finally a new update, and this time it’s an essay about Supermodernity and non-places, it’s based on a small book/ article written by Marc Auge (and lucky for us translated to English in 1995) Find Articles has a good review on it, and you can order it on Amazon Although it’s not really an easy read, he makes some interesting points.
Short essay on Marc Auge
In this short essay I will try to answer the question as to whether the Internet can also be seen as a non-place; a place where ideas and concepts travel between real places and the virtual places of computers, Internet and the minds of humans sitting at their desk waiting for new information to come out of the gap. To answer this question I will use the ideas stated by Marc Auge in his book Non-places about and see if it can also be applied for this particular situation.
First I will write an account of the execution of my idea of a trip to Epping Forest, hereby using the London public transport to get there. Because I wanted to include some friends on this trip I had to share my idea first and let the group shape it into a workable plan. Therefore information had to travel through the Internet to reach different places where it reached certain people and let them work with it so we created a mutual plan to go to a place. I shall try to describe the path that this idea travelled from a virtual message on a screen to a real meeting in London
Secondly I will give a short overview of the ideas of Auge on super-modernity and see how these ideas can be used to understand certain details of my story.
Account of a journey
After seeing photos of a trip to Epping Forest on a friend’s Facebook profile, I sent him a message on how to get there. Next I discussed the idea of visiting that place with some friends I met in the kitchen. Because most commented positively about the idea I decided to create a group message on Facebook with a time and location to meet up. The idea hereby travelled from virtual space -the digital photos- to real space –the kitchen- to virtual space – the group message. On it’s way it both changed its information available online, as well as the people it met in real life.
The message on Facebook contained several links to other places of interest on the Internet. There was a link to the photo site Flickr displaying all the interesting pictures of the place: a link to the Wikipedia article on the area describing its history and its characteristics; a link to Google Maps with an overview of the area; and a link to the website of the City of London where a travel map on the area was available. All different links with different information about the same location, seen by different people on different locations but with one common connection – it was in front of a computer screen.
After my invitation was sent out, there were three replies from people who couldn’t make it and five from those who could. Very early in the morning (3 AM) on the day we would go a new reply came from one of the accompanying people: after a late night kitchen meet-up they had decided that 10am was too early and that eleven o’clock sounded a much better time to go. Again a message that came from a meeting in real space led to a message in virtual space that had direct implications in the real space and time: namely an hour change in schedule.
After I released my idea on the Internet it was no longer my own, it had became also the idea of the others who felt connected. The central overview thereby moved from a human to a computer network and got a bit lost. The people, who lived in the same real space of my house, had the chance to connect without using the virtual medium of the Internet. And although they responded on the original message with a reply of the new time, those who weren’t at that midnight meeting could run the risk of missing out on information, if that information would not manage to jump across the gap between real and virtual space. Luckily for them I woke up early enough to see this risk and check with the outsiders if we all had the same information. Hereby I used another screen based devise that was also capable of sending information, the phone. By using a second device I raised the possibility of information actually reaching its destination. And it seemed that it worked, for one person at least, who got the information and was able to respond to it by changing her original plan. A second person however did not reply.
This could mean that the second person got the Facebook or text message with the new time and had changed her plans accordingly but hadn’t replied, or that the information never left the machines and she was still acting on old information and would be an hour too early. The last solution left was that of a medium that only worked if there was an instant reply, namely the call and speak function of the telephone. When I tried that I indeed managed to get to speak to a very sleepy person that hadn’t heard of the change of plans but was able to adapt to it at that specific moment.
Half an hour later the idea that had only travelled through the minds of people by mail, instant messaging, spoken word, text-messages and telephone calls created a meet up in a real space, creating a group that was ready to move through space and time to reach a place where distance nor time was of first concern.
The next thing I will do is compare my account of this story with the ideas of Auge, but first let’s see what these ideas are. Auge sees four key points to believe we are now living in a time of super modernity (Auge, p.34)
- Overabundance of the present. Although we are aware of history, we no longer have the feeling that we live in a certain time, we live now, and history is always on our heels. We try to see us of what we are in the light of what we are no longer (Auge, p.26)
- The change of scale. Not only has there been an upward change in scale – the first travel to the moon, satellites that turn around the earth each day – the world has become smaller in the same time too – London to Paris in 45 minutes by plane, satellite television and Internet that allow us to watch events in real time while they happen on the other side of the planet. (Auge, p.31)
- The proliferation of imagined and imaginary references. Famous people on TV become like relatives to us, we know where they live, how they are doing, what is happening in their lives, although we have never and will never meet them in person. The same goes for all the images we see around us, Tokyo, New York, San Francisco; we have a feeling that we know those places although we actually never went there. (Auge, p.32)
- The acceleration of means of transport. Thanks to the airplane, we can go to places that were previously only a piece of information to us e.g. ‘that it is sunny’. Or we can take the tube and go underground in the suburbs only to go outside again in the middle of the historical centre.
Overabundance of the present can be found in the fact that the reason to go was not an historical interest in the place, but more digital photos only one week old, which in the end resulted in new digital photos only a few weeks later. Another point can be made of the way the trip was organized; no longer did people have to wait for the time information had travelled from the sender to the receiver. At the moment the sender had sent the information is was already available for the receiver.
The change of scale can be found in the way that Internet changes communication even more than the letter, telegraph and telephone did. Not only does it allow for real time communication, it also gives the possibility to communicate with a group, in different times and different locations. The subject that is worked on –in this case an idea to go somewhere- can be changed, altered and moved by any of the group’s members from any location (if Internet connection is available) at any time.
The proliferation of imagined and imaginary references can be found in the information that was available about this place that none of us had ever visited. Photos from people we knew that had already been there gave the possibility to imagine how it would be to be there. This together with the available historic data of the area, the satellite images and the other available photos gave us so much information that it felt like we had lived there all our lives.
The acceleration of means of transport meant that we didn’t even need to come together to share information and ideas. The ideas and plans of one person were available for all others at the moment one was capable of formulating these ideas in written text. The transportation of ideas with the speed of light, literally removed the distance between sender and receiver (although one could argue that the change of the medium from oral to text also caused an altered perception of the idea itself, distance was removed at a certain cost).
As we can see here, if we modify Auge’s idea about super modernity from real space as tubes and highways to virtual spaces as computers and telephones (and also telegraph and mail) his ideas can still be useful. However as my example in the last paragraph of my story states: the miscommunication of the idea through different forms of media states has to remind us that if distance, space and time get close to zero, old problems might disappear but previously non-existent problems can arise.
Non Places – Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity
London: Verso 1995