and codification schema multiply and assign everything
 a place.

 In the cultural sphere production and mass-media scale economies
 approach a toxic level of monotony. Minds sharpened for use as
 intellectual tools and soaked in easy reproductions of world culture
 and gratuitously irrelevant university educations revolt in a
 breaking rash of destructuration and fragmentation, a spontaneous
 precipitation of differentiating subcultures that are vectored in by
 new transmutations of the corporate form: pure research and marketing
 concerns that have jettisoned their manufacturing/distribution hulks
 the better to shape-shift with their rapidly mutating markets.

 In the personal sphere new selection criteria are posed. If the
 industrial age demanded physical (exterior) conformity in pursuit of
 economies of scale, the information age demands interior conformity
 in pursuit of economies of interconnection. One is componentized:
 rendered modular (plug-compatible), cleanly specified and labelled.
 Not a cog in a machine but a conductor for the flows that will be
 applied. A nutrient media for the contagions specified. And more.
 When criminals can strike anonymously, at a distance, then everyone
 is a suspect. When all markets are fused into one then everyone is a
 competitor. And when any effect can chaotically ramify and everything
 hinges on control mechanisms, on links and switches and servos whose
 very power is the difference in magnitude between cause and effect
 they enable, then everyone is a potential source of disruption and
 must be guided, normalized, watched and controlled. But
 simultaneously these systems feed on proliferation and ceaseless
 change, and thus a strange dichotomy infuses them, a sort of
 hardware/software cleavage that realizes a focusing, channelling,
 synchronization and integration of all energies for the purpose of
 cycling them at ever higher speeds in spasmodic streams of
 synchromeshed variation.

 And so, even as space implodes, the systems it contains grow larger,
 wider, more sophisticated, multistructured, becoming partitioned,
 hydral, complexified, increasingly resistant to any form of attack
 and capable of absorbing local failures. And thus the chief sensation
 of our time is a feeling of integratory fractionation, of falling
 apart while coming together. We sense that we are nested inside of
 contractions inside of expansions. We sense our actions moving in
 different directions in distinctly different spheres.

 The End of Cyberspace
 We are concerned, primarily, with the efficacy of the human form.
 Transportation systems govern how this form moves, communication
 systems how it senses and functional systems how it acts (and what
 acts upon it). In the primitive state a natural relationship exists
 between these: the self is the locus of concentric fields of
 increasing extension (where you are, what you can affect, what you're
 aware of) on a single conceptual plane.

 Electromagnetic technologies shatter this arrangement. The self
 remains in place but its presence is released along fluxes and wires
 that impose transformations so extreme as to be effectively infinite,
 the space under them not merely shrunk but imploded into points of
 hyperdense singularity. Within these points space and distance are
 entirely annihilated. But there is still structure. This is the
 regime of the switch and the signal, of information, that most
 curious of substances that has no intrinsic properties and serves
 only to parameterize and configure the behavior of the system within
 which it operates. This is the essential difference between the real
 world and the informational. Information has no significance apart
 from the machine that chooses to interpret it. The effects it causes
 are neither necessary nor subject to any limitations. In fact it has
 no relationship with them at all except to select them from an array
 of offered choices. And it is this complicitous yet disjunctive
 relation between cause and effect, this inextricable cycling of
 interpretation and parameterization, this interpenetration of figure
 and ground mediated through the instantaneous and frictionless
 omnipresence of microelectronics that gives the digital world its
 smooth and radically dissynchronous texture.

 It is a world composed purely of mechanism, and subject to a physics
 irreducible to our own. There is no action, only atomic state
 changes; no distances, only connection; and the very medium within
 which this world consists possesses no reality. It is utterly
 indeterminate until the moment that it is functionally contextualized
 within (and contextualizes) the complicated, shifting exegesis of
 codes that inscribe it. The physical world (where conserved
 substances obey principles of linearity and locality and interact
 according to immutable laws of quantitative equivalence) remains only
 in fragments and residues (bandwidth, processor speed, storage
 capacity), irritants informational systems strive compulsively to
 displace, excise, reject, and annihilate.

 This is the world ours disappears into, our systems sucked into its
 dark, ineluctable core. Inside they are transformed: reduced to
 strands of dataflow and component transactions and woven into its
 networks, inscribed in its circuitry. But this realm has fine mesh
 filters, selective membranes: it seems we're a little too fleshy to
 pass through. Instead we accrete around its interfaces, forming as
 low-grade peripherals around its terminal points for the sole purpose
 of binding it to the real, meshing it with legacy systems. What is
 effected is a progressive evacuation of human intelligence from
 systems centers, a centrifuging of paper, verbiage, relationships and
 meaning from nexuses that, now dissipated into electronic networks,

 In a bureaucracy we are nodes in networks of circling paper; in a
 factory we are parts of machines; either way we permeate and control
 all levels of our environment. But the networks (and factories) are
 becoming capable of running themselves. We manage and supervise,
 distill and decant information, provide the fusillades of point
 mutations we refer to as innovation and supply the support matrices
 these systems rely on but all these occur on the periphery of centers
 that are increasingly obscure, where we operate as functions, agents,
 and avatars for forces increasingly beyond our ken.

