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Some Features of Internet Space

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Ideas are partially based on Benjamin Bratton's and Manuel Castell's work.

Author: Gytis Dovydaitis

Some features of space in the age of internet:

  • Ageographic territories;
    • Cloud platforms (Facebook, Google) are online territories superseding the geography of earth. The user behaves and communicates according to the platform regardless of his physical location. Furthermore, the user becomes a multiplicity by having different accounts in different platforms, thus belonging to different territories simultaneously. This disrupts the territorial integrity: two physically adjacent Users can belong to completely different cognitive spaces by simply scrolling different social media.
  • Ageographical extension of the workplace;
    • Here internet becomes the main prerequisite for the existence of global capitalism. Transnational corporations are able to employ people (Users) possibly from any place in the world by utilizing the power of the Cloud. While this is rarely practiced for professional labor, it allows a remote extraction of low skilled labor from third world countries. What is more, employers gain possibilities to track the progress of their employees through various online surveillance solutions.
Nvidia Metropolis Program
Nvidia Metropolis Program
  • Representations of space stand for the space itself;
    • That's the hyperreality at its peak. Here map precedes the territory, or even more specifically - the tracing of the territory expressed through vast multimedia assemblage: pictures, descriptions, virtual tours, YouTube videos, virtual reality, Google maps. It's important to notice that the tracing has a large impact on the territory. Take for example a 2012 glitch in Google maps which almost caused a war between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, former of which invaded the latter because Google maps said it's Nicaraguan territory there. Or another case: in 2020 Google incorporated a vastly larger amount of green color to the maps, imposing the impression that there is more nature around by simply changing the aesthetics of the map.
    • Evolution of Google Maps cartographic design
      Evolution of Google Maps cartographic design
  • Mythologization of the lived space through augmented reality;
    • This creates the situation when our walk back home becomes a Pokemon battleground. While currently AR is still in its youth, all the cloud corporations and smartphone manufacturers are investing huge amounts of money into mainstreaming this technology. Once it's ubiquitous as GPS technology, our physical experience of space will gain a large amount of symbolic meaning through internet. Here the laconic template of Google Maps gets populated with affects, ideologies, or even other sentient beings.
  • Extreme ocularcentrism;
    • The spatiality of both digital and physical planes are more and more being experienced primarily via the eye. While vernacular architecture of middle ages was smelly, filled with textures and sounds (think of a European peasant house), modernity brought sterilization of it. In the age of digital technology, which has display as its main interfacing technology, everything serves only the eye, pushing other senses away. Now the main tactility we experience is the tactility of a flat and sterile screen or keyboard and mouse; the only natural sound you hear is the sound of keyboard and mouse clicking (unless the music is played on demand); natural smell comes only when the computer starts to burn (in other words - when there's something wrong).
  • Deterritorialization of the acoustic dimension with reterritorialization of music into it;
    • When the environment becomes quite, music fills the void of silence. While Sony Walkman brought the innovation of personalized acoustic spaces, its mainly because the internet the listening reached the levels it has now. Although mostly the space is experienced through the eye, human users tend to listen to music, and some of them - listen to it all the time through Spotify or other streaming services. Here any space becomes affectivelly loaded with the personal soundtrack of the user (both individual and juridical).
  • Removal of time dimension from space;
    • While some websites are being updated live in the browser, or various features in social media give the impression of other people’s activity (and thus presence) at the given moment (like “is typing…” prompt in messengers), most of the Internet is static. Phenomenologically, it changes only when webpages are refreshed, or hyperlinks are browsed. This renders the space dynamic, while time remains still, and both of them can proceed regardless of the other. Or better said - time becomes hidden, since browsing spaces (clicking on hyperlinks) creates a certain narrative and is placed in time. It's just that there are no visible indicators of the flow of time.

Some features of production of space in the age of internet:

