[iDC] how long is a piece of string?

john sobol john at johnsobol.com
Sun Nov 4 17:50:18 UTC 2007

On 3-Nov-07, at 11:14 PM, Mark Shepard wrote:

> Katharine,
> You write:
>> If we think about how space it seems to me it is one of the worst
>> victims of our need to structure and categorise experience. It is
>> caught in a homogenous straightjacket of definitions and rigid
>> infrastructures: Lat/Long, North/South/East/West, maps, addresses,
>> post codes etc. This can be contrasted against Varela's concept of
>> enaction, which Brian introduced, which allows for the co-creation
>> of observer and observed through the construction of their
>> relation. In our everyday life we experience space as enacted- it
>> does not exist a priori in some form of contained and constrained
>> structure.

All of these spatial "homogeneous straightjacket of definitions and 
rigid infrastructures" are enabled by and are quite clearly the product 
of - literacy. It is the ability to trace and fix and reproduce 
coordinates via writing and print that has created the intellectual and 
consequent social paradigms that have at once expanded our knowledge of 
our world and limited our ability to 'enact' it beyond these rigid 
definitions and infrastructures. Prior to the creation of these 
literate definitions (addresses, maps, post codes, Lat/Long, etc.) it 
was necessary to 'enact' space at all times. Such enacting is and was 
the norm in oral cultures, whose members of necessity enacted myriad 
forms of knowledge-as-experience that have since been fixed more or 
less unalterably by our literate culture. However, our daily life even 
today, as you point out, Katharine, is in fact experienced on a 
microcosmic level as oral though it is constrained by our literate 
architectures of mind and space, which accounts in part for the spatial 
alienation that so many seek to escape.

> Yeah, sure. It's a dilemma of our contemporary condition. Where *am*
> I exactly, damnit? And simply knowing my coordinates, or my location
> on a map, doesn't really give me the answer I'm looking for.  Why we
> look to technology for these answers, beyond the merely pragmatic
> need of finding our way to a destination (goal) via GoogleMaps, for
> instance, continues to perplex me.

I believe that networked culture has far more in common with oral 
cultures than it does with literate, and consequently when I  seek to 
understand the dynamics of a particular aspect of networked culture I 
turn to oral cultures for illumination. In this case, the question 
asked is: "where I am ?" , when I am surfing the web on my iPhone (OK I 
don't have one but wish I did!) while walking through an urban centre. 
The answer, unavoidably, is that I am in hybrid space, defined equally 
by rigid literate spatial coordinates (you are here and nowhere else), 
and by the post-literate coordinates of dataspace, a sort of here, 
there and everywhereness that is as amorphous as it is real, 
particularly as characterized by a culture of user-engagement that 
enacts space as a set of online relationships in the moment (i.e. I am 
"in a chat room" or "on my friends' facebook page", etc.).

One question that arises then is how does this hybridity play itself 
out in terms of the socio-economic power that is invested in each of 
these spatial dimensions. Oral space - always enacted, subjectively 
defined and utterly experiential - was once the only kind of space. 
Where do we find our original oral spaces today? The triumph of the 
imposition of literate spatial dimensions on macro-mythic oral 
mindscapes is almost total. Songlines are erased, traditional lands 
developed, historic spatial trajectories bisected by 12 lane highways. 
And yet why should literate spatial dynamics - the "homogeneous 
straightjacket of definitions and rigid infrastructures" that are the 
foundation of literate capitalism, and that are the vectors of literate 
space, be themselves immune to the same sort of challenges from 
ascendant networked space?

Copyright is being challenged today. What if tomorrow latitude and 
longtitude, fixed borders, street addresses and the rest, becomes as 
outdated as today's IP laws, rendered irrelevant by the hyper-efficient 
everywhereness and simultaneous porousness of datapsace, and the 
shifting of economic power from fixed literate factories to shifting 
networked playgrounds? This won't happen without a fight. Real fights, 
because real wealth and power are at stake. What form are these 
conflicts likely to take? Who has most to lose? Most to gain? Where 
will the fault lines be? How can we pro-actively work to begin building 
bridges that will span those fault lines to minimize the conflicts that 
will be engendered? These are the questions that interest me. Don't 
have answers but would welcome some...

My wife is calling us to come to lunch. My young daughter, drawing at 
the table, says: "I'm already here." Time for me to go.

Happy Sunday,

bluesology • printopolis • digitopia

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