 Perhaps here we can locate the powerful resonance of the myth of
 cyberspace. It arose at a point in history when certain trends in
 technology were becoming apparent but their absorption and deployment
 for functional purposes was still in its nascence. Biotech, digital
 communications, personal computers, and portable electronics hinted
 at a future on a scale (personal) and a scope (global) that had been
 inconceivable earlier[8]. Video games and sophisticated audiovisual
 devices foretold new levels of interactivity and immersion. These
 were personal, intimate technologies: their potential for attaching
 to and controlling the human form was clear, but at their
 intersection another premise seemed possible: that they would allow
 one to plunge through the wormhole and come out on the other side,
 entering a body virtualized for full participation in the digital
 realm. This was both a movement away from the body proper (as flesh,
 meat) and towards an idealization and reconstitution of its
 functional essence. It hypothesized that once they had achieved a
 certain density and sophistication, informational mechanisms, from an
 appropriately abstracted viewpoint, could be subsumed under
 spatial/physical forms. What is interesting about this is not so much
 its plausibility as how strongly it resonated with the mass
 unconscious, and the torrent of psychic energies it unleashed. This
 image of a virtualized real and a spatialized virtual struck deep in
 a collective imagination suffering the vitiation of technologized

 Its promise was to capture the functionalities dissolving into a
 nebulous stratosphere and throw them back into space, reinscribe them
 on a terrain that was clear, ordered and visible. It also promised to
 import the monadic subject (the unity at the center of graded
 concentricities of access and awareness) into this space, while
 imbuing the subject with a new set of digital powers. But most
 importantly, if this world was a space and the user localized as a
 subject then the body (the whole sensory, perceptual, and motor
 apparatus) could be resurrected at their interface. From the dawn of
 agriculture to the rise of the symbolic analyst class, civilization
 has progressed by circumscribing, controlling, and finally
 eliminating (with surplus energies channelled into sports,
 entertainment, fitness, etc.) the animal functions of the human form.
 Now, suddenly, there was the image of a reversal: of the human form
 as technology's apotheosis and integration, the body recontextualized
 within information networks and charged with all their fantastic
 powers. A new body would rise, phoenix-like, from the flames of the
 digital and the ashes of the real.

 This body would occupy an environment constructed from dream
 landscapes of the past. To a world that was mapped, gridded,
 partitioned and surveilled it offered itself as a frontier, a zone of
 lawlessness and adventure. To a world glutted with waste products and
 saturated with media forms it offered the purity and vastness of
 interstellar space. There was no illusion that it would be free of
 corruption, collusions of power, or deception, but it framed these
 with classic noir romanticism. And it promoted itself as an image of
 transcendence in the best traditions of western idealism, as the
 spirit's escape from the degraded flesh and a corroded, wicked world.

 Despite all this, the myth of cyberspace flared only briefly before
 vanishing. It understood that technologies were erasing physical
 space and manufacturing illusory ones, but it misjudged in
 anticipating a convergence of these trends on the functional plane.
 While virtual reality was foundering on the incommensurability of
 organic and digital perception functional systems were draining away,
 screened by a heady wash of entertainment imagery. Cyberspace
 depended, ultimately, on extrapolating potentials extracted from
 indeterminate technological waveforms. As these collapsed, the myth
 was revealed for what it was: a poignant imaginative lunge that
 illuminates exactly what will be denied us. A nostalgia for a world
 that will never come to be.

 But this nostalgia is no longer with us. If we remember it at all it
 seems quaint and far away. The charms of the spatial (of movement,
 predictability, organization, an integral self) are losing their hold
 on us, as are our apprehensions of its absence. It seems, after all,
 that we are oozing through the filters. We are reconfiguring,
 acclimatizing, and slowly gaining confidence. We are learning to swim
 in digital seas.

 This is an ontological shift of fundamental significance. It marks a
 vast range of stresses, distortions, disjunctions and transitions
 across all aspects of the human form. Mentally, it involves
 converting from a visual to a linguistic modality, from spatial to
 symbolic orderings, from fixed to fluid viewpoints, and from a
 centered to a fragmentary model of self. Physically, it involves
 reconstituting the body not functionally but within the domain of
 sign systems as a pure symbol, a screen across which difference can
 play. Culturally it corresponds to the elevation of differentiation
 and categorization as central principles. In the realm of knowledge
 it manifests as a sensitivity to issues of contextualization.