  • Extraction of earth for the construction and technical maintenance of the internet;
    • We all carry parts of Africa in our pockets, and every data center is almost entire globe solidified in one place. This is globalization materialized. The global production chains crystallize in the digital technology, what has immense political implications. Various third-world countries rich in certain elements (e. g. Kongo, which is world's largest producer of cobalt - an essential ingredient of lithium ion batteries; or Guinea, which has world's largest bauxite deposits - an essential ingredient of aluminum) are central to the existence of digital west. Needless to say, there's a lot of hypocrisy and exploitation here, since these countries have low internet access, and it's often the case that the money which is gained by nurturing the digital revolution gets into the hands of various military activists.
    • Kongo cobalt mine
      Kongo cobalt mine
  • Production of space is absolutely mediated by digital communication;
    • Architects connect, exchange ideas, receive inspiration, communicate with clients and populations online, only occasionally meeting them in person. Physical contact is required less and less for a successful architectural work (or actually any kind of work). On the one hand, this renders the process of producing spaces more conceptual, while on the other hand, this way it's more detached from actual social realities of specific locations. Furthermore, digital communication allows instantaneous and ageographical exchange of ideas thus globalizing the aesthetics (skyscrapers of Tokyo are not that different from those in London).
  • Production of space is conducted conceptually - in the software;
    • While previous generations used to work a lot more technically - with pen, paper and rulers - now all these tedious tasks get to be externalized to software. Here architect is able to concentrate on the conceptual construction of the spaces, spending a lot more time on sociocultural, political, historical research, internalizing immense amounts of quantitative urban data, gaining the ability to test the constructed object virtually before it gets built, etc. What is more, software and online classes (or simply YouTube tutorials) provide amateurs with an opportunity to become architects themselves, and to design their own spaces. This puts whole new set of requirements on the professional architect, who now has to emphasize the creative aspects a lot more;
  • Home office space becomes a necessity;
    • This is a reaction to a transformation in the system of labor, where internet allows remote work. Covid pandemic showed that this type of labor is even a priority in a lot of cases. Just as a kommunalkas present the soviet communal spirit in their interiors (houses are big, with multiple families sharing the same kitchen, bathroom and toilet), contemporary home needs an individualized home office space where labor could be extracted by late stage capitalism, transferring the burden of building or renting an office space from the employer to the employee. While on the one hand this creates a possibility to build an individual company with very minimal investment, on the other hand it's quite often is the case that here a regular office worker is expected to be up for work even after his regular work hours had finished, thus people are faced with a need to have a home office “just in case”, not because they want to start an online business;
  • Shrinkage of living spaces and expansion of entertainment spaces;
    • The possibilities of ageographical and atemporal online presence, especially with the proliferation of various immersive technologies, such as VR or AR, shrinks the physical dimensions of living space (apartments are getting smaller). The total opposite of that is observed in spaces built for entertainment: shopping malls, cinemas, theme parks, etc. are becoming larger and larger to accommodate the vast increase of consumers who are escaping their home offices to employ the income they accumulated.
  • The semiotic neutralization of interface-spaces, such as airports, train stations, etc.;
    • Global capitalism homogenizes cultural differences, with extreme examples seen in various non-spaces (spaces we transit through), such as airports, bus stations, etc. Here it's often the case that the local cultural identity is absolutely effaced (see white neutralized interiors of airports). Here the phenomenon of psychic projection can occur where spaces devoid of cultural identities can become the carriers of whatever users of the spaces project onto them.
    • Barcelona airport terminal
      Barcelona airport terminal
  • USA becoming the legal center of western spatial laws;
    • The Patriot Act of 2001 (a reaction to 9/11 attacks) widened the political power of USA to such an extent that politics of internet became legally dominated by American law. Digitally extended sovereignty of USA brought a new era of colonialism. And this is mediated not only by law, but also political economy of cloud platforms (see Internet.org project made by Facebook). Off course, various countries with low internet access are not touched by this directly, and here comes a paradoxical dilemma: a country either gets connected and then instantly westernized, or remains analog. There is a third route: to create a national internet, what is done by China, and is considered in Russia.
  • Internet infrastructure is as necessary, and as invisible, as any public utility;
    • Real estate prices do always include the access to internet, even the speed of the internet. Internet access is correlating with median income, access to knowledge and education. Western urban developments include the laying down of internet cables into their plans as a necessity. This makes the internet infrastructure ubiquitous, however, its wires and data centers are not visible to its users. Similar situation can be observed with most of the public utilities, such as gas, water or sewage, and yet, these are easier to notice than internet anyway since they operate with large pipes and are very sensitive to any damage (especially gas). Internet, on the other hand, operates in tiny cables, which can easily be hidden, and merge with electricity. There's no surprise that people speak about the internet as a transcendent and incorporeal technology, operating somewhere "in the cloud". It seems wireless, although actually only the very last step of it is wireless, and wi-fi router always has a cable connected to it. Although currently there is a movement to satellite internet, it is very expensive and not very reliable yet, and in the end of the day, simply transfers the infrastructure to space, not making it any less corporeal.
    • Submarine internet cable map
      Submarine internet cable map