One of William Mitchell's most interesting points about the realities of digital life is made relatively early on in Me++. In the following passage, Mitchell discusses the discontinuities of the digital world.
In the fast-paced, digitally mediated worlds that we have constructed for ourselves, what exists between 0 and 1, a pixel and its neighbor, or a discrete time interval and the next? The answer, of course, is nothing -- profoundly nothing; there's no there there. The digital world is logically, spatially, and temporally discontinuous.
Our networks are similarly discontinuous structures; they have well-defined access points, and between these points things are in a kind of limbo. If you drop a letter into a mailbox, it disappears into the mail network until it shows up at the recipient's box, and if you send an email, it's just packets in the Internet cloud until it is reassembled upon receipt. Obviously it is possible, in principle, to precisely track things through networks, but in practice we rarely care about this. We experience networks at their interfaces, and only worry about the plumbing behind the interfaces when something goes wrong.
If you transfer yourself through a network, you directly experience this limbo. It is, perhaps, most dramatic on intercontinental night flights. You have your headphones on, there is darkness all around, and there is no sensation of motion. The video monitor constructs a local reality, and occasionally interrupts it to display current times at origin and destination. It is best not to worry too much about how to set your watch right now, precisely where you are, or whose laws might apply to you. [pages 14-15]
This assertion brings to mind some questions:
1. How does this concept of "nothing" come to play in other aspects of the digital world and thereby everyday life?
2. Is digital and network discontinuity positive, negative, or neither?
3. Where else besides Mitchell's example of airplane travel can network discontinuity be experienced by people?
4. When things or people are transmitted through a discontinuous network, is anything lost in the transmission, and if so, what is it, and in what circumstances?
Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
Last modified 1 February 2005