 This shift is hardly spontaneous; it spreads differentially through
 the social body according to the feedback cycling of selection
 criteria and environmental matrices; yet it is spreading, and it
 provokes resistance as it does. This is chiefly because it challenges
 conventional, culturally determined modes of perception and
 behaviour, but there is a deeper revulsion that senses the nihilism
 at its core. It is an abandonment of the body, of space, of our whole
 inborn cognitive skill in location, mapping, movement, visual
 assessment, and orientation, and with that the ideal of a
 comprehensible, unified world. But few respond to this; these
 principles have already long since been repudiated. Chaos has
 inundated us; what was solid has already washed away.

 The Triumph of Networking
 We began by watching space deform under the impact of transportation
 systems. What was important about this was not our typology of
 transformations but the fact that, regardless of these
 transformations, the end result was always a conceptual plane -- a
 space on which the subject and objects could be located, and across
 which they could move. We can consider this the organizing principle
 of spatiality.

 We can oppose this to the organizing principle of networking. Here
 there is neither location nor movement, but only connection. Our
 hypothesis is that this principle is superceding the
 former; that the large-scale systems we compose are progressively
 migrating to it, and that we are adapting as well. If we have a
 thesis, it is that this movement of transition and adaptation is the
 central dynamic of our time.

 We chose the term cyberspace to interrogate this movement -- as
 proposed originally to examine a moment of atavistic longing
 for spatiality, and as currently incarnated to establish
 the ramifications of its absence. We claimed that spatiality
 serves functions which are absorbed into systems as
 it deteriorates. And we concluded with the thought that it is more
 natural as well; and thus, to a certain extent, this transition
 represents a loss.

 But this is a rather wishful coherence to attribute to our
 wanderings, and these are heavy claims to erect on
 the flimsy framework we've thrown together. We shall have to regard
 them as tentative. We examined distance and space from various
 angles; nothing more.


 [1] Stephenson, Neal. _Snow Crash_. Bantam 1992.

 [2] Gibson, William. _Burning Chrome_. Arbour House 1986 & _Neuromancer_.
 Ace 1984.

 [3] Baudrillard, Jean. _The Transparency of Evil_. Trans. James
 Benedict. Verso 1993.

 [4] Ridley, Matt. _The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human
 Nature_. Penguin 1995.

 [5] Hardin, Garrett. _The Tragedy of the Commons_. Science magazine
 1968. http://dieoff.org/page95.htm

 [6] Sturgeon, Timothy. _Turnkey Production Networks: A New American
 Model of Industrial Organization?_.
 http://brie.berkeley.edu/~briewww/pubs/wp/wp92a.html 1997.

 [7] Baudrillard, Jean. _The System of Objects_. Trans. James Benedict.
 Verso 1996.

 [8] Sterling, Bruce. _Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology_. Ace
 1988. http://www.cyberpunkproject.org/idb/mirrorshades_preface.html


 Robert Nirre is a pseudonym for a programmer living in San Francisco.

 * CTHEORY is an international journal of theory, technology
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The question of the existence of absolute space, as something that
exists absent anything occupying it, is a contentious one. It's a
tremendously useful concept for physics, but it's problematic for
philosophy. Newton accepted it as real, or at any rate it has been
accepted that he accepted it as real. Einstein thought that the
dominance of fields over particles represented a victory over the
concept of absolute space -- within a field, there is no point where
there is nothing, and outside a field is, by definition, outside the
universe. Tom, since you've extended this discussion yet another
level, I nominate you as the one to edit the resultant quagmire. --

See also WhoseQuagmire? and ClubletBuckPass? 


If you are to consider whether something is, you have to have some
concept of what would be if it were not. That is, unless you take a
purely existential view - " it is because it is, and I couldn't care
less if it wasn't ". If this is what 'absolute space' relates to, ie
the absence of anything, then it is a concept we probably need (like
infinite and infinitesimal) for the sake of a rational discussion, and
this applies to the philosophy as well as the science. However do we
need to establish the existence of non-existence in order to have a
proper concept of existence, or even to discuss it? Self-referential
answers only, please. -- PhilipKnaggs

No, in my opinion. :-)#) --cht 

Is the emoticon a) man with smile, pot belly and sagging derriere b)
man with smile and long gizzly beard c) man with moustache, large
teeth and smile

... or something completely different? 

C, which is a good description of me. Although, to be accurate, you
would have to blacken the upper left square to simulate a missing
tooth. --cht


Lots of philosophers have gotten along quite well without the concept
of absolute space. Aristotle thought in terms of "place" rather than
"space"; he defined it as "the boundary of that which contains." Where
nothing is contained is no place, which is not something of much
interest to the natural philosopher. As William Wallace, a
contemporary aggressively Aristotelian philosopher, puts it, "The most
important thing to note about place is that it is a physical or
natural concept, not a mathematical concept. The mathematical concept
that is most closely related to place is the concept of space....
Whereas the natural philosopher studies place and time as natural
measures in the universe, the physicist studies space and time as the
mathematical measures most used in his discipline. The two concepts,
place and space, should not be confused, for they refer to quite
different entities." -- TomKreitzberg

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