Thursday, April 06, 2006

space and time on the web

Thanks to Roland, I was asked recently by Andrew Tierney to write a piece for Infonet, the VITTA Journal (Victoria). I've sent him the following which is a review of Chapers 2 and 3 of David Weinberger's Small Pieces Loosely Joined. If there are any cartoonists or artists reading this then I'd love to be able to talk to you about a drawing a graphic which represents the space and time of the net, eg. see the paragraph about "... rooms with magic doors"


The Web changes our perception of Space and hence changes our perception of what it means to a human living in space.

Real world space has the hard edges of fixed dimensions. It is a pre-existing container of fixed size that we are stuck with as part of reality. Geography can be and often is a restrictive tyranny. Australia has been described by historians (Blainey) as the tyranny of distance.

Web space, by contrast is entirely created by humans. It's not a fixed space, it's an expanding space, Google is searching 8,058,044,651 web pages and returns results in a fraction of a second. That is almost miraculous :-)

Now we have blogs and sites that search and categorise blogs. Check out technorati, bloglines etc. It grows. And as it gets bigger your ability to find your way around has perhaps surprisingly increased. Search has dramatically improved. It's now far easier to find and conveniently reference quality information on the Web.

Imagine a place with billions of rooms with magic doors that are psychically linked to other rooms by the interests of the people travelling from room to room. Your nearness to other rooms is created by your level of interest. Is that magic or is that the Web?

When you visit a web site do you feel that the web site is travelling to you or that you are travelling through space to the web site? Even though the web page is being downloaded to my computer my subjective feeling is that I'm travelling somewhere else to that web page. The Web has the feel of place about it, it is place-ial, so it feels spatial
In the final analysis, we seem to have a choice of metaphors that are equally suited to the task. We could think of the Web as a giant photocopier that delivers copies of sites. We could think of it as a medium through which we see sites. We could think of it as a library from which we request copies. But we don't. We experience the Web as a web: a set of nodes that are linked one to another, creating a space through which we travel. (40)

Real world time is an irreversible, relentless river, once it has passed we cannot retrieve it.

This is old knowledge, the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "You can't step into the same river twice"

In the real world not only is there a tyranny of distance there is also a tyranny of the NOW. We always operate in the present and if we stuff badly then there is sometimes no going back.

Weinberger uses the metaphor of a beaded necklace passing over a blade, remorselessly, one bead at a time.

But time on the web is more like a hand writing than a necklace being pulled across a blade. On the Web there are many branching threads of conversation which extend backwards and forwards in time. The threads are often unfinished, the conversation can continue at any time convenient to the participants.

In the real world time and space are divided into uniform units. On the Web the feel of time and space is much more elastic.
It is not an accident that the Web is distracting. It is the Web's hyperlinked nature to pull our attention here and there. But it is not at all clear that our new distractedness represents a weakening of our culture's intellectual powers, a lack of focus, a diversion from the important work that needs to be done, a disruption of our very important schedule. Distraction may instead represent our interests finally finding the type of time that suits us best…. Our experience of time on the Web, its ungluing and regluing of threads, may be less an artefact of the Web than the Web's enabling our interest to find its own rhythm. Perhaps the Web isn't shortening our attention span. Perhaps the world is just getting more interesting. (69)



Blogger Tony Forster said...


"When you visit a web site do you feel that the web site is travelling to you or that you are travelling through space to the web site?"

I love this article, it makes me ponder my cyber-existance.

7:54 PM  